Monday, December 14, 2015

What We're Reading in December

Five days, everyone, five days. We can do this, right? Right??

With the in-and-out of November and December, my fifth graders are still working their way through what we began in November. (Curious? Check that post out here.)

Which is OK, because I'll share with you what I'm doing with my fourthies! Hopefully, you'll still find something new and cool to try with your big kids.

We're about halfway through:
I'm working with the themes of individuality, inner and outer beauty, and unconditional love, so I've paired these close reads with it:
"Remembering", a poem in my Jacob's Ladder comprehension set,
"Beauty and the Beast",  as in the real one, and quite different from the Disney version. It's in my Junior Great Books (set 4A), but you can find the text here.
"Harrison Bergeron", another bit of science fiction, in which people with talents or gifts are purposely handicapped to make everyone equal. More scary for grown-ups (because you can see this happening one day) than for kids. They just get mad. Find it here.
"Tesseract" a webpage describing what a tesseract really is. Find it here.

My fourth grade reading is tiny, so we only have two book clubs:

By the way, at least in my town, it's time for the Scholastic Book Clubs Warehouse Sale! Most of the books in the warehouse (and it's an actual warehouse) are half off, so this is when I go and shore up my book club choices. When will your city have one? Find out here. 

Five days, y'all, we got this. 
I hope you and yours have a peaceful, restful, awesome-amazing couple of weeks off! Enjoy it now...winter is coming, my friends. Unless you teach in New Zealand, like our Learning to be Awesome's Erin. She's ready for summer. 

Check out what the other Focused of Fifth collaborators are reading in their classrooms! Just click on the icon below or right here.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

November Products for Payday (and Cyber Monday!)

Well, the turkey's down to a carcass, the sweet potato casserole has pretty much had it. Time for shopping! (Better yet, shopping in my jammie pants.)

I've done some serious damage at the sale at Ravelry. I've got enough crochet patterns to keep me busy for a looong time, and that's a good thing! I really do find stitch-counting relaxing, and I love when a big project comes together. That, and while I don't watch much TV, when I do, my hands have to be busy. Drives my husband up a tree, but I'm just wired that way.

Still, I'm holding back, just a bit. Why? Because TpT's fall sale starts Monday, and I've got a few things on my wish list! Here's something you might like to add to yours...

We'll be hitting fractions big in December and January. The thing with fractions is that the kids absolutely have to get their heads around it, even if they can just do the calculations. If they don't get how they 'work', they're going to run in to trouble down the road, and we don't want that for our kiddos! This set of differentiated sheets offers some challenging problems for your kids to engage in math talk, and we know that math talk makes it stick!
These are labeled for fourth grade because they use like denominators, but would be excellent for the first week of instruction while you review those concepts or for your low fifth graders.

What have the other fab Focused on Fifth teachers got for your list? Click below to find out!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Using Color to Keep It All Together

So, this was going to be a post about how I use color-coding to keep all of my things organized. I teach two subjects each to two grades, and failing to keep my teaching materials, data, etc. organized is a recipe for bad, bad things.

But now it's not. I absolutely promise you that there's a good reason for this, but you didn't come here for a neurology lesson, so suffice it to say that I didn't get back to Room 301 to take pictures of my shelves of color-coded binders, my files, or my data board. Too bad; you'd have been impressed.

However, you all know that teaching is one business in which, if you can't fly by the seat of your pants,  you're going to be unhappy. A lot. So, I'm going with what I've got, and hope you'll think this is pretty cool, too.

I'm a big believer in math games. Kids need a chance to play with concepts and practice skills, even my upper-grades, gifted kids. Especially my upper-grades, gifted kids. Games and work like tiling tasks (I adore the Time to Tile jobs from Got to Teach on TpT.) and mindbenders are good for their busy brains.

I do math rotations, and wanted a defined 'games' space, one that would require fewer things to organize and would make it easy to participate. On Pinterest, I found a chalkboard-paint topped table that a primary grades teacher was using for word study. I can't handle chalk dust. My nose just goes nuts. No one was happier than I when we lost the chalkboards and went to whiteboards; I'm sure not putting one BACK in my classroom! On the other hand, on Amazon I found inexpensive whiteboard stickers! Woo-hoo!

After a trip to IKEA and a little frustration on my high schooler's part, we had a snazzy, new games table for about $35. There's a border of Washi tape around the big ol' whiteboard sticker so it won't curl up, and we needed a shower squeegee to get the sticker on the table top without bubbles, but, as a whole, easy-peasy!

 The kids love being able to write directly on the table; I love that there aren't crates of whiteboards all over the place. It's also easy for me to glance over their shoulders and see what they're really up to...

... and you can see some of my color-coding. Green is for fifth grade math; blue's for fourth.
I'm also kinda OCD about my math manipulatives and game parts. They live on the shelf like this:
I've since labeled the drawers of my Pink Box drawers (It was a lot cheaper on Amazon than the other brands.) with some cute labels from Ladybug's Teacher Files. I'm religious about sorting and labeling, because when I can find the parts I need for different games without a lot of fuss, I'm more likely to get them into the kids' hands. If it's a hassle...well, ain't nobody got time for that!

So, there's my tip. Games rock, if you organize the things you need to have them and create a space for them, you're far more likely to use them! Bonus: January's coming! That's when all the tubs, containers, and shelves go on sale!

Next, you'll be hopping over to Jessica, our Whimsical Teacher, to see what tips she's got ready for you! (Her title didn't give anything away, so I'm looking forward to finding out, too!)
Did you miss the first part of the hop? You've missed a lot! Start right here!

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Diving in Deeper this November - What We're Reading

Ah... November! Here, in the South, our leaves are finally changing in earnest. Fall happens quickly here. Some years we go from green to gone in a matter of a week or ten days. This year, not so much, what with all the rain. And more rain. And rain after that. The TV anchorguy announced the start of the 6AM news yesterday morning with, "Well, it's another crummy day."

On the upside, it's November. We've all survived the September-October push, gotten to know our classes better, and are ready to start tossing the kids a little meat.

With my fifth grade, I'm wrapping up The View from Saturday, with its twining plotlines and oddball connections, which my kids love exploring, and get into:

This is one of my favorite books to teach. It's got a lot to work with, just with the parallel plots and a couple of wicked plot twists. There's a line of dialogue,  spoken by a heartbroken grandpa at the end, that makes me - widely known as the toughest teacher in school - teary eyed every. single. time. Somehow, the kids think that's awesome.

It's also useful to me, as a fifth grade teacher, because we'll work with the universal theme of rejection and acceptance, one that's good for going-to-middle-school kids to explore. My essential question will be, "How can the fear of rejection create unhealthy patterns of behavior?"

I'm going to be pairing this text with a few close-reads, two fiction and one non-fiction:
All Summer in a Day by Ray Bradbury
Chanclas by Sandra  Cisneros
Brown v. BOE by Walter Dean Myers

Here are my book club choices to pair with it:

Well, that's what's up for fifth grade in room 301 this month. I'm still waffling on my fourth grade. I wanted to do The Tiger Rising, but I'm having a hard time putting a finger on a universal theme for it.. I might hit A Wrinkle in  Time in the meantime, and focus on order and chaos as a theme, though sacrificial love's a good one, too. I'm hunting for close reading work for both of them.

So what are the other fab Focused on Fifth collaborators up to?
Find out here!

Have an amazing month! The next three go by in just a blink...take time to enjoy them and your kiddos!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

October Products for Payday

Happy payday! That happens every month on the 25th here on The Big Kids Hall, and I've always got a few things on my wish list waiting for it.

If you're looking for an easy-peasy way to challenge your readers and take care of reading homework, you might consider adding my Reading Homework Choice Boards to yours!
Three different menus let me focus on skills related to plot, theme, and character. All I do is print and go. Each board has 16 tasks, so you could use it for two or three weeks if you wanted to. I just do single-week assignments.

I would have classroom pictures to show this item in action, but we in room 301 have been in a different sort of action this week. I've just gotten back (as in got home about and hour and a half ago) from a three-day camp on beautiful Seabrook Island, SC studying ecosystems. It sits on a large estuary, and we've been walking in a palmetto forest, seine netting, and slogging through plough mud in the salt marsh. Sadly, it rained for most of the time there, but the kids still had a good time. Did I mention that there was a lot of plough (pronouce it 'pluff') mud?
If you've ever done one of these camps, you know how this smells. And sticks to utterly everything. It has the strangest gelatinous texture that sucks at your shoes. Of course, the kids thought this was the most awesome part. That, and petting a baby alligator.

If you've heard about the serious flooding South Carolina's had over the last few weeks, it's the salt marsh and its ability to absorb and distribute water, that's rescued Charleston. Stinky, but necessary.

I hope you've had as much fun as we've had this week! Hang on; it's almost payday, and the long September-October haul is nearly over!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

What I'm Reading This October

The truth is, not much. I've still got a sixteen year old with a migraine that, after six weeks now, won't die (and stay that way) so between doctor trips and holing up in the dark, I don't get a lot of anything done.

What am I supposed to be reading? Well, this:

 We teachers of Academically/Intellectually Gifted kids in my county are part of a required book study, and this is the text. I'll have to admit that, at first, I was less-than impressed. I have real concerns that this move toward 'text dependence' represents a dumbing-down of curriculum (Don't think; just go fetch the right answer.) and I still think that, used poorly, that's what it becomes.

I've been pleasantly surprised, though. What I've read, so far, has shown that using text dependent questions can, in fact, promote real thinking into text. We are given strategies that take kids well beyond the literal, but stay within a TDQ framework. The book doesn't read like a textbook, with a much less formal vibe and down-to-earth examples.

I've got a lot more reading to do, but already, I've changed my attitude toward this type of work from, "Yippee! Let's raise some convergent, low-level thinkers that'll make great sheep when they grow up." to "Maybe this does have a place in my classroom."  It's a start.

What am I reading with my classes? That's a different story. I teach a lot of my skills through read-aloud with accountable talk and follow up with book clubs. I teach reading twice a day, once with fourth grade and once with fifth. Both groups just finished our first read-alouds (Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH  and Crispin: The Cross of Lead respectively) and we're cruising into:


This is where we'll begin to look closely at character: identifying and supporting character traits, how those traits both create problems and equip characters to solve them, and how relationships play out throughout a text. 

For fifth:

For plot, we'll focus on how the individual stories intertwine (and how so many lead back to one minor character, which is weird.) For character, we'll look at different types of characters (flat, round, sympathetic, static, dynamic.) This has a good variety of those.

Plus, I love reading how the snobby admin.-type refers to himself as an ed-you-cat-or, as opposed to the warmth the kids' teacher, Mrs. Olinski, exudes. 

So, what are my awesome, bloggy friends reading these days? Click the button below to stop by the Focused on Fifth site and find out. Share what you're reading, too; it's a linky party!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Football Freebie Frenzy!

It was a rough day yesterday in my football world. UNC-Charlotte, my undergrad alma mater, joined the D1 teams last week and got whupped. This week, they got slaughtered. Poor 49ers; it's going to be a bag-your-face kind of season.

My grad school, Duke, lost, too, though not nearly so badly, and let's face it, nobody expects Duke football to be good. We Blue Devils are OK with that. Winter is coming.... and we own it.

That leaves the Panthers. With no Luke Kuechly. (A wise decision - he's a very young man. I'm all about hitting hard. It's football, for crying out loud, but I'm glad to see the league taking head injuries seriously and allowing players time to heal.) His absence will be felt, and I hope not too badly. Maybe it'll be a good week and the receivers will actually receive. It could happen...

Oh, and the Houston Texans will be in town, and their star lineback, a particular Mr.Clowney, is from about 20 minutes southeast of here. We remember him as a high school player and as a Gamecock, so we'll enjoy watching him play today.

So, just for today, since it's been a mixed bag this weekend, I'm offering a place value scavenger hunt, perfect for fifth graders and your bright fourths, at half price. If the Panthers win, it'll be free for the rest of the day. (I teach at an early start school, so that'll be about 8:30 EST, unless I get busy and forget, in which case it'll be until I suddenly remember tomorrow...) Makes an excellent print-and-go center or whole-class activity. To find it, click on the pic:

Hopefully, this weekend won't be a wash. May your team play well and score big, unless, of course, you pull for Houston. ;)

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Fab Ideas and Free Stuff: It's a Blog Launch Giveaway!

How cool is this? Some very talented teacher friends and I have gotten together to create Focused on Fifth, a brand new collaborative blog that's, we'll, focused on all things fifth grade.

What's extra-awesome is that we come from a variety of places (New Zealand and all over the US) and have a wide range of experience. I love how you'll get to see teaching tips and issues through different lenses! (And see that fifth graders are fifth graders, wherever they are...) We're excited to be able to share our perspectives and some great ideas. I've already learned a lot from these girls!

To make this an even sweeter deal, we're offering a monster giveaway! Ten lucky winners will each snag a bundle of ten products from our TpT stores (I'm putting up both of my Mentor Sentence sets, a semester's worth of grammar, mechanics, and writer's craft activities.) and one grand prize winner will score a $35 TpT gift certificate!

These bundles are loaded with lots of fifth grade goodness:

Hop on over and join us! Just click the button below...

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Making a Life vs. Making a Living: Rethinking the Goals Set for Our Teens

It has been a long week and a half. On the third day of school, AJ, my sixteen year old, (He's in the picture above.) was slammed with a particularly intense migraine. It took an office visit, two trips to urgent care - one for shots and one for IV meds - and, finally, a trip to the hospital for the really nasty IV meds to break it. While, after that, liquids stayed down, it took another three days before he'd eat anything at all, a total of nine days.

He slept a lot. He was super light-sensitive, so I spent a lot of time keeping him company, either in his dark room or in dark medical rooms. We've had more time to visit and talk (in hushed tones) in those six days than in the last six months. I learned a bit.

What's any of this to do with teaching? More than you might think. Oddly, on the day his migraine began, I did my annual talk with my students about goals, and that their first goal should always be to be happy. I show this TED talk by an awesomely poised and confident 13-year old, who talks about making a life vs. making a living, and what education's role should be in that endeavor. I buy into every word he says.
AJ is a high school junior at an affluent school loaded with high achievers. His strongest academic subject is science, and he does very well in school. He's been looking at colleges like Baylor and UNC-Chapel Hill with an eye toward med school or biomed research. These are not unreasonable goals. He's got a tough schedule this year, with every class honors or AP-level. He'll be taking his third year of Chinese next semester because 'Everybody takes Spanish. That's no fun.'

He's also a beautiful baritone. AJ sang before he talked. He spent several years in our city's children's choir and is a well-trained and self-disciplined music student. He'll be auditioning for a Young Artist in Residence position in the Charlotte Oratorio later this month. He loves to sing, but has always seen it as a side item. Science is where the money is, and the boy has expensive tastes. (He has a job, too, to deal with that.)

So, while we were curled up in the dark this week, he said, "Y'know, Mom, I've been thinking a lot, and while I'm really good at science, it's still work. Music isn't work. I think what would really make me happy is being a music teacher."

Wait. What?
My mind reeled. Sure, he's been influenced by a few really good music teachers, but those jobs are few and far-between. Even if he added a second major in performance, he'll have to search hard for employment. Seriously? He's never leaving my house!  If he wants to think musical theater, he's got a challenge, because he can't dance! He knows how teacher paychecks work... Maybe a minor in a science would be a good idea, because then he could teach that if he had to...

...and here I am, pushing my child to make a living, rather than a life. Nice. I advocate one thing for my school kids, always working toward 'what's best for children', but not for my own? Time for a gut check.

Because want I want my child to BE is happy. What he wants to DO ought to be part of that, and he should be allowed to build a life worth the living.  Sadly, high schools have become mini-colleges, with children pushed hard to make difficult life choices while they're still so young. Smart kids are told they're underachieving (and you'll never get into the right college with the right scholarships) when they try get into things they might want to do, just for fun. That stuff gets in the way of what it seems they have to do. Even extracurriculars have to have a purpose. I'm not talking smack, because I've been riding that hamster wheel, too.

 So, when he finally goes back to school Tuesday, he'll drop down to college prep chemistry and math and keep the honors and AP English/History/Chinese/Choir courses. Those are the things at which he excels because they speak to him. He'll still take AP bio down the road, because biology really is easy for him (and AP pays you back) but we'll take a different approach to the big picture. Oh, and UNC-Chapel Hill has a bang-up music program, too. (Even if it is entirely the wrong color of blue...) 

Just for fun, he's here singing with part of his choir. This isn't their best, most artistic piece, by far, but it shows the joy he feels in singing. You'll recognize him on the first row. It's okay to laugh. :)

Monday, August 17, 2015


I'm excited! Tomorrow's the first day back. (Okay, I have to spend it in PD, but at least it should be good PD...) I've worked hard this summer getting all kinds of things made and organized and I can finally move it all out of the loft and into my room. Tuesday.

Between now and then, I'm jumping in with Denise, AKA #TeacherMom to offer you the chance to win some pretty sweet language tools for your classroom. I'm offering my Mentor Sentences for Big Kids interactive notebook pages. Mentor sentences are all the rage right now among the little kids for practicing grammar and writer's craft. I've adapted them for grades 4-6 and love them! Click on the picture to take you to its TpT listing
I've written about them in a blog post here.

Would you like to grab your very own set for free? Oh, yeah. We can do that!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
  Don't forget to visit all of the blogs in the giveaway! There are some great resources for the taking!

Saturday, August 8, 2015

BTS Blog Hop: Five Rules for Back to School

Welcome to The Big Kids' Hall! I'm getting ready to start another year - my 23rd - on it. I really do love school I'm just not a big fan of alarm clocks set to 5:20, so I'm enjoying my last few days of waking up to sun filtering in and birds chirping.

I'm glad you've hopped over! I'm teaming up with Tammy, The Owl Teacher and other amazing teacher bloggers for a day of tips, goodies and a giveaway to make the transition a little easier.

My part? Well, I'm giving away a set of my Mentor Sentences for Big Kids  interactive notebooks pages and offering you...

Five Rules to Own Back-to-School

1.  Set Reasonable Expectations for Yourself. This is my biggest problem. I super-duper love Pinterest. Where else can you find such amazing lessons? Such beautiful classrooms? THIS:
I have to remind myself, regularly, that Pinterest is not a challenge site. Really. I catch myself getting down on me because the chevron on the baskets doesn't perfectly pick up the color of the stripe in the rug, like it does here. That's not a good use of my energy, and when I go there, everything, even the pretty good stuff, registers as crap in my head. Luckily, I've got a teammate who's good at telling me to get over myself.

2. Try to go all Zen when your priorities and the district's don't intersect. At all. It is painful to watch the stupid epi-pen video for the zillionth time (and I've got a peanut kid at home!) but at least it sort of makes sense. What's really frustrating is some flavor of the day PD when you've got things to DO.
Case in point: Monday the 17th is not a workday; it's the last day of break. However, we are strongly encouraged to attend curriculum workshops, for which we won't be paid. I'm signed up for a Singapore Math training I'm actually looking forward to, but that's not the point. Here's the kicker: they are closing the buildings so that we CAN'T go to school and work in our rooms.  This ranks a total WTF? but long ago I learned: they simply don't get it. There's no point in getting wrapped up and stressed with things you can't control, and unfortunately, the first week workshop is a good place to practice that bit of self-discipline. Just make sure your phone's charged when you go in. There are some apps you can get set up or work with while you're nodding and appearing engaged.  

3. Put other people to work. Does the high school have teacher cadets? They looove to cut lamination. Email their sponsor. Are there teens in your neighborhood that need service hours? They're probably as desperate to help as you are to have some. My high-schooler has gotten pretty good at setting up classrooms and is allowed to hire himself out at school when I don't need him. (I really missed his help at the end of last year because his summer job at the movie theater had started.) Don't think you have to do it all yourself. 

4. Beat the K-2 teachers to the laminator. or you won't get any done. If you're a rookie and you think I'm kidding, I'm not. I have no idea where all of those teeny-tiny things come from or even what they're for, but I do know that if I'm not on that pile early, I'll be up until midnight the night before Open House cutting my laminating because we had to wait for a roll of film to come in.

5. Enjoy at least one lunch, especially if you're losing your mind. I teach in the South, so duty free lunch is not part of my experience. I eat with the kids (but at least I get to eat at the teacher table; not everyone does.) This is one of the few times that I can enjoy the company of my teammates without the cacophony of 130 kids and having to stand up and give the stink eye to some kid behaving badly. Make yourself take a time out, even when you're sure if you do you'll never get done.  You'll be glad you did.

Be sure to pin the rules to keep and to share the giveaway with your friends!
Here's to a happy and productive start of the year!
Would you like a free sample of my Mentor Sentences? You'll find the freebie Geek Edition right here!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Seasoned Sages Sundays: Setting Yourself Up for Success: The Questions (and Whom) to Ask Now

On a Facebook group page for upper elementary teachers, a new teacher asked, very intelligently, 'What questions should I be asking my principal or my team leader right now?'  There's so much that you'll have to manage, you want to know how it all rolls before you plan a room and a day.

Before we begin though, let me toss in this thought: listen a lot more than you talk over the next few months. People-watch. Keep an eye on interactions and how they flow. Who are the power players? (They may not be the people you think!) They'll be your go-to people. The first week, full-staff meetings are good for starting this.

What should I be asking my principal?
As little as possible. He/she runs a building. Your job is to run your classroom. A young teacher I once worked with, having trouble managing a class went, often, to admin for help. Then, hurt and confused, she found herself on the wrong side of the principal and labeled as a poor teacher. Afterwards, she came to the veteran teachers on our staff saying, "But she said that if I needed help, I should go to her!" to which each of us answered, "And you believed her?!"
My boss is a great guy. He's affable and easy to work with. I leave him alone unless something needs his express approval (like an overnight field trip) is going to cause a phone call downtown he'll have to deal with (a particular child's crazy mama's on the warpath, wanting things she can't have. Again.) something that will affect several teachers (a schedule change) or is way over my head (a child in a criminally abusive situation). As a reward, he's always glad to see me, and on the rare occasion I need action, I get it.

Great. So, whom do I ask?
A not very well kept secret is that it's the secretaries who actually make everything work. (Ours aren't actually called 'secretaries', they're a bookkeeper and an attendance officer. Some can be a little touchy about it. Mine aren't, but the ones at my son's school are. Find out.) Most day-to-day questions or issues should be run by them first. From them, you need to find out:
*How is attendance done?
*How do I handle (Powerschool, or whatever platform's being used for grades, attendance, etc.) What if I get locked out of it?
*How do I get classroom supplies?
*How is money handled?
*What if a kid's hurling? Lousy? Bleeding?
*What if my kid's school/sitter calls and he or she is hurling/lousy/bleeding?
*How do I get a sub?

Your grade/department chair is the person to whom to direct most of your questions. These should be things like:
*Do we plan together or on our own? Will we turn in lesson plans? If so, when and how?
*What are the expectations for the literacy block? Other areas?
*How does our grade/department collect data? What's it used for? Who will see it?
* What's the daily schedule? How religiously does it have to be followed?
* What are the procedures for: beginning the day, using the bathroom (not just the kids - you too.   Welcome to the world of the steel bladder.) getting through the cafeteria, playground, dismissal? Get your lead to walk you through a day.
* How do you handle homework? Word study?
* How do papers go home to parents?
* What if a kid's doing horribly? What are the procedures for getting those kids help?
*What do teachers actually wear? Are there jeans Fridays? How does that work?
*What sends the boss over the edge?What quirks does he or she have that I should know about?

Assistant Principals sit an odd fence. I've loved most of mine and had my tail saved by a few. They live in the admin world, but still keep a toe in the classroom. Rarely, you'll run into one that's ambitious to the point of putting him/herself above what's good for teachers, in which case, principal rules apply, but as long as you lean sparingly, they can be a great resource. Specifically, you'll need to know:
*How and how often will I be evaluated?
*Who is my mentor? Are there particular times that teacher and I meet? Is documentation required?
*What do I do if there's a transportation issue?
* What's the procedure if a kid's totally out of control?

Finally, a few last bits of this and that:
Be nice to the lunch ladies. Make your kids behave in line and don't let them talk trash about the pizza until they're out of earshot. Clean up your tables; keep to the schedule.

Be even nicer to the custodians, unless you never want anything moved or dusted again. Don't leave the room trashed. I once had one say, "I know everything I need to know about a teacher just by looking at her floor at the end of the day." Think about it; she was telling the truth. My current hall custodian is awesome. I left a small bookcase in its box on my floor one afternoon in May, planning to put it together the next morning. When I came in, it was already built. While I never go to the office to tattle, I totally will to brag. Mr. Larry's the man!

If you have security staff and/or a CRO (Campus Resource Officer) get to know them. They're your guardian angels and can do a lot with your kids as an alternative for kicking them to the office.

I know this was lengthy, and if you stuck with it to the end, good job! Believe it or not, there's no way I've covered it all, so continue on to the other Sages' sites to learn more!

Before you go, be sure to pin this for your teacher friends!

Friday, July 31, 2015

Beliefs into Actions Blog Hop

I'm going on year 23. When I actually see that on my screen, it blows me away. When I get number 24 done, I'll have been teaching for half of my life. Holy moly. Being a smart aleck, when people ask me how I've kept going this long, I usually say something like, "Oh, I don't know. I keep showing up in August and they keep handing me keys."

There is, of course, more to it than that. When we each find our vocation, which of course, is a very individual thing, life falls into place. Things feel balanced because we are able to live our beliefs. So, as I roll into 23, it's not a bad idea to take a few minutes, before the beginning-of-the-year-gotta-get-it-done autopilot kicks in to reflect on what exactly that is.

I'm a philosophy wonk. I read a lot of different teachers' ideas and theories, and not because I have to. When I had a young child, (Don't worry; I've still got him. He's just 6 feet tall these days.)  I visited a new Montessori school that was opening in Roanoke, VA, to which we'd just moved, as part of the Great Preschool Hunt. One of my questions was, 'Seriously? Paying tuition for him to spoon beans?" and the teacher handed me a copy of  The Absorbent Mind. Once I read it, I was sold. The best money I've ever spent was sending A.J. to a Montessori school. It built him into a self-confident, questioning thinker and a self-sufficient person, traits which have followed him to traditional high school. Dr. Montessori's beliefs about teaching absolutely apply to the modern teaching situation.

(Almost) Everything I Needed to Know I Learned from Maria Montessori

My own Montessori training (I told you I was sold!) has changed the lens through which I see the value of different kinds of student work and interactions, even though I teach gifted fourth and fifth graders in a traditional elementary. If you've got time to get in one more read before the year begins, I highly recommend Montessori: A Modern Approach to tie today's classrooms and Montessori philosophy together. If you've got time and/or young kids, The Absorbent Mind and The Secret of Childhood are worth your time. These two are by Dr. Montessori.

I'm not back in my classroom yet, but if I could, I'd show you pictures of my gazillion math manipulatives, my flexible seating, and my room arrangement that has lots of meeting space. Mine is a doing, collaborative classroom.

Thanks for dropping by. Taking some time to think about why I do what I do has been good for me! Makes my heart happy as I set out toward  doing it again...

Next, you're off to visit with Lila at the Polka Dotted Pencil! Just give her oh-so-cute button a click!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Seasoned Sages Sundays: Open House

Ah, Open House, or Meet the Teacher Night, or Back to School Night, whatever you call it, even we veterans meet it with a mix of high hopes and abject terror. Those last frantic hours when we finally just give up and shove the last few jumbled things into the closet, knowing that once it goes in, it won't come out until June, in the push to have a presentable classroom. No pressure; it just sets the tone for the whole. durned. year.

You, of course, will have it even tougher. At least I have a professional reputation to fall back on. (Totally required it last year, too, when I was still painting bookshelves at the last possible moment. Nothing like meeting parents with paint in my hair. Seriously, don't try this at home...) You are young, maybe even the age of your students' older siblings. Parents don't know you and worry a bit that breaking in a newbie could mean a wasted year for their child. Great.

So, what can you do? I've been on both sides of that fence. As a young teacher of eighth graders, I was sometimes mistaken for one of the kids. During that first week of school, another teacher, whom I'd not met yet, threatened, quite rudely, to haul me to the office for being in the hall without a pass. When my son, now a high-school junior, was entering third grade, he got the new teacher, a fresh-from college young man from Pennsylvania. Both situations turned out well enough, though not without their bumps. Yes, you can survive.

So, dear rookie, I'm going to offer you two bits of advice. One is simple. Dress the part. If you're young, and particularly if you're teaching big kids, invest now in an attractive-but-all-business wardrobe. Had I been in a suit and not in khakis and a polo, the teacher would have been much more likely to recognize me as staff. It helps un-blur the line between being young enough to be their sister and a being a Teacher. It will encourage your parents to see you as another adult. Yes, I know what firsties get paid. Do it anyway.

The second is this : Don't Reinvent the Wheel. 
Smart teachers totally rip each others' ideas off, but then we make it our own. Don't feel bad about it; sharing ideas is why we blog. Open House is as good a place to start as any.

So, whose ideas am I stealing this year? This summer, I pinned this blog post from  Turnstall's Teaching Tidbits about using stations for your night:Check it out here. 
Now, of course, she's teaching younger children than I am, and each person's classroom runs its own way, so I'm going to take the idea and adapt it. I'd like to add a station for Remind 101, but I might not be able to because cell reception on my side of the building is garbage. There are a couple of websites I'm going to use this year for which under-13s will need parent permission to sign up; I'll have a station where they can do that and save a lot of hassle later. My little giftie? I found - get this - kits to make sunglasses out of glow sticks! Squeee! Yes, there will be a bad pun involved about their future being bright, but since my kids are Lego-proficient, their hands will be busy when their parents get to the last station, where they meet me.

The other person I've been ripping off for a couple of years is Anglea Maiers. In a blog post you can find here, she gives a model of a bang-up first day letter to her students. I've taken her framework and adapted it to my situation and teaching style. (These days, I teach 4th and 5th grade math and reading to gifted students.) If you click it, it will take you to its Google Doc.
As I close, I'll gently remind you, readers, as I do my students, that borrowing and plagiarizing are two different things.  Again, make things your own. You could end up on the ugly side of a scandal if two teachers had the exact, same letter.

 Pin this article to help your teacher friends!

I hope I'm setting you up to borrow some amazing ideas from this week's Sages. Good luck...! Thankfully, it's only once a year!

Friday, July 24, 2015

What I'm Reading Aloud to My Fifth-Graders (and Where I Want Their Thinking to Go.)

It's time to, once again, map out this year's fifth grade reading. I center my units on ideas found in high-interest, challenging read-alouds and the Core skills that go with them. Keep in mind that when I do my read-alouds, every kid has a copy, because we'll do work with that text before I turn them loose on their own book club books. As I'm, you know, a stinkin' teacher, I'm not a rich woman. So, unless Scholastic has a bangin' $1 deal, which does happen from time to time, I need to keep the book sets I've been using. As I move from a regular classroom to one for gifted kids, though, I'll need to ratchet up the complexity and depth of the questions I ask in order to get the results I want. Not a huge deal; I've taught middle school English before, so I know where to go.The books on this list would serve well in a fifth or a sixth grade classroom.

One of the things I've re-thought since reading Readicide (A group of bloggy-friends and I did an amazing blog hop on it this summer! Check it out through my word cloud to this post's right.) is to begin with the end in mind. Decide before planning the daily instruction what you want kids to get from a book and use it to create your guiding question.

So - here we go. This year's read aloud list with (most of) their guiding questions. They're in the order I think I'll be doing them, but that may change. We'll see. For each book, if you click the cover, you can find it on Amazon.

BTW - it is assumed all answers will be supported with evidence from the text, and I'll find different ways of presenting the kids' ideas about these questions.
1. Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi
    How does the author use Bear as an agent of change for Crispin, but also uses Crispin as an agent of change for Bear?
2. The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg
   "Needing a lift" appears throughout the book as an Again and Again. Why? For which character is this most important?
Note: If you don't know what an 'again and again' is, check out a book called Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading by Kyleen Beers and Robert Probst. When I looked the authors up, I found they've done a nonfiction one, too, to be released in October. I pre-ordered that bad boy without a bit of hesitation.

3. Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick
    What was the author's purpose in presenting us with such completely different protagonists?
4. Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
    Of the many disrupted cycles in the story, from which can we learn the most?

5. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
   I didn't pick this one; it's a requirement in our AIG program and part of a William and Mary unit. Frankly, it'd make an excellent third-grade read aloud, but it's so much less complex than the stories we'll have already read, that I'm not enthused. That, and I'd like to b#$% slap most of the characters. I'll have to work on changing my attitude toward it.
6. Bomb:  The Race to Build - and steal - the World's Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin
    Why did the author decide to write this as a piece of narrative fiction, rather than an all-about?
7. Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
    How does the symbol of the fireplace behind the wall relate to the story's other strands?
8. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
   How can sharecropping, a cycle, be both dysfunctional and productive? What legacy has it left?
and, finally,
9. The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
    Redemption is a repeated theme in the story. Did The Game allow Sam Westing to redeem himself?

That's my lineup for this year...which too-good-to-pass-up reads did I leave out? Let us know!
Remember to Pin this list for later!