Sunday, November 15, 2015

Project Work vs Project-Based Learning

At the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year, our administration brought in a speaker for professional development from the Buck Institute. We were introduced to BIE's version of project-based learning. During the day, we learned about how we should develop and implement a project. It seemed as if there were many rules to follow and that the structure was quite rigid. During the afternoon, we had time to begin planning one that we would implement in our classrooms that year. The overall feeling in the room among the faculty was a sense of doom and feeling overwhelmed.

I will not kid you. I struggled with what our speaker said. He indicated that in order to have a project unit that was worthwhile, it had to be solving a real-world problem. I chose to focus on my opening unit in social studies, exploration. My essential question was: How was the world changed by explorations of European nations? I felt my students would have choice and voice during this unit, but when meeting with our speaker, he indicated that I was missing that authentic problem and the unit wouldn't work without it. His suggestion was to relate the explorers to street names in our community named after explorers, noticing what direction the streets faced - if facing south towards Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. I have to say, this very off-putting to me. I did not see how relating the explorers to street names made the unit more relevant and/or how it made it authentic.

My students completed the unit anyway. They each chose an explorer in which they were interested, researched him, wrote a biographical piece about him, and created an illustration to go with it. The students wanted to put their finished pieces together creating a book, which we then shared with a school in Montgomery.

Fast forward to this year. The same speaker came back. He no longer works for BIE and it seemed he had quite a shift in attitude. The information he shared seemed much more flexible, and he even said it was important to make it work for our school and our kids. The mood in the room was much different than the first year he visited us.

Last week, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit The Duke School in Durham, NC with twelve other teachers and administrators from my school. The Duke School has been a project work school for a very long time. They began with Katz and Chard's model and have tweaked that for their older students. Their model of project work follows three phases and really allows the students choice and voice in following where their interests are during the inquiry process. The first phase is where students access their background knowledge about their inquiry topic. The students not only tell their stories, but they write them and put them on display. From there, they generate questions they want answered. During phase two, the students engage in fieldwork, where they investigate. This is different than a field trip because there is no passive learning going on. Students have clipboards with them in order to take notes on their learning, they have questions to ask/interview experts, etc. They will read to find answers, and during this time, they generate more questions and/or revise the questions they had originally. Based on student interest, each one decides what topic he/she is most interested in and will then become the expert in that area. These groups work together to create a product for their culminating event, which they present to the parents.

I really loved how engaged the students were. I loved the process they used. I loved how the students were able to have choice and voice during the project. After have professional development in both these styles of project learning, I think The Duke School is definitely the style I connect better with and that is more in keeping with our school's philosophy. What I will say though, is after seeing some of The Duke School's culminating piece, my school already does an awesome job at this. I feel like the choice and voice has to extend to how students want to present their learning. I love that my students can choose to create an iMovie, use Google Slides, Powerpoint, Prezi, create a poster, a website, write a book, etc. for any given project. It is a very rare thing at my school that when students present their learning, you have a room full of posters.

We are moving towards becoming and project work/project-based learning school, and after attending The Duke School workshop this past week, I believe we are well on our way. We have great teachers at our school that are willing to step outside their comfort zone and really do everything they can to engage our students in 21st Century Learning. I'm excited to see how we move forward as a school. If you ever have the opportunity to visit The Duke School, I cannot recommend it enough! It was a fabulous experience. The faculty and students were incredibly welcoming and so willing to share their wealth of experience and knowledge with us. If you're interested in checking out some of their project work, just follow the link by clicking on the name of the school: The Duke School.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Parent-Teacher Conferences

This year there are a few changes with how some things take place during our school year, like parent-teacher conferences. In the past, we've had our first round of conferences just after the end of our first interim, only six weeks into the school year.

Our principal was new to our school last year, and she asked the faculty for feedback on certain things at our school. One bit of feedback we gave was that we really felt like our first conferences were too early in the year.  As you know, at the beginning of the year, it takes some time for the students to learn the routines, and we have to spend a bit of time with beginning of the year assessments as well as review. Our faculty felt that we weren't able to have meaningful conferences with parents so early in the year.

Our principal listened.  This year we're having our first round of conferences next week. We just completed our tenth week of school, so we have a good understanding of our students as learners - their strengths, areas of weakness, and goals for them. I also had my students complete a self-assessment where they judged how they were doing on things like following directions, completing assignments, turning in homework, etc.  On this form, they also listed one strength and one goal for themselves in reading, writing, and math.

This is the first year that we are completely departmentalized, and we will meet as a fourth/fifth grade team with all fourth and fifth grade parents...that's 58 conferences in two days. As a team, we've tried to be as prepared as possible by having parents complete pre-conference surveys with any concerns they may have. We've also created a shared Google Doc that has talking points from each of us for each student. Finally, we have the self-assessment from the student.

Although parent-teacher conferences are tiring, I believe they are of great value. This is an excellent opportunity to continue developing a relationship with parents and to really work as a team in order to make the best plan for their child to experience as much growth as possible and to develop as a learner.

What do you do to prepare for parent-teacher conferences?

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Writing Workshop: Show Don't Tell

My students have been busy during our writing workshop over the past few weeks. They have been working on writing fiction, specifically spooky stories. The jumping off point was a picture that I used for a quickwrite prompt at the beginning of the month from Meg Hicks.

This became the setting of their stories. Students worked on writing their original draft of the story in their writing notebooks. During this time, we had mini lessons related to overused words and vivid verbs (read this post). Once drafts were completed, students typed that draft using Google Drive. Then revisions began. Their first task was to find all their verbs and replace with vivid verbs, revising the sentences.

As students worked through this, I was conferencing with them about "show don't tell" and making sure they included a fully developed problem in their story.  I had a chance to read everyone's draft last weekend, and had an "uh-oh" moment. I realized that many of my students had just listed actions in their stories - there was no real problem, no elaboration. So I reached out to what has become my teaching support group on Voxer. They provided much needed support - not only with ideas to help my students, but also stating that they in fact have this issue with many of their students. Doesn't it always make you feel better to know you're not alone?!

I crafted my lessons for the following week to address this technique of elaboration in writing. We began by looking at a handout that showed "tell" sentences vs. "show" sentences. I had my students notice and note what the differences were between these. A few things they said were that the show sentences really helped them, as readers, imagine what was going on. They noted specifically the use of adjectives, vivid verbs, as well as description of body language and emotion.

Then we tried our hand at taking a boring "telling" sentence and changing it to a "showing" sentence by adding descriptives to the subject and object and changing the verb from an overused to a vivid verb based on different emotions. Our boring sentence was: The boy ran up the stairs. I walked around in front of them acting out the emotion I wanted them to use. As I acted, they guessed the emotion (example: sad, excited, scared). I asked them how they knew if I hadn't told them, which got them to name what I did with my face and my body. Then they crafted a sentence expressing what they had seen.

The last thing we did was to look at two paragraphs. I gave them the least descriptive to start - "tell" paragraph.

Jessie tied his shoelaces.  He couldn’t seem to tie them.  He was feeling kind of sick.  The big game today would decide who would be champions – state champions.  Playing goalie wasn’t ever easy.  He knew if he wasn’t at his best today, the team would probably lose. He grabbed his jacket.  He walked out the door.  “Bye, Mom,” he said.  “I’ll see you later at the game.”  He walked to the bus stop.

We read it together and I asked them to tell me what they thought about it. Could they imagine the scene? How did the main character feel in this paragraph? What did the author do to let you know as a reader?

Then I gave them the "show" version.

Jessie fumbled with his shoelaces.  He couldn’t seem to tie them with his shaking hands.  A sickening feeling in his stomach was creeping up into his throat.  The big game today would decide who would be champions – state champions.  Playing goalie wasn’t ever easy.  He knew if he wasn’t at his best today, the team would probably lose.  As he grabbed his jacket, he shook his head to clear his mind.  His legs felt like spaghetti noodles as he trudged down the steps while holding on to the banister.  “Bye, Mom,” he called out weakly.  “I’ll see you later at the game.”  He swallowed hard and walked to the bus stop.

The light went on! They had the "aha" moment. They were excited by the changes the author made and immediately named techniques the author used, citing examples from the paragraph that showed these changes.

They now have a clear understanding of what it means to write descriptively as an author so that their reader can really visualize their story.  Now we are working to implement these techniques in our drafts. It is a long process, but it is so exciting to see them really trying and growing as authors!

How do you help your students learn about revision strategies?

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Beginning Revisions - Vivid Verbs

It's been quite a while since I posted. Sorry about that but things have been crazy! Tonight's will be a quick post, just updating you as to what's happening in my classroom.

We have been writing spooky stories. Students have completed writing their initial draft of their stories. Towards the end of last week, they began typing their drafts. We use Google Drive as their portfolio, which will build through the remainder of their time at our school. So, last week everyone learned how to log on to Google Drive, begin a new document, name it and share it with me. Most students finished typing their draft last week, so tomorrow we'll begin revisions.

My first revision lesson has to do with vivid verbs.  We have a funeral for the overused words like said, walk, ran, etc. Then students generate a list of alternate verbs that are more descriptive. I will read our mentor text, Stellaluna, and have students jot down vivid verbs they hear in the story. We'll go through and share those and discuss the author's deliberate use of word choice. Next, we'll have a quick activity of practicing vivid verb word choice with a set of task cards. This allows the students to get up and move around the room and get their brains creating.  Finally, students will highlight the verbs they used in their stories and try and replace them with more descriptive vivid verbs. This is always an exciting revision to begin with because students can really see how their word choice improves their stories.

If you're interested in some vivid verbs for display in your room or practice for your students, visit my Teacherspayteachers store, Are We There Yet?

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Celebrating Dot Day

Today we celebrated International Dot Day and The Dot by Peter Reynolds. We have been talking about fixed vs growth mindset. My students related the idea of Vishta feeling like she "can't" paint to a fixed mindset. We've talked a lot about the importance of that three letter word, "yet," and what a difference it makes. The students did an awesome job relating growth mindset to Vishta's change in in the end when she helps another little boy see his potential as an artist. This is something we'll be focusing on all year.

After sharing the book, students drew their own dots. We then used the Quiver app to turn their one-dimensional dots into 3-D dots. Here are a few of my student's dots - before and after.

What did you do to celebrate Dot Day?

Sunday, September 6, 2015

First Inquiry Unit in US History and Technology

I have been participating in a Voxer group with some fantastic teachers from across the country, and we are discussing writing about reading. We worked together to practice writing about reading over the summer in two rounds of book clubs. Our purpose was to participate in writing about reading as we ask our students to. It was definitely a learning experience! From there, we extended our group chat to continue throughout the year - it's fantastic! Talk about a wonderful personal learning network...these ladies are full of wonderful ideas that they are very willing to share, support for when things don't go according to plan, as well as helping each other to really further our thinking in how to meet the needs of our kids.

So Margaret Simon and I have chatted a bit back and forth about some technology for our kids to use and our frustrations:) She hosts Digi Lit Sundays over on her blog, Reflections on the Teche. (If you don't follow her - she's a must. She also tweets regularly about what's happening in education @MargaretGSimon.) Today, I'm linking up with her and sharing a little bit about how some of my students are using technology in the classroom right now.

This year, I'm trying something different. One of the subjects I teach is US History to my fifth graders. We have a textbook. (Did you just fall asleep?) In the past I have struggled with feeling like I need to teach my kiddos how to read the textbook, how to take notes, take tests from the book, etc., because when they leave me and head to our middle school, the middle school social studies teacher relies solely on the textbook. If he has the kids do any projects, it is to choose a chapter and they're responsible for teaching it to the class. It is a real struggle for the kids to understand the textbook. I tried to scaffold by summarizing the chapters for the first half of the year, giving them notes, and us reading through them together, deciding what was important information, highlighting, color-coding, taking notes based on that and then having them generate questions they deemed important for our test. I started using the textbook half-way through the year - reading together, discussing, deciding as a class what was important, taking notes in outline format.  Are you asleep now? WAKE UP! That's my struggle...I felt so worried about my kids not being prepared to handle reading the textbook and taking notes on their own (he doesn't provide any notes at all) when they left me that I felt stuck.

Well, I got some great support and advice from my Voxer group. They said I should teach how I want to teach, not to support someone else's teaching. This, my friends, was so freeing to me. To have others, who I know are excellent teachers and who care so much about their students, say that what another teacher does is not my burden to carry.

So, this year in social studies, I have embarked on a year of inquiry. Our first dive into the inquiry waters has been with the topic of exploration. My kiddos generated about 75 questions to lead our discovery. After coming up with as many questions as possible, students worked in pairs to determine whether or not the questions were relevant. We then learned the difference between open-ended and closed-ended questions, the advantages and disadvantages of each, and how to change one from one type to the other. Students collaborated and labeled their questions as either open or closed. Then they worked in small groups to categorize and prioritize their questions. Finally, students began researching to discover answers to their questions. After completing their research, students generated possible ways to portray they learning in a product. They voted on the choices, which was how the groups were decided. In each class we ended up with three different groups/products: skits - which we'll video, diorama/display, interactive map, and a song - which we'll video as well.
We went over the two rubrics I'm using to grade them - based on collaboration/team-work and presentation. Students then planned their project out - each step that needs to happen, supplies needed, who is responsible for what, and dates for each item to be completed in order to be ready to present on September 15th.

My group that is making the interactive map is making the leap into some new technology that they have not been exposed to before. I have given them the choice of two different platforms for their map. The first is Thinglink, which I used to create an interactive image for Open House that shares information about what will be happening in fourth grade throughout the year. The second possibility is Microsoft's Sway. This is new to me, but it's marketed as a venue for digital storytelling. In both platforms you can pull in pictures, video, audio, type your own text, etc. My students are working right now on curating the images they want to use - a map for the main image and additional images to be the link for audio and video information of their research that they're recording. They are having a great time exploring both options. I'm not sure yet which one they'll decide on, but I will put a follow-up post when it's complete.

Below is my sample Thinglink piece from the beginning of the year. It won't show the interactive part here, but there is a link for each image, and when you click on it, it displays a video or text about something that's happening during the year, or at least that's how it was. (For some reason, I can't get my links to show up on Thinglink anymore. I'll have to figure out what happened there.)

Here's an example I made in Sway.

Endangered Animals

After using both, I can see advantages and disadvantages to both platforms. I think for my students though, in wanting their map to be the background image and the interactive pieces to be layered on top, I think Thinglink may be more of what they envisioned. We'll see.

Have you created an interactive piece? What platform did you use?

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Story Elements and Theme

We are departmentalized beginning in fourth grade, so each of us teaches our own homeroom reading - except in the beginning of the year. Because I am the fourth grade language arts teacher, I cover the summer reading in this class, and when we're done, the other homeroom teacher will take over for her kiddos. So, today I wanted to share what we've covered the first two weeks of school.

I had my incoming fourth graders read Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo as one of their required books over the summer. I don't require specific books or even genres throughout the year, but by having everyone read the same book, this allows me to teach story elements easily because we can use the events and characters of one book that everyone already knows.

We began by discussing characters in the story. My kiddos named the characters and gave descriptions which included both internal and external traits.

After discussing the characters in the story, we defined internal vs external conflict. We then went through each character and gave examples of each type of conflict for our main characters.

We discussed setting, defined it and then the kiddos gave their ideas of setting from the story.

From there we focused on plot - looking at the events that take place in the story and creating a plot diagram. This was new for them and they really caught on quickly.

Following the plot discussion, we focused topics the author develops in the story. A few that the students came up with were loneliness, friendship, family and love.

During our second week of school, we defined and discussed what a theme is in a story and how the students can use events in the story to show support for these themes in the story. I wanted the students to move from a general topic they think is in the story to develop the idea into a theme. We focused on the topic of friendship.

My read aloud for the second week was You and Me by Susan Verde.  After reading the book, the students took the topic of friendship and generated a theme statement: You can find friendship in unexpected places and at unexpected times.

We then discussed what it means to have a friend, how do you make friends, how do you keep friends, and what makes a good friend. Finally, students created "Friend Wanted" ads where they stated reasons to support the statement: I make a good friend because...

Here are a few:

How do you teach your students about topics and theme in reading?

Monday, August 10, 2015

Monday Made It! - August 10th

It's that time again. I'm a little late to the party today because I had to go back to school today for inservice all day. I'm tired...but I wanted to participate in Tara's 4th Grade Frolics fun Monday Made It. Today my Made It is my classroom.
My door...

My Room..

This is my YA bookshelf.

It's hard to see, but there are books all along the right side of the picture and along one shelf under the cabinets at the far end.

Homework board straight ahead, bulletin board on the right is for students to post their goals. The blue and green baskets are book baskets for my students. Underneath the book baskets are cubbies for the other 4th grade homeroom. To the left is a blank are where I'm going to post our read aloud books as we complete them. Finally, the pink and white stripe table has writing supplies.

This has a test calendar on the left window and birthday displays on the right window. Along the counter are class journals, shake-it-up vocabulary, book cards, and story starters.

I'm off to bed now:) What did you make this week?

Monday, August 3, 2015

Monday Made It! - August 3rd

It's that time again! I'm linking up with Tara from Fourth Grade Frolics for Monday Made It. First I have to give a shout out to Tara because she is definitely the reason I've been somewhat productive this summer! Yay!

On to the Made Its...

My first Monday Made It! is from looking at Alison's Made It from Rockin' and Lovin' Learning last week. Click here to see her Monday Made It from last week in case you missed. Click here to go to Polka Dots and Pal and get your own Pal. After reading Alison's post, I just knew I had to head over and make my own pal. Here she is...

My second Monday Made It was also followed from last weeks' Monday Made It. I saw this fabulous tutorial from Keeping Up with Mrs. Harris to make a desktop calendar for the computer. So FABULOUS! She has a great tutorial that makes this super easy to do. I purchased the calendar from the 3 AM Teacher, but you could make your own. I decided hers was too cute, and so I was able to make this lickity split! Now I can see everything I need to at a glance when I'm on my computer. Yay!

My third Monday Made It is a quick book trailer for Circus Mirandus to use next year. I try and do lots and lots of book talks to get my kiddos excited about reading and book trailers are one way to do that. 

What did you make this week?

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Assess Me! Week One

I was catching up on my Bloglovin' blog reading just now and came across this fun linky. This is from The Tattooed Teacher. It is the Assess Me! link up party - a fun little get to know you activity. So here goes...

1. I don't talk to myself, but I do talk to my pug, Wiggles, and my cat, Boots, ALL the time. I don't think that's the same as talking to it?

2. I am not superstitious at all, but my children are. They both say we have a ghost in our house:)
3. I do not crack my knuckles - and I hate it!! One of my friends cracks her knuckles, her back, her neck - you name it! I beg her to stop...
4. Am I hungry? When am I not hungry, that's the real question.
5. Yes, my television is on and it's on way too much, but most of the time it's background noise while I do work for school or posts like this:)
6. I got all four wisdom teeth pulled and it was terrible. 
7. I have not showered today. I showered last night and then drove for 12 hours. I'm about to shower, as soon as I'm done with this fun assessment.
8. I went to Disney World when I was 5 with my family. My favorite thing to do was It's a Small World ride.
9. Unfortunately, I've reached the age where I need reading glasses. 
10. After living across the continent in Oregon for 20 years, I moved back to my home state of Alabama in 2006. I not only live in my home state, but my hometown of Birmingham, and five minutes from my mom and dad, who still live in the house where I grew up.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley Book Trailer

I have fallen behind in my book trailer creations, so I got back to it this morning.

During the later part of the school year, I read all kinds of book buzz about Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley. I ordered my copy from Amazon and read it in June. It was wonderful! It was one of those books I just couldn't put down and finished in two days. I think this will be added to my read alouds for the year!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Monday Made It! - July 27th

I'm joining Fourth Grade Frolics for Monday Made It again this week. I've been on vacation this last week, so my creations are computer generated.

My first Monday Made It! is a morning check-in for my kiddos for their reading. I used to have a calendar for each student, and in the morning, I would call out each child's name and they would tell me the title of the book they were reading and what page they were on. I like checking in with everyone, but honestly, it takes some time.  This year, I'm changing it up just a little bit. I created this form that I will post on the whiteboard, located next to the attendance board. When students move their number for attendance each day, they will write their name, title of the book and page number. I'll keep these in my notebook, so I'll be able to do a quick check from day to day and keep an eye on their reading life to use in individual conferences. This will leave time in our first period for our read aloud and a mini lesson.

My second Monday Made It! is a handout for my kiddos to keep for the year and refer to regularly. I have a large one printed and posted on my classroom wall, too. I try very hard to teach my students about a Growth Mindset. I think it's really important for them to know that I want them to take risks in their learning. Yes, they may fall/fail, but it this is an important part of learning! I will be there to help them and move from "I can't do it" to "I can't do it, YET".

My third Monday Made It! are my team's welcome letters for our fourth and fifth graders. We're departmentalized beginning in fourth grade, and our team teaches both fourth and fifth grade. Our welcome letter for our fourth graders is a way to hopefully reduce their anxiety about moving up to fourth grade and having four different teachers for their core classes. For our fifth graders, our welcome letter is really a welcome back and we're excited to teach you again this year. We'll send these out the week before school starts.

My fourth Monday Made It! is something for the first week of school. Our first full day of school this year is on a Tuesday. Our parents' night is Thursday of that same week. I like to have some type of writing up for the parents to see. In order to do this in two days, it has to be a pretty quick activity, so I created a newsletter for the kids to write articles about themselves.

My fifth and final Monday Made It! for the week is cards that will have my students' log in information for different websites such as Google Drive, our school website, Typing Pal, etc. I'm just waiting on their log in info from our IT guy and then I'll finish them up and laminate them. I'll attach these to the first page in their agendas because they take their agendas to every class and home every night. I'm hoping this will alleviate the nightly emails of "Johnny can't log in to Google Drive for his homework".

That's all for this week! What did you make this week?