Monday, July 29, 2013

Reading Response Ideas

One of the things I want to try to change up a little bit this year is the projects my kids do in response to literature that we read aloud and discuss. After having most of them already for a year, I feel like I need some new tools in my bag of tricks-we need to be doing something novel for them to apply what they are learning.

I tried this one out with my summer school kiddos. I wanted them to make a charm bracelet for the character. So what was important to the characters, what would they put on there. If it was Dorothy I'd say the ruby slippers, Toto, something to represent friends, home, etc. It's something they really enjoyed doing and I believe made them think a little bit more about the characters. They did pics on one side and then wrote what it represented on the other. All it took was a little construction paper and some yarn.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Rebel Back-to-School Reads

If you know me at all, you know I'm a bit of a rebel. Nothing big like ducking jury duty or parking in reserved spaces or anything. But in the classroom, I am prone to question things. I know there are a ton of great back-to-school titles out there. Chrysanthemum, the Kissing Hand, First Day Jitters-and I have used these books with my kiddos. Particularly because I'm looping, but also because I think they are commonly used and don't like to repeat books/activities others have done, I am going to have a different theme this 1st week. I want the kids to think about themselves-what makes them unique and also stress classroom community and teamwork. I'm going to use:

Both Elmer and Ferdinand are about characters that are themselves-no matter what. I think that will be a great thing to encourage discussion that first week.

Working together saves the day-definitely want a model for the tons of cooperative group activities we are going to attempt this year.

The stuffed animals work together to find a missing blanket. Just look at the illustrations-doesn't it make you want to just cuddle with them!

Classic story about 2 characters who think they have nothing in common and bicker--then of course, everything changes when they begin to spend some time together. 

I just ADORE this book! I just discovered it when I was teaching summer school and going through the stories on Story Online to see if there were any good ones on there that went along with the lesson I was planning. (This is it if you want to listen to it: This story is about memories and how important they are. We adopt a nursing home every year and will again this upcoming year, so I really want to do some activities with this story where the kids are recording their best memories!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Pecan Pie Baby

If you are like me, you have already invested way too much in books this summer. *whistle* But I came across this to make a recommendation.

I worked in day care for several years before I ended up getting officially certified to teach. One day a preschool student came in talking about how her mom was going to have a baby. Well, when mom came to pick her up, of course, we congratulated her and asked about a due date. She looked very perplexed. She asked the little girl why she thought they were having a baby and the little girl said "whenever a kid moves up to the preschool room-they get a little brother or sister!" Needless to say, it can be a confusing concept for them. My favorite is when they say we just got a baby-like you just picked one up at Wal-Mart. :)

This is a really cute story and I love finding multicultural characters:

My kiddos just loved this book this past year and I think it's a realistic take on the sometimes-less-than-enthusiastic feelings kids have to no longer be the only child anymore. A warning though-there's a part with a jump rope rhyme that I can still recite because the girls in the class would say it ALL the time! But that's good, that means they can "read" that page all by themselves. Anyway, a really cute story that you could stretch with a discussion on opinions-is it better to be an only child or have siblings? It would be great for a family unit-comparing families, lots of possibilities!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


One of the things I love about blogging is that it's like I can think out loud. If I put my thoughts in writing not only do they make more sense to me, but I can reflect back and see if I actually accomplished what I meant to accomplish.

I do make resolutions for every new year. I try to learn from my past mistakes and this year I have a pretty good idea of what my class is going to be like, because I am looping up with my group. So here goes:

1) Am going to try to be better at teaching things like mental math. I know they have to learn place value and regrouping this year and I really want to set a good foundation for that.

2) Trying better to use every minute of the day. When our Kinders were in Pre-K they had already developed a reputation of having quite a few "boogerbears"! Even when separated out in Kinder, we still had times of the day where things just took too long. Cleaning up from stations was definitely one of them. I also want to do bucket-filling and other classroom community activities so maybe they we can cut down on all the time-consuming drama! :)

3) Incorporate more digital resources. There is just so much out there to try! It's almost overwhelming. But this group is definitely digitally-oriented, so I have to work on that.

4) Encouraging a passion not only for reading themselves, but for read-alouds. That time of day was such a struggle last year (and I still haven't figured out why). But I need to do something to make that time fun for them, I am definitely not going to just cut it out of our day-too stubborn for that!

5) Be a good team player. I usually am one, but I'm starting over with a new team this year and just want to do everything I can to develop good relationships. Typically, I can be very practical-minded. So if you say let's go on a field trip to the zoo, my response might be-why don't we wait until it's not so hot? Or they went to the zoo last year, can we take them to a play or something different? And sometimes that comes off as being negative to ideas. So I will definitely edit myself this year! :)

What are some of your resolutions for this upcoming year?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

You Have to Laugh!

How true is this?

Ha Ha! I always said I'd write a book one day "Things You Never Actually Thought You'd Have To Say". You know like-don't put the popcorn up your nose (had a student do that once) or don't put the playground wood chips in your mouth. Or my all-time favorite-we don't ball up wet toilet paper and throw it on the ceiling in the restroom! Our custodian is tall, but he had to use extreme measures to get up there and get it down-he was not happy. I don't know what possesses them sometimes!

I love this one too. Only someone familiar with the book would get it! :)

I found this pic from summer school this year. Can you tell I teach young Texans?

Translation: Dear Bears, Y'all's homes is a mess. Clean up y'all's homes! Seriously dude, you have to clean up your homes!

Y'all--gotta love it! It's something that catches on quickly though. I relocated here and it's become part of my regular vernacular. 

Well, wish me luck-I am having surgery again tomorrow. 3rd time in a year :(-my credit card company loves me now-unfortunately a high deductible. Hopefully third time's the charm! At least I know exactly what to expect this time! My dog Ruby will be thrilled because my dad is going to come stay with me that night-she loves her grandpa! Last time she wasn't even really worried about me. At about midnight she walked up to his bed and kissed him in face-like she was just saying "I'm glad you're still here". They can be so adorable!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Summer Reading Update

It actually takes me a while to finish a book. My mind tends to wander if I don't read slowly and then I have to go back and read the paragraph again (remind you of any kids that you know! :) So every book that I finish on my summer reading list feels like a big accomplishment.

I just finished:

I really liked it. Something different, definitely not a fast-paced story. A retired man gets a letter from an old friend that she's dying from cancer and gets it in his head that if he walks the hundreds of miles to go see her, it will give her hope to hold on. The real story takes place in his head and with the people he meets-his problems with his marriage, his son. I read the comments on Amazon and saw there were some people who thought it was boring, and I can see that, however I think a story can have a quiet effect as well. The message is more subtle, but definitely there.

Now I'm reading:

Not usually a YA fan, but so far I really like it.

Anyone reading anything for fun that they really like?

Sunday, July 14, 2013


We hear this term often, but sometimes I wonder if we really know what it means. I was watching a video last year during a professional development session that was showing us what rigorous classrooms looked like. The teacher they were observing was talking about all the opportunities she gave the kids to answer open-ended questions-like 3+4= _____. Sorry honey, but that's not an open-ended question. True, it's not multiple choice so I'm assuming you think the students have to think more. But that's a closed-ended question.

Open-ended means there is a more thoughtful response. Often I think it means you are leaving it "open" to student interpretation, there may be more than one correct answer. I came across this video and I think it shows the difference. Although they are talking about expectations for scoring, I think it goes to show that giving them more latitude in their interpretation can give more creative results:

When kids are allowed to apply their thoughts their own way, I'm always amazed at what they come up with. When we do art projects, I often tell them here's the paint (or clay or markers or construction paper)-make a painting, make a collage. It's based on a lesson-maybe they are painting what the story would look like in a different setting or maybe they are painting their version of Sunny Sunny Day after seeing Starry Starry Night. When asked what colors should I use? Or should I put this here? My answer always is-you are the artist, it's up to you!

On assessments, I include open-ended questions (yes, even with the little ones). Why? Because I can really see if they understand the concept or not. My favorite answer (and I wish I could find the picture) was to the question: if we lived in the rainforest, how would our lives be different? And the answer the student came up with showed himself riding an animal. Think about it, do we see roads in the rainforest? Cars? I thought that was a great answer! With young kids I know what you are thinking--but they can't write!? Yes, but they can draw a picture. Does it take longer to correct tests because I have to flag some of them to ask the kids the next day what they drew-yes. But is it worth it? Totally!

I urge you to give it a try. I think you will really enjoy the ideas your kids will come up with.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Fun Things To Share With the Kiddos

We take a lot of brain breaks in my classroom. I am a firm believer in them (honestly, I even do that myself whether reading or in a pd-I have to get up and walk around). However, my brain breaks are still educational. I am always searching for "fun" things I can share with the kids.

Every month Ian at Byrdseed does an Internet Field Trip ( and usually I even get a kick out of the resources he posts. This is one from this month:

I was born in the Northeast and moved to the South as an adult-so I definitely saw some differences in what the kids' called things. They made a face when I told them to wear "sneakers" for field day (they call them tennis shoes) and there were no more "hoagies" on the school menus here. I can't wait to share this with my kids because they live in such a bubble-I want them to know not only is there a grand world out there but we all are different-even in the way we pronounce "crayon"!

Another one the kids love is from Ted Talks (the parrot does say "beer" at one point-he's talking about pirates):

Terri is always posting good videos to share with the students. The Power of Words is one of my favorites:

I like this one too:

Thursday, July 11, 2013

My Gifted Puppy

Now you know I always claimed my dog is gifted. Here she is working on her summer reading list!

Ok, so maybe I left the book on the couch and she jumped up there!  :)

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Encouraging Critical Thinking in Our Young Learners

We have all heard the emphasis on rigor and critical thinking that has been taking center stage the past few years. Our district is actually doing a week of pre-service this year called the "Rigor Institute"--we'll see what that entails. :) A question I get quite often is, how can you expect that from the young kiddos-they're just 5 years old?

Well, I'll tell you. It's not easy, but it certainly can be done. Most students enter Pre-K and K with a clean slate academically. Even if they know the basics like letters and numbers, many have never before been asked to think critically. Believe me, when I do my first few read-alouds and I ask my higher level questions I hear crickets! :) They have to be taught how to think.

How do we do this?

1) Continue to ask those higher level questions-I think most of us do this already and it sounds easy right. Sometimes it's not, especially if you are reading a book without much meat to it-that's why I choose to use real literature over our reading adoption in most cases. Ask how the ending could have been different? Was what the character did right? If this wouldn't have happened, how would it have changed the story (if Cinderella hadn't lost her shoe, for example). 

Open-ended question: What did we learn from Martin Luther King, Jr?

2) Let them discuss their opinions. Day one of Kindergarten most kids' opinions are whatever you want to hear. They look to you for how to respond. Give them discussion points like: should girls be allowed to play football? What's more important your brain or your heart? Make sure they understand that it doesn't matter what their opinion is if they can back it up with an argument. Lots of experiences with this and they will surprise you at the thinking they do.

3) Help them make connections. We had already read Where the Wild Things Are this year and I was reading Skippyjon Jones to them and realized the characters were somewhat similar in that they both use their imaginations to go to a different world. When they don't make that connection themselves, I lead them there or model for them what that looks like.

Toto from the Wizard of Oz
4) Let them apply what they are learning in different ways. Many people shy away from projects with young kids because it's messy and they often don't know how to cut correctly or just use a little bit of glue. This process allows them to really think about what they are learning. When we make a Dr. Seuss-like character out of clay or create a papier-mache peach echoing the one in James and the Giant Peach-it helps them be able to think deeply about these concepts.
Another way to make a family tree
Rainforest dioramas

5) Don't give up! We do a divergent art activity (where you give them a line or squiggle or cut-out and they use it to create an object) the 1st week of school. I will usually start out with something like a squiggly line. I get back 25 snakes-they turned the line into a snake. I model for them what outside the box thinking would look like-maybe you see it as a strand of hair on a head, maybe a wave in the ocean, turn the shape-what do you see? And each time we do the activity I get more and more creative answers. Are some of them still going to make a snake? Absolutely, but you will reach others who will really put thought into an original answer-and that's the rewarding part.

6) Encourage questions! I know if you are trying to get through a lesson mammals and they start asking about bats, which leads to vampires, which leads to getting shots from the doctor, etc., etc. you can feel like you aren't getting accomplished what you are supposed to be. But that means they are thinking! Sometimes I will have them write questions after I read a story-what didn't the author tell us? What would you still like to know? 

We have to give them opportunities to really learn how to think critically. It doesn't happen overnight, but when it does...those are the moments you live for! :)

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Book: Wonder

I've mentioned before that I do a book club on my campus for K-2 and one for 3rd-5th Graders. I absolutely love it! Who knew so many kiddos would volunteer to stay after school and discuss books! :)

We get a list of books from the district-most are Bluebonnet Nominees the rest are just what librarians and teachers think are classics in the making. One of the books on our list for the 3rd-5th graders this year is called:

"Mask" is one of my all-time favorite movies (in fact I haven't watched that in a while, I may have to watch that again) and August's character actually reminds me a bit of Rocky. He uses humor to deal with a severe facial deformity. What I like about the book is you get August's perspective for almost the first half of the book and then you get other perspectives-like his sister, a boy who wants to befriend him but is afraid of the fallout from other students.

I think if you teach upper primary kiddos maybe 3rd, 4th and 5th graders, this would be a one that could really spark some good conversations--about ethics as well as multiple perspectives. What would you do in that situation? We'd all like to think we'd react the correct way. Some of the parents in the book made me angry too-I like when a book can make you feel a variety of different things as you read it. You feel sorry for him a bit and then you feel sorry for his sister who has been left without as much attention, etc.

Anyway, a good read--I give it two thumbs up! :)

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Stories About Real People

I like reading non-fiction books to the kids. I think it's good to expose them to that genre and also they learn about things that they didn't know about before. All but one of these books would not be considered non-fiction, however they are based on real people.

I've always been a fan of Jane Goodall. I think it's amazing when, particularly women, stand up and continue to do what they believe, even when being doubted. This story is about her and her love of all things science and nature--how that lead her to become who she is today. So often I don't think we think about our heroes as young children. And, I'm a sucker for a clever title.....:)

Another favorite of my kiddos is:

It's about Alice Roosevelt (Teddy's daughter) who apparently was quite the little firecracker! She was the Princess Diana of that time period and all eyes were on her. My favorite part, when she says she wants to "eat up the world".

I actually learned some things I didn't know from this one! It's about Audrey Hepburn-how she got her start, the ton of work she did for charity and why she chose to do that. Just someone that the kids definitely don't know about before you read it, but a great role model to learn about.

 A little bit of a selfish pick, I know and one that's a higher reading level. I think Mark Twain was one of the wittiest writers in the history of time. This story about him is told by his daughter who is secretly watching him for  few days in order to gather information for the biography she's writing about him. My favorite part: he's reading a book off his shelf and chuckling. His wife asks him what he's reading and he says he doesn't know, just pulled a book off the shelf. Turns out it was one of his books!

Who can resist a story of unlikely friendship? Owen lost his mom in a storm and they rescued him after lots of effort and took him to a wildlife reserve. It took some work, but the crusty old tortoise eventually warmed up to him and now they are inseparable!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Characters With An Identity Crisis

I am making lists for myself now and thought I'd share one of them. Because I usually use a theme for our read-alouds, hoping it will help the kiddos make some connections, I am trying to categorize some that they aren't already familiar with. One of the themes that I think can make for a very humorous story line is an identity crisis.

Take this big chicken, for example:

He's not sure what he is and his friends certainly have some funny theories. But his different-ness certainly comes in handy when dealing with an egg-stealing wolf. This is a also a book with great lesson fodder for punctuation as well-lots of questions and exclamation marks!

Then you have poor:

He was born with looks that defy his family tree and certainly terrify his parents (he looks like a normal human *gasp* ).

One of my favorite fractured fairy tales:

Mother Duck takes care of all her little ones the same-even if one looks very different from his siblings. A swampy version of the Ugly Duckling with a Moose as the misunderstood one.

And then we have:

I really liked the premise of this story, I just was not a fan of the ending. I thought it was a little bit violent for a picture book. The "hot dog dog" as my students call them :) grows weary of his domestic life and decides to run with the big dogs, so to speak. When he sees what wolves do (that's the kind of violent part), he of course changes his mind.

Did I miss any others that you can think of?

Catching Readers Before They Fall Book Study-Chapters 3-5

Linking up again with Kimberley at :

For her book study on: 

So I have a confession to make--I don't think I was every really taught how to teach reading. I don't remember specifically taking a class on it through my certification process at all. I do remember my first year teaching Kindergarten and buying lots of books that would explain different methods and I think I learned by watching other teachers in action.

What I really like about Chapter 4 is it asks us to examine the dialogue/modeling we do when students are reading a sentence. I am teaching summer school right now and one of our promotion standards for 1st and 2nd grade is reading 80% of the words from their high frequency word list. Do you want to know how many kids are still just trying to sound out those words? One is own or on, said is sayed. I know it's their go-to strategy, but as the authors point out in the English language, as I am fond of telling my kiddos, many words do not follow the rules (much like Kindergarteners!).

This chapter definitely gave me ideas to start that dialogue and incorporate other strategies in their toolboxes.

Chapter 5-I completely agree that all kids need to be read to and am often surprised at how many enter Kindergarten without ever having been read to. I worked in an office years ago when I was working toward my certification and asked a friend to "borrow" her 4-year old son for a study-I was supposed to work with an emergent reader. Now Erica was by all appearances a great parent, that child was her world. But I couldn't believe he was holding the book upside-down when we began. I asked her what his favorite stories were and she said "he only likes movies". So the teacher in me bought him the Giving Tree as a gift at our last session and he literally threw it on the ground and said "I don't want this". It just makes me wonder how many homes today do the video games and DVD players take time where kids used to be reading and read to.

Anyway, I even go so far as to record stories on mp3 players (thank you Donorschoose!) and let them take home the books and recordings to listen to. So I am giving them every opportunity to hear someone read to them at night. I also believe that children should be given time to read independently-I struggle with how to do this with my very emergent readers in K though. I also believe writing is very tied to learning how to read. You can tell a lot about a child's literacy level by looking at their writing!

Chapter 6 -The Interactive Read-Aloud

Definitely lots of good tips for how to get those discussions started. One thing that struck me was the quote from Junko Yokota: "Mirrors let readers see the reflections of their lives; windows let them see others' lives". It's a struggle even with those kids that have innate abilities in reading sometimes to get them to make those connections to a story.

Thank you Kimberley, for encouraging us to read this book-I am getting a lot out of it!

Remembering Novelty

Novelty is something I think we often forget about in our classrooms. We base our classroom management plans on routine and consistency. Most of us get into a groove and rely on the same resources and activities year after year. But sometimes just a little change can make things more exciting for our kiddos.

As some of you know, I have a German Shepherd who is my 90-lb baby. The people at PetSmart will tell you she's spoiled--but I prefer the term "cherished". :) She is incredibly smart (and that's not just a proud mama talking) and picks up on things very quickly. In a training session when she was about 10 months old I taught her to dip her head with simply a clicker and food reinforcement in the span of 5 minutes-she will still do that on command. I was having problems with my knee last summer and was a little slower on our walks; I didn't even have to say anything to her, she just slows her gait to match mine.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, my little GT baby gets super-bored with her toys very quickly. She loves to make noise and squeak, but that only lasts a short time. She has a soccer ball toy with a hole for treats that she will drop for herself to make the treats fall out, but if she's not getting anything out of it after a few minutes, she'll abandon that too. So I will often do this:

This is several of her toys tied together and she will shake and tug and play trying to get them apart. It's novel, so she's interested again.

I think it's important to do the same things in our classroom as our school year goes on. Change the layout of the room. Change out materials. The kids will walk into the room and notice that your desk is now turned the other way or a new bulletin board is up. I think I'm especially challenged to do this in the fall because my kids are very used to me and our routine. I am definitely going to change up my attention-getters this year and have been collecting a bunch of those to use.

I also plan to bring in this dollhouse that a neighbor made for my sister when we were little. (Great for for ESL kiddos I think-unusual vocabulary like fireplace poker or attic).  I'm still thinking about new ideas for us, but whatever it is, we will have some novel changes this year throughout the year.