Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Low Down on On-Demand

The response below came from the Cindy Parker from the Division of Program Studies (KDE). In it, she shares her insight into On-Demand writing and reinforces our strong belief in the power of supporting our kids as writers.

From her statement I synthesized a few key points.
1) Our kids need to WRITE, WRITE, WRITE.  They need multiple opportunities throughout they day to share their thinking in writing- always considering and working to demonstrate these traits:
  • audience awareness
  • idea development
  • organization of ideas
  • the best words to support the message and mode
  • appropriate conventions they need to truly convey their message
So whether they are sharing information learned through research in a form of some sort, crafting a story, establishing their opinion, responding to learning, reflecting, writing in a family journal, or simply thanking a volunteer or field trip guide....we are pushing them to always work toward communicating with clarity, development, and refinement.

2) Our kids need an understanding of the traits/ characteristics of quality writing. In a nutshell: the focus ought to be on the traits, rather than the form. This is because the traits transcend form. Students here gain access to those traits through analyzing model text and/or creating a class rubric that mirrors the state's Scoring Rubric as well as through specific  mini-lessons and experiences writing.  What seems to be most critical is that our kids understand that writers communicate coherently with an audience using the above bullets, regardless of the form (i.e. letter, story, Prezi, essay, feature article, etc.) Are forms obsolete? No, they are a form of organization and still need to be taught and experienced, but they are not the "end all, be all" of writing.

3) Our kids need support, but the goal is always  independence. BES teachers really live this one. You know your writers may need graphic organizers to scaffold them as they work to become organized and developed writers, but eventually they need to wean themselves from them as they demonstrate the ability to write without them. You all are always pushing your students to try their own and use what works for them. I have yet to see anyone force a child to use a graphic organizer every time they write. It's always a form of support through Gradual Release of Responsibility. Go us!

Please share your synthesis after you read Ms. Parker's response in the comment section below.

As you know...Together We Grow. -Sarah

MS. PARKER'S RESPONSE: The craft of writing is a long, developmental process requiring a variety of strategies and scaffolds at each level. Requiring students to use a certain form (5 paragraphs) can stifle the creativity and growth of the writer. It can also create in the students’ minds a false sense of good writing.

For students to do well in On Demand Writing, it is critical that they first understand the traits of writing as outlined in the Scoring Rubric. According to the K-Prep Assessment Basics, form, although stated in the prompt, is there only to provide context for purpose and audience. Form is not part of the rubric; rather, students will be evaluated on their ability to communicate effectively with an audience by supporting complex ideas in a coherently.

So what does this look like in the classroom? It means that students write, write, and write. They regularly analyze a variety of texts, including their own writing, to understand purpose, audience, idea development, and language. Knowledge of these traits is critical to allow constructive conversations about writing. This can be done in large or small group settings, as mini-lessons in response to formative assessment needs, or as part of a planned instructional sequence. There are numerous resources for teaching the “Traits of Writing” that can be adapted to each grade level.

That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a time or a place for structured organizers as an instructional scaffold. However, because our goal is to develop independent writers, we should gradually release the use of these tools as students evolve in the craft of writing. Remember that on-demand writing is merely an assessment meant to allow students to demonstrate independently the skills they have gained through instruction and that the standards call for students to be able to write well in short and extended timeframes. The standards do not address the strategies for teaching writing, although they do align to a writing process approach.

A resource you might find helpful is Addressing the Three Modes of Writing in the KCAS, available here KDE will also be posting soon on the assessment page on-demand writing samplers, annotated student work, and instructional resources.

Hope this helps you—I appreciate your interest in helping students be better writers.

Cindy Parker, NBCT
Literacy Coordinator
Office of Next Generation Learners
Kentucky Department of Education
500 Mero Street, 1911 CPT
Frankfort, KY 40601

Monday, November 12, 2012

Leveled Non-Fiction and Ficiton Passages: Arming Yourself

Fitting readers' needs and being aware of exposure to complex texts is a challenge. Lucy Calkins quotes Richard Allington in her book Pathways to the Common Core, "You can't learn much from books you can't read" (2002). Allington defines these books as those students can read when they demonstrate 96% accuracy, fluency, and comprehension. That challenge seems tough enough, but we also need to be exposing them (though modeling and think alouds) to those texts that are on grade level and will further our students' understanding of the standards though use of the thinking strategies. Basically, we need to have access to an arsenal of texts to use in our teaching, conferring, and classroom libraries.

So, what do you do? You seek support such as: books, booklets, colleagues, LMSs, online sites, etc. Check out sites listed below as they may make your search a little easier and support your ELA, social studies, and science contents as well. Consider them as you work to find your mini-lesson and student practice passages (those we sometimes offer them to try out before they get into their self-selected texts.) You may just find something you like that fits a variety of needs. :)

Happy Clicking! Many grade-leveled passages on various content concepts 3rd -6th grade Use the sidebar to find the grade level you are interested in finding texts for.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Must Have New Apps

Sometimes I just find myself App Shopping. Like those times when I am trapped in the house, and the dishes sit piled in the sink waiting to be washed, I might just engage in some task avoidance and click on AppShopper or the App Store and see what catches my attention. Tonight I found several great (and mostly FREE) apps that called me to click "Install". Time might be running out, so click it yourself before you miss it!

McGraw Hill Education books: County & City Mouse, Jack and the Beanstalk, Why the Sea is Salty, and Little Red Riding Hood. These books are great for early readers who might need the book read to them,  (when they need help with a word or page, or just need fluency modeled for them), or when they need a just right book to read to themselves.

Word Mover:  This app was created by ReadWriteThink- the well-clicked resource we know best from our ELA units. The app "is used to supplement classroom instruction, reinforce concepts taught in class, and offer increased student engagement". Students can create "found poetry" (we might have schema for this concept though our Magnetic Poetry Center).

Book Creator: This app costs $1.99 and students can use it to create their own books, save them in iBooks, and send them via email, or submit them to the iBookstore.

Please sure your newest, greatest apps for all to see and CLICK!

Happy Installing!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Break It Down For Me! I Need the Info.


Even if you know the Mode of Focus for writing, what may not be immediately apparent is the scaffolding asked for in previous units. How much time ought I focus on  ____ before I introduce _____? These photos are organized with brackets to show the length of time one might spend on a particular kind of writing. It is just another way of showing the breakdown of the year for our writers.

*Though I didn't add poetry and writing in response reading & learning to ALL of the units, the units do suggest that we ought to offer our writers opportunities.

K/1 Writing Mode of Focus
2nd Writing Mode of Focus

3rd Grade Mode of Focus

4th Grade Mode of Focus
5th Grade Mode of Focus
Did you know...the activities can be a window into the kind of writing emphasized inside of a unit. Take a minute to count the "type of writing" suggestions in the activity titles. It becomes clear pretty quickly what the unit is suggesting students spend their time learning about and trying out within the confines of those weeks. (These sample activities also offer opportunities for students to try out other types of writing so they experience variety within those five weeks or so.)

 What does this kind of writing look like? Many might be surprised at the rigor expected for our K-5 kids. Click here to take a peek:

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Writing Focus for Each Grade Level of the ELA Units

Ever wonder if the kind of writing (the mode) will be returning in another unit? Will you get another opportunity to teach this mode with students publishing in genres in the future... or is this the last real emphasis on this type of writing? 
Well, wonder no more- The information below will be the Holy Grail of Writing Focus information. It will offer you that overview you've been wishing for and can be used when planning a unit's lessons. 

K/1 Writing Focus by the Unit:
Unit 1: exposure to Opinion, Narrative, and Informative
Unit 2: Opinion
Unit 3: Narrative
Unit 4: Informative/explanatory
Unit 5: Shared Research (more independent in 1st)
Unit 6: Using digital tools to publish writing
Unit 7: Revision

2nd Grade Writing Focus by the Unit:
Unit 1: exposure to Opinion, Narrative, and Informative
Unit 2: Shared Research and writing projects  (report, science observations, etc.)
Unit 3: Informative/explanatory  (supportive: revising and editing + gather info. to answer a question)
Unit 4: Informative/explanatory
Unit 5: Narrative + Using digital tools to publish writing
Unit 6: Narratives
Unit 7: Opinion

3rd Grade Writing Focus by the Unit:
Unit 1: exposure to Opinion, Narrative, and Informative
Unit 2: Narrative  (3rd person) (organization, revision & editing)
Unit 3: Narrative  (1st person)
Unit 4: Informative/explanatory
Unit 5: Conduct short research
Unit 6: Opinion (gather info from experience and digital sources- take notes)
Unit 7: Uses technology to produce and publish writing

4th Grade Writing Focus by the Unit:
Unit 1: exposure to Opinion, Narrative, and Informative
Unit 2: Informative/explanatory (clear, coherent, organized; revision & editing)
Unit 3: Informative/explanatory (short research-different aspects) (writing in response to reading-literary)
Unit 4: Narrative (organization)
Unit 5: Opinion (short research- different aspects)
Unit 6: Narrative (recall/gather relevant info. and use technology to produce and publish writing, use digital sources, take notes & provide sources)
Unit 7: Short Research/Opinion (digital sources, take notes) (writing in response to reading-informative) (write for many purposes and for varying lengths of time)

5th Grade Writing Focus by the Unit:
Unit 1: exposure to Opinion, Narrative, and Informative
Unit 2: Short research projects (clear, coherent, organized, writing process)
Unit 3: informative/explanatory (writing in response to on level reading-literary and informative=drawing inferences)
Unit 4: Opinion
Unit 5: Narrative
Unit 6:  Narrative + writing process
Unit 7: Recall relevant info from experiences or Gather relevant info from print and digital sources; Uses technology to produce and publish writing, take notes, cite sources) 

NOTE: Though this organizer offers the standard of focus for the unit, variety in writing is important and offering students opportunities to publish outside of the "mode/genre of focus" will continue to be important.  We can talk about how to do this inside planning meeting. :)

BOLD=emphasis of the standard and all its sub standards for this mode in this unit.

ALSO: It may be that in the CURRENT unit, you will often need to expose kids to one type of writing for a short time to prepare them for a future unit (ex. collect seeds for narrative writing for later development) and then spend the vast majority of the time focusing on and supporting kids with informative writing. The NEXT unit will then focus on  narrative writing and expose them to opinion.  We can plan for your specific units in your PLC's planning meetings.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

And to think! Inventive Thinking and Those Who Inspire Us

Wise Guy: The Life and Philosophy of SocratesLeonardo and the Flying Boy (Anholt's Artists Books for Children)

Pippo the Fool (Junior Library Guild Selection (Charlesbridge Paper))Can you imagine... a time long ago when a creativity and innovation thrived...a time when modern conveniences
 were yet to be invented... a time when questioning led to great discoveries and awesome adventures...a time long, long ago...

 when Socrates declared that all he knew was nothing, so he spent his whole life asking questions...
which, in all reality, led to what we now name...The Share Square.
This "Wise Guy" became an apprentice....and studied models, heard "think alouds", sought a better understanding of big ideas like: courage, love, goodness, justice... and inspired others. This Godfather of Thinking Strategies and the Stimulater of Deeper Thinking.

And to think... his whole life is captured in a book- a historical fiction book, written for kids, in a narrative coupled with factual information. Think of that!

And to think...that Leonardo's life is also captured in a historical fiction text- with a story, about a boy name Zoro who served as an apprentice to Mr. da Vinci as he experimented with "a revolutionary flying machine!" Oh, and it includes an author's note with factual information to help readers' learn, question, understand...a time long ago and Leonardo and the Flying Boy.

And to think...a man, named Pippo the Fool, who was a bullied boy, but also a "clever, determined, imaginative" creator with the odds stacked against him. A man who persevered to win a contest to design the masterpiece Brunelleschis Dome in Florence, Italy that still stands today as a testament to his artistic talent, engineering skills, and out of the box thinking. Pippo's tale defines the Renaissance and an author's ability to marry history and fiction. And of course, it includes excellent information text to build a reader's schema and inspire further learning about a time long ago...

Think of all of that as you embark upon your 5th Grade Unit 3 Inventive Thinking. :)

Polacco's Newest "Need to Read" Books & Some Insight Into Theme

BullyPatricia Polocco has does it again in her two terrific tales of surviving bullying and an encounter with two life-changing teachers. In Bully, Poloacco, inspired by her own vivid childhood memories of being bullied, cleverly crafts a realistic fiction story that takes on cliques and cyber-bullying-- a sad reality of many kids today. In The Art of Miss Chew, a memoir about the woman who gave our beloved author and artist her confidence and spark to pursue her natural talents, Polcacco shares her own trials tribulations. This story worth telling again and again is also one that recognizes another thoughtful teacher who got to know Patricia and differentiated for her- building her confidence and supporting her success. In both texts, the beginnings are strong, middles engaging, and endings powerful.

The Art of Miss ChewThe books can easily be used to teach such important understandings related to: relevant use of any thinking strategy, story elements and how they work together, theme*, author's message*, understanding and applying schema for an author and his/her works, crafts of writing, etc. As always, the possibilities are endless. Plus, I am pretty sure we can find a connection to make the perfect fit into one of your ELA units this year. :)

Please note that each book is a full 32 pages of rich "Patricia Style" text. With that said, there are many possibilities when using books like this in your classroom.
  1. Read the book aloud in its entirety for the joy of hearing the whole book. Return to it as text to study at a later time.
  2. Read it a few pages at a time over the course of a several days.
  3. Read it in three sections (beginning, middle, end) to highlight the structure of the story.
  4. Listen to the book on a podcast, or watch a video of it being read by the author.
Stop by my lending library soon to snag a copy of these awesome new texts!

*Universal Theme vs. Theme vs.  Author's Message
Because there is always a big debate about these literary terms, I thought I'd do some research and share my learning. Honestly, I am still teasing out my understanding of these terms, but continually growing nonetheless. The main walk away I have is that if kids can gain infer the author's message, and then infer the big, and eventually use text-to-text understandings... they can group and make meaning of like books to enrich their understanding about life and literature.

Universal Theme: an inferred point made about the topic- not just the topic of the work. A statement about life. The "big idea" that spans cultures and time. Courage, Friendship, Honesty, Revenge, Trust, Family, Good v. Evil, Dreams, Hope, Circle of Life
Theme and/or Author's Message: A (often inferred) message or lesson that an author wants you to know or take away from the story.

Ex. Author's Message: Face your fears and you can defeat them.    
      Universal Theme=courage

      Author's Message: Don't wish for what others possess. Be happy with what you have.       
     Universal Theme=jealousy

      Author's Message: Work hard for what you want in life and you can achieve any goal 

      Universal Theme=dreams

Note: Students struggling with identifying universal themes may need more support in identifying the author’s message or theme of a story first. The third and fourth grade "Theme Lesson" sequences are a good resource for teaching the author’s message or theme. Resource:
This lesson's description, specifically, is helpful for distinguishing theme/message from universal theme.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Building a Shared Discussion

We all know Rome was not built in a day (like the use of an idiom?) and neither are our students' shared discussions. While every grade level gathers students to discuss their lives, books, writing, math, or other content areas teachers still find that supporting students along the way to help them make these conversations more meaningful is important. 

Each fall, students come together with new classmates and have to revisit the purpose and expectations of these shared discussions. Some teachers begin with a lot of partner work, table talk, and small group work. Others jump right in and add the whole group "Share Square"-either in a morning meeting or at the end of a workshop. However you choose to foster this meaningful talk where kids dig for deeper meaning as well as support and challenge one another- all for the sake of reaching a better understanding of the topic- one thing is for sure: vocabulary development through character education is key.

Support from Stems
Our students need the community language and stems which will provide the words to help them dig deeper into their thinking and that of others. To probe and ponder, students need the: "I respectfully disagree with you because______"; "What evidence do you have to support your thinking?; and "___, I noticed you agreed, what were you thinking?". These and the many other stems that you and your students will come up with, will build that sense of community, that sense of trust, that sense of caring about meeting the conversation's purpose- to gain a better understanding.

Signs and Goals
Many classroom teachers find success when they introduce a couple at a time and only introduce new ones when those focused on have  been adopted meaningfully by the students. Often times these stems accompany other goals students set for themselves as they work to enhance and grow their discussions. A quick peek into classrooms will show the impact of students using sign language to further supports this work. Signing allows students to visually see who is agreeing, disagreeing, or wanting to share their thinking. One simple noticing of this silent communication can offer that very quiet classmate a chance to share his/her thinking. These steps and various others you use (anchors*, posted guiding questions, shared texts, etc.) foster the growth of the share. And always keep in mind that just as with doesn't happen in a day, but generated greatness. :)

**Be sure to share your building block ideas with others. It takes a village!**
Comment below.

*anchors are those students who do any of the following jobs to support the share:
  • start the share by asking the guiding question and calling on a peer
  • track data- # of people who share, boys v. girls, types of comments shared
  • reflect- person who sums up the gist of the conversation from that share
  • refocus- person who gets the group back on track when the conversation veers 
  • paraphrase- person who says to the long-winded explanation "so what you're saying is..." so that the most important part is captured for the group
You could use an anchor to do any other job that would promote deeper thinking or a stronger community within your share. When we first saw this method used in Beth Weber's class (teacher at LaGrange elementary) she commented on the importance of not becoming overwhelmed with the number of anchors. She used these jobs as ways to engage more students and promote the growth of the share experience.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

No babies in our bathwater! DON'T FORGET JUNIOR GREAT STORIES!

I just finished designing and typing up some lesson plans for a readers' workshop that includes the use of a Junior Great Book story. "The Green Man" while in Series 3, is a GREAT text to read with our second grade students. It not only supports multiple standards within the unit, but it also supports the theme of "seasons". The myth-based story by Gail E. Haley, takes a reader through the journey of a rich, arrogant young man who learns to live in the forest (for a year) and experiences quite a change of character in the process. 

Following a brief time to dig into prior knowledge (schema) and visualize and empathize, all students listen to their leader (teacher) read aloud the story-in its entirety- with expression and think alouds. Students jot down questions and note places where they think something is really important (the thinking strategy of focus). Upon completion of the first reading, students' questions are shared out and only literal ones are answered. Deep inferential questions are recorded and students choose ONE Keeper Question to ponder as they reread the text over the next couple of days.

Day Two is filled with small group work that includes rereading the text and taking Directed Notes-noting places where the main character changes. Students ponder, discuss, and defend their thinking, while the other group creates a mental images of an important part and crafts a sentence caption.

Day Three is action-packed and allows students time to practice defining and using rich vocabulary, as well as engage in a rich Shared Inquiry discussion.

Days Four and Five offers the other small group the same opportunities the first experienced.

While the Leader's Edition offers teacher leaders excellent guidance, it also includes writing opportunities and assessments. These stories are RICH, DEBATABLE, and LEAD TO CRITICAL ANALYSIS AND DISCUSSION OF TEXT. So many are myths, fables, and legends and completely support your ELA units and Standards. (Trickster Tales, Native American legends, Folktales, Fables, Fairytales, stories from other countries, etc.) 

JGBs must NOT get washed away!
If you're concerned that you might miss out on parts of your ELA Unit... never fear, in the words of the Beatles, "We can work it out." Remember, we're about keeping the Tried and True and Infusing the New! No babies in our bathwater! 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

From the Authors

We have favorite books, favorite authors, and favorite sites. This link combines all three! If you have any lesson plans that call for these and other great texts, consider clicking on this site to hear the text from the author's him/herself.

There are many sites on the web featuring children's authors reading their work. One of our favorite newer picks is Barnes and Noble's Studio Storytime. Eric Carle shares The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and Mo Willems reads The Pigeon Wants a Puppy, with lots of attention given to his detailed illustrations:

images from

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Power of Music- What's Your Song?

Music is powerful. It can change your step or stride, mood and attitude, cause your feet to tap while you're pumping gas, and calm you down when you're wound up from an episode or just a long day.

Music is powerful in the classroom. It can shift one's mind in an instant, signal a change, and build community.

Music is powerful for the brain. Research indicates that, "music is used to facilitate induced state of consciousness that  is conducive to heightening the learning process." It can increase brainwaves and lower blood pressure. (Ostrander and Schroeder) Lozanov "considered the interactions between both hemispheres of the brain, together with the neo-cortex produce a positive effect on the retention rates of the learned materials." Clabomb's research also supports this claim.

Music is powerful at Buckner. Many of you have experienced the power of music in your own classrooms. You've used songs to:
  • transition to new workshops
  • gather students for a Share Square
  • offer a brain break
  • support students as they read and write
  • offer a catchy way to learn new material
As you continue to build your classroom community, please consider how you might use music to enhance your students' experiences. Some of my new favorites to use include: Home by Phillip Phillips, Gaucho by The Dave Matthews Band, and and oldie- The Share Song by Jack Johnson. What is your new favorite song to use?

Check out this link for some new songs to use:

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Ice...Ice.. breakers! Community Builders

If you are like me, you are always looking for new and exciting icebreakers and community building activities that are meaningful and appropriate for elementary kids. Over the years I've compiled a list of my favorites (posted below). Many of these are oldies but goodies that I've used as is or tweaked to meet a particular class' needs. :)  I am sure you have a few of your own to offer and I'd love for you to post those, too!

Literacyhead Favorites
5 Happy Ideas for Back 2 School
You've heard me talk about it- Click this link to get some FREE and FABULOUS Literacyhead art/writing/reading/everything!!!! ideas for growing your students' literacy and community. 
Here are Five Happy Ideas for Back-to-school.
Scroll and keep scrolling for even more ideas!
We are all unique!
Each day throughout the school year, I introduce a Word of the Day. The first day's word is unique. I write the word on the board and ask students to read the word. (I don't recall any of my third graders ever identifying the word without a few clues. My last clue, using proper emphasis, is usually "This word is a unique word!")

Then I use the word in several statements, the last of which is "Each of us is unique." We talk about ways in which we're each unique. I'm the only one more than 6 feet tall. Mia is the only one who's wearing a pink shirt. Sam is the only one of us who has a pet ferret. (I learned this from the previous activity.) And so it goes.
Next step: Out comes the roll of white mural paper. I tear off a sheet about 10 feet long. Sometime during the day, each child goes out into the hallway and uses markers to draw his or her name on the mural paper. "Make it unique!" is my only direction.
I start out by writing "Mr. H" in big bubble letters inside an explosion design such as you see declaring NEW! or IMPROVED on product packaging in the grocery store. I draw colorful polka dots inside the bubble letters. When completed, this colorful mural makes a great hallway bulletin board under the cutout-letter headline We Are All Unique! I can also see from this activity who some of the truly unique characters will be in my new class!
source unknown 

Sticker Partners!
Each student is given a sticker to put on his or her hand upon entering the classroom, but students aren't told what the sticker is for until the time is right! Be sure there is a partner (matching sticker) for every student. Ask students to find their partners and interview them (name, grade, hobbies, etc.). Each interviewer is responsible for introducing each interviewee to the rest of the class. You might find that students find it less threatening when someone else shares information about them than when they are asked to share about themselves.
      Grade 4-6 team, Silverwood School, Silverdale, Washington

Me Bag
Place a white paper bag on each desk on the morning of the first day. The bags should contain pencils, name tags, and other items students will need to help get the class organized. Also include a letter introducing yourself, telling of hobbies, etc. The students then empty their bags and decorate the Me Bags with pictures from magazines or drawings that represent themselves. You shoulld already have completed a sample Me Bag with pictures and drawings representing yourself. Students love to hear about their teacher! Then students share their Me Bags to help class members get to know one another. That afternoon, the students take their decorated Me Bags home and put inside any special or important objects. You might share a few items from your bag as examples. The students keep their objects secret until the next morning when they share with the class. They're very excited to tell about the special things they placed in their bags and why they are special! From this bag can stem some neat writing assignments or coloring activities, depending on kids' ages.
      Billi Walton, Addeliar Guy Elementary School, Las Vegas, Nevada
      Kelly Horn, Kentucky

True or False?
This activity is always fun, and we all learn something interesting about one another! I start. I write four facts about myself on an overhead transparency. Three of the facts are true, and one is false. Students take my little true-false test. Then I survey students to learn the results. We go back over each question to see what they thought about each statement. That gives me a chance to tell a little about me. Then, on a sheet of paper, students write three interesting facts about themselves that are true and one that is false. Throughout the day, I ask a few students to try to stump the rest of us.
      Tony Stuart, grades 4 and 5, Lanark, Ontario, Canada
      John Reilley, Fillmore, California

The More Important Book- A FAVORITE OF MINE!!!
On the first day of school, read to students a popular favorite -- The Important Book, by Margaret Wise Brown. It's a wonderful, repetitive book that tells the "important thing" about a variety of things, such as a spoon, an apple, the wind, etc. After we read the book and discover its repetitive form, we write our own More Important Book. Each child tells about himself or herself, following the format of The Important Book." The children end, as the book does, by repeating the first line, "But, the most important thing about (child's name) is that he or she _____." Each child is responsible for a "most important thing" page, which becomes part of the class book. This is a wonderful and fun way to get to know one another, and the book is read throughout the year. **I have a finished class book if you want a  model!
      Susan Wallace, St. Agatha Academy; Winchester, Kentucky

Puzzling Activity
Students use colorful markers to write their names in big letters on a sheet of drawing paper. Under their names, they write several sentences describing themselves, for example, favorite things, family info, hobbies, and pet info. Then hand out blank puzzles (which can be found in craft stores -- cheap!). Privately -- perhaps behind a folder upright on their desks -- students illustrate on the blank puzzles the interests and information on their name sheets. They break up their puzzles and place the pieces in a brown paper bag with a question mark on the front. Post the large papers with the descriptive sentences on a bulletin board and, beneath that display, line up all the paper bags full of puzzle pieces. Throughout the week, during free time, students can choose a bag, put the puzzle together, compare the puzzle with the posted sentences, and guess which classmate it may be. At the end of the week look at guesses, and find out whose puzzle is really whose.
      Eileen Horn, Godwin School, Midland Park, New Jersey

A Tangled Web
Gather students in a circle sitting around you on the floor. Hold a large ball of yarn. Start by telling the students something about yourself. Then roll the ball of yarn to a student without letting go of the end of the yarn. The student who gets the ball of yarn tells his or her name and something good about himself or herself. Then the student rolls the yarn to somebody else, holding on to the strand of yarn. Soon students have created a giant web. After everyone has spoken, you and all the students stand up, continuing to hold the yarn. Start a discussion of how this activity relates to the idea of teamwork -- for example, the students need to work together and not let others down. To drive home your point about teamwork, have one student drop his or her strand of yarn; that will demonstrate to students how the web weakens if the class isn't working together.
      Amy Henning, W. C. Petty School, Antioch, Illinois

Chain Gang
Begin by asking students "Who can do something really well?" After a brief discussion about some of the students' talents, pass out paper and ask students to write down five things they do well. Then provide each student with five different-colored paper strips. Have each student write a different talent on separate paper strips, then create a mini paper chain with the strips by linking the five talents together. As students complete their mini chains, use extra strips of paper to link the mini chains together to create one long class chain. Have students stand and hold the growing chain as you link the pieces together. Once the entire chain is constructed and linked, lead a discussion about what the chain demonstrates -- for example, all the students have talents; all the students have things they do well; together, the students have many talents; if they work together, classmates can accomplish anything; the class is stronger when students work together than when individual students work on their own. Hang the chain in the room as a constant reminder to students of the talents they possess and the benefits of teamwork.
      Kimberlee Woodward, substitute teacher, Waterford, Michigan

Common Connections
You will need a camera for this activity. An instant camera will work best; a digital camera will work well if you have a good printer. Take a picture of each student. Then provide each student with a prepared questionnaire that includes questions about favorite foods, books, places, or hobbies. When the questionnaires are completed, students share their responses with one another. (This can be done one-on-one, in small groups, or as a class activity.) Students examine their peers' questionnaires to find "connections" -- things they have in common with one another. Post student pictures on a bulletin board titled "Common Connections." Then students can use strips of construction paper to connect the pictures. On each strip that connects two pictures, students must describe the connection in writing. (For example, a strip labeled "We have three brothers" will connect the pictures of two students who each have three brothers. A strip labeled "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" will connect the pictures of two students who listed that book as their favorite.)
      Melissa Kowalski, Schaumburg School District #54, Schaumburg, Illinois

A Smile Goes a Long Way!
Create a giant happy face and staple it to a bulletin board with the headline "A Smile Goes a Long Way!" Gather students on the carpet and talk about how this is a happy classroom and it's going to be a happy year. Then prompt students by saying something such as, "As your teacher, I want to know what makes you happy." Then pass out smaller happy faces with lines at the bottom. Children write on the lines one or two things that make them happy. Post their work around the giant happy face.
      Shelly Nitkin, Radburn School, Fair Lawn, New Jersey

Getting-to-Know-You Venn Diagram
Gather groups of three students. Supply a prepared three-circle Venn diagram for each group. Students talk in their groups about themselves and the things they like to do. After a brief discussion, the students must decide on three ways in which they are all alike; they write those things in the intersecting areas of the diagram. Then each student must write in his or her circle three facts that are unique to him or her. This activity helps students recognize and appreciate likenesses and differences in people. It also introduces them to Venn diagrams on the first day of school. This type of graphic organizer might be used many times throughout the year.
      Rene Masden, Sixth District Elementary School, Covington, Kentucky

Special Memories Book
If you write a letter of introduction before the school year starts, include a request that students bring to school on the first day something that has a special memory attached to it. If you do not send a before-school letter, you can make this activity the homework assignment for the first day. Start the day by reading Mem Fox's popular book Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge. The story is about a little boy who befriends an older woman and gives her back memories that she has forgotten. After reading the story, discuss what a memory is and list students' ideas. Then give each child an opportunity to share his or her special item and tell about the memories it carries. You might also use this as the first writing assignment of the year; have students write about the memories their objects sparks take pictures of the objects, and create a class book of memories.
      Cindy Kramer, West Side Elementary School, Cold Spring Harbor, New York

Helping Hands
This activity helps students get to know one another while they review parts of speech and symbolism. Organize students into pairs, and have each student trace both of his or her partner's hands onto a sheet of construction paper. Then the students cut out the outlines of their hands. Instruct students to write on each finger of the right hand a different noun that tells something about them. They might write the name of someone special to them, a favorite sport or TV program, a favorite place or book, etc. Then each student should write on the left-hand cutout a different adjective to describe himself or herself. Finally, the students might connect the two hands with a paper-chain bracelet of five links; the students should draw on each link a symbol that represent something about themselves.
      Katherine Butcher, Berkeley High School, Moncks Corner, South Carolina

Classroom Rights. Most teachers post their classroom rules, announce them to their students, and that's the end of it. An alternative approach is to ask students to brainstorm some "rights" they would like to have in their classroom. First, you might give some examples, such as the right to a quiet work environment or the right to be treated well. Have each student write down a right he or she would like to have in the classroom. If they have time, students might illustrate their rights. Then ask each student to share his or her idea. Provide time for students to talk over the ideas and brainstorm negative and/or positive consequences of each. Then print on butcher paper the rights students agree should be among their permanent classroom rights. Have students press his or her thumb on an inkpad and place a thumbprint next to the right they most strongly agree with. Then have each student sign his or her name to the document to make it "official." Leave the Classroom Rights document on display all year long to remind students of their rights. This also is a great activity for transitioning into a study of U.S. History and the Constitution. Students can explore which of the rights in the U.S. Constituion are represented among the rights on their Classroom Rights poster.
       Kristy Davis, Challenge Charter School, Glendale, Arizona (from an idea observed in the classroom of Tricia Shaughnessy, Hawthorne Elementary School, San Antonio, Texas)

Monday, August 13, 2012

MAP and DRA Dates and Deadlines

Blogging Bliss-The Case for Blogging

As many of you know, I am a huge fan of the blog/website. I can argue the case with charisma the many  reasons why teachers should begin blogging. It's not just about you and your communication with parents, but it's about students' communication with other students, their parents, and even the entire school community. In the article/blog below, this teacher shares in a quick and engaging way why you should start a blog and what you can do with it once you have one.  
From the mother who constantly clicks on her children's teachers' blogs to check things and has a son who started his own today (and also clicks on his teacher's blog), please consider this 21st century option for communication. 

Even third-graders can learn from blogging
Third-grade teacher Linda Yollis started a classroom blog in 2008, and said the site has been useful in communicating with parents and sharing students' work. In this blog post, Yollis writes about the advantages of blogging to help teach literacy skills to young students and give them experience in communicating online. Yollis also uses the class blog as part of lessons, including one in which students studied famous people and posted blog comments as the people they studied. SmartBrief/SmartBlog on Education (8/8)

If you are interested in starting a blog, please let Jennifer or me know so we can support you. I set Keaton up in less than 15 min.! :)

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

BES PD Movie Preview- Teaching Technology Natives

Watch our BES PD Preview- Educating Technology Natives below.

Today's students need more support with technology than ever before. They are living in a world that requires them to research, learn, communicate, produce, and share using technology. Our upcoming PD will support us as we work to support our students as they inquire, explore, learn, collaborate, produce, and share. Get ready for August 8th and 9th with a little preview and call to do more than just believe. Let's make the change!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

New text-sparked opinion writing in K/1

Katie DiCesare considers how the Common Core is influencing her instruction of opinion writing in first grade:
If you are teaching K/1 and looking for some great ideas for text-sparked opinion writing, here is a great link to check out. New books=new inspiration. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

On-Demand Prompt Hints

Thanks to all of you for your efforts to support student writing. Here is the electronic link to a Narrative Writing Prompt site As with anything outside resource- some parts are better than others. ;)

Couple of reminders when writing prompts for the K-PREP on-demand style-per the released info. and samples:

The SITUATION is more developed- it offers much more context for the student to use than in the past

States the MODE and offer a FORM- Write a narrative for a blog...Write your opinion in an email...

States audience-which will determine the tone

Narrative can be REAL or IMAGINED

INFORMATIVE-(for this year) is about reading info. from a passage(s) and synthesizing it to craft an informative or explanatory piece- "Just the facts, ma'am. Just the facts." is our motto. :)

Stand-alone (30 min. & 2 blank pg); Passage-based (90 min. and 4 blank pgs.)

1 blank page for pre-write

Thesis Statement -the focal point, opinion, thru-line of the piece/ truism or lesson learned for narrative

Models are available.

Please let me know how else I can support you. I will pass along other sites and info as I get it.


Thursday, March 1, 2012


Ok, if you don't know about site, you'll want to know and tab it as a favorite! It's free to join and contains great lessons (for using or tweaking). The site creators also include passages that are good for using with specific grade levels and are interesting. (of course, you could always substitute your own excellent text selections)

The lessons emphasize supporting thinking with evidence from the text, crossing over into content areas, and offers purposeful graphic organizers.

Click the link below for the topic in the SUBJECT line, or to see ALL of the possible lessons click
Happy Reading Planning!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

What is Narrative Text?

Check out this  PPT/movie if you are looking to refine your understanding of NARRATIVE TEXT. We've been thinking of narratives one way for so long,
 it's sometimes necessary to revise our understanding.

The new Common Core (KCAS) Standards 
are calling us to do so.

I know they made me step back and THINK.
So I'll share my SHORT and TO THE POINT thinking with you.

Let me know what you think and if you want to think more together.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Power of Speaking in Complete Sentences

By Sarah Whitt

There is a strong relationship between MLU* and reading- the oral language link.
In classrooms where teachers demand that children and adults! use the rule of 5 – I speak in complete sentences and their hand as a visual reminder, language skills jump even faster than if a speech therapist came in to do language enhancement activities.

This statement by Dr. Kathy Cooter of Bellarmine University caused a “Huh, I hadn’t thought about that.” reaction in me this morning. I know that I’ve posted informational articles testifying to the effect of vicarious learning in the BES bathrooms. (Yes, I do resort to posting educational graffiti on the bathroom walls.) I know that we’ve read the research related to the positive impact of teacher modeling, and seen the effects of our modeling, thinking aloud, and demonstrating experiences for students. I know we would readily say, “Of course, if I model and explicitly teach: using good manners, using thinking strategies to create meaning when reading, writing with description, or checking for accuracy as a mathematician, etc. they will eventually pick it up and do the same—especially if it’s the expectation. Of course we would; we’ve seen it with our own eyes and heard it with our ears. But…had you ever considered this in relation to teachers modeling speaking in complete sentences, expecting students to do the same, holding them accountable, and then seeing the transfer in their speaking, reading, writing? I can honestly say that I had not—not until today, that is.

Where Do I begin?
So, let’s start by building our schema for MLU—the *mean length of utterance. As Dr. Cooter explains, “It is the expectation of the length of a child's spoken words. It is a good estimate of aptitude and typically kids who have long MLUs have reading and writing advantages. In most schools, I see teachers as main violators- they do not speak in sentences of 5 or more words in length and children unconsciously mimic the length of teacher utterance.” Makes total sense when it’s explained like that, huh? (Don’t judge, that was a deliberately crafted incomplete sentence for effect.) J

With this clearer understanding of the importance of MLUs you may be wondering about Dr. Cooter’s advice for improving students’ MLU and ultimately their speech, reading, and writing practices. Ready? Here it is: Start with your modeling. “Teachers themselves can go a LONG way in making this happen.”

The way I see it, I think awareness and expectation will be key—our awareness and students’ awareness, our expectations of ourselves and of our expectation of our students. I am betting that many teachers are not conscious of whether or not they are speaking in complete sentences. I’d argue that many are not even aware of the length of their sentences and/or if they are holding the kids accountable for speaking in complete sentences of average (or greater than average) length.  Have I always tried to speak clearly and use the best word choice I can? Of course. Have I intentionally considered whether or not I am speaking in complete sentences or asking kids to do the same? Uh, no, BUT, I will.  

Initiating Intention and Technology Tools
I think it would be fascinating, for those who are interested in assessing where they are on the awareness and expectation spectrum, to use the iPad (or other audio device) to record and analyze the talk that occurs in the classroom.  Personally, I’d like to know what I sound l like and if my students and I speak in complete sentences. Do I model it? Do I expect it? Do I hold them accountable? I could then use the data to set personal goals and support students in creating their own goals. What’s the pay off? Stronger speakers, readers, and writers. Haven’t I been searching for another way to support students in writing in complete sentences? Well, now that I think about it, I dare say I'll try that today- see how I am doing. :)
 When you know better, you do better. Right?

The Details according to Dr. Cooter:
·       Kindergarteners MLU is 4-5 word sentences… which include a predicate.
·       Generally you can think that the age of the child is near the expected MLU- up to a point obviously…
·       To figure out the MLU, ask a child about their weekend or to retell a story and keep tally marks. Articles only count at the beginning of a sentence.
·       There is a strong relationship between MLU and reading- the oral language link.