Wednesday, October 22, 2014

How Spiral Math and Calendar Math Have Changed my Life that is a bit dramatic.  But really, I am not exaggerating.

If you have read my blog for any length of time, you have no doubt heard me talk about how much I love Calendar Math.  I mean, I have written about it more than any other single subject on my blog.  It is something I feel so strongly about that I preach it to anyone who will listen (especially you, my faithful blog readers :))

But, a second math component that I talk about occasionally, but really has just as much impact on my math teaching is my spiral math homework.  I literally could not live without it.

Let me tell you why I love these two pieces of my math block puzzle.  You see, these both take care of those rote standards that I need my kids to know, yet they just don't seem to grasp from that one lesson I teach that one day of the school year.  Things like place value (have you ever tried to get the kids to remember to write expanded form in March????), plotting on number lines, or general multiplication and division.  These are skills the kids MUST know, yet don't get nearly enough practice in the traditional way of doing things.

But with Spiral Math and Calendar Math, they not only get more practice, but they get DAILY practice!  The homework is 10 problems a day, not of what we just learned, but of EVERYTHING that we learned. The kids were constantly seeing the same style problem over and over and over.  Their skills were always being refreshed....and it works like MAGIC!

Because nothing is being forgotten, the kids are always practicing those basic skills they need, nothing is ever lost.   I can honestly say that because of this homework and Calendar if I don't get to a lesson in math that day...I STILL FEEL OK!  I know all of the standards are covered and I simply DO NOT EVER stress about math.  Ever.

Doing homework and Calendar in this daily, repetitive way has freed up all that time I used to use for rote skill to work with models, explore concepts, and get really deep into CCSS!   I get the kids thinking about math processes, instead of always worrying about the rote memory of it all.   It really is amazing what one little 10 problem page can do and one math warm up (that takes all of 10 minutes).

However, doing the work isn't enough.  The key to this is that, without fail, we go over the homework AND Calendar.  I have it worked into my math block (just 10 minutes each) to go over the problems.  I don't teach during this time, I just show the students how to do the work, with their help at times, on the ELMO and then they take it home to study for later.  This review of the problems is what makes this homework and Calendar better than anything I have done before.  If the kids didn't get it at home the night before, they get it when we go over it.  Then, when they see a similar problem on a homework that week (or the next or the next) they *do* get it.

Really, this is the MOST meaningful time of my day.  It makes math a stressfree zone in my room.  The kids like it, they benefit from the repeated practice, and I am a happy teacher because of it.

Do you want to try this out in your own room?  Leave me a comment with why with your grade level and email, and I will send you a week's worth of either 3rd, 4th, or 5th grade!  It is the best thing you will ever do...I know it!

Do you do any sort of spiral math or daily calendar math?  Tell us about it!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Teaching about Story Conflict

Not sure if you are noticing a pattern here with my posts, but I am seriously working on fiction and narrative in my class.  I just feel like getting them to really understand literature well enough to then have to write about and like it (on THE TEST at the end of the year) is going to take a lot of front loading and targeted instruction on my part. 

So this week, we focused on *conflict* in a story.  We have tackled plot, character, and setting, so it seemed only natural that conflict would follow.  Here is the basic rundown of what we did.

I began the week, like I have with all of the other weeks, with an anchor chart.  I just really like how week after week I can go back and refer to them for the students.  Everything is building upon everything else, so it is easy to reference the charts that we have made together.

Our chart laid out what conflict is in a story.  Basically, it drives the story and makes it interesting.  Without some sort of problem, the story would be so boring!  To illustrate this point, I told the kids the most boring story about me getting ice cream.

"I went to the store to buy ice cream.  I got it.  I went home and ate it."

I asked them if they liked my story.  The resoundingly said NO! was boring.  Why?  Because it had no conflict, no problem!  So I then told them another story.

"I went to the store to get ice cream but they were out of the flavor I wanted.  So, being the resourceful lady that I am, I went into the storeroom to see if there was any more.  To my surprise, when I got there, a young man about half my age said to me, 'Ma'am, you can't be in here' and started to chase me!  I was so scared I screamed...and then started running.  He was chasing me all around, yelling 'Get out of here!' and I just kept running away from him."

I then stopped and asked them if they wanted to hear more.  This time it was a resounding YES!  Why?  Because my story now had some conflict.  Something was interesting and pulling everyone in.

We then discussed the four main types of conflict that are usually found in fiction (I know there are a few more, but we focused on four.)  I wrote them on the anchor chart as the kids took notes.  Here is what our chart ended up looking like.

Then, I gave them a grid to sort out what we talked about as a class.  I had them work in pairs to come up with a definition for each type of conflict, an example of each, a book it works in, and a picture.   You can get that grid {here}.

The next day, we reviewed and then I gave them some plot summaries that served as examples of each type of conflict.  They had to decide the conflict, underline the evidence of that conflict, cut it out, and then write (interactive notebook style) the reason they thought that conflict type fit.

Here is where the week got really hard.  We looked a picture book they had read before (Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmens) and searched for evidence of the conflict.  Then, using a plot diagram, we wrote out the plot and found the conflict within it.  SO hard!  But so worth it because the next day, I had them do the same but with a story they were eventually going to write!  (here is where THE TEST prep comes in.)

They talked it out, found the conflict in their story, and got to work writing their own paragraph-long story that included all the elements of plot (since we have discussed this at length) and elements of conflict.

Seriously, this was a HARD lesson, but SO worth it. The stories are just a million times better now than when I began diving into all of these narrative elements lessons.  And adding conflict in finally has kicked their writing and understanding of stories up to that next level.  I am very, very happy with what is happening right now in Room 6! you would like full lesson plans and examples (more than what I have described here in my post), you can pick up my Conflict in 5 Days pack in my TpT store.

How do you teach conflict?

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Offering Feedback in Writing

One of the hardest part of teaching writing is offering feedback.  There are SO many things that I want to help the students with, but if I start correcting every little thing, by the time I am done

1)  I have spent every last second of my free time correcting the papers
2) I have basically re-written every paragraph for the students.

Doing that does no one any favors.  The kids are immediately deflated and defeated by all of the corrections on the page.  They can see that EVERYTHING they did was wrong and that really doesn't motivate them or make them want to write.  And selfishly, it wastes my precious time as well.

So what do I do to make sure that no one walks away from a completed paragraph feeling like a total failure and despising writing?

I focus on one element of writing for the student to work on.

Usually, at this time of year, that one element is structure.  Does the student have proper paragraph form?  Does the topic sentence introduce the paragraph topic?  Do the details go along with the topic?  Is the closing provide some sort of resolution?

When offering feedback, I tend to stick to things that have to do with the structure of the piece.  Here is an example.
You can also see the rubric.  I do grade them according to the rubric, but I tend to only leave feedback on ONE of the areas. It makes writing a much more focused and enjoyable task.  (Though I do have to say, that with the Paragraph of the Week, they do like to write anyway, because by nature it is very structured.)
This student had some other things that I could have mentioned.   Spelling. Varied sentences.  Extended sentences and vivid language.  However, if you wrote a paragraph and I started in with my pen and wrote all the things you did wrong, how do you think YOU would feel?  Not very good.  You would hate writing.  So would this student.

So I am focusing on one area.  As the student makes progress in that area, I will move on to another. This particular student did focus on that area (staying on topic) for a few weeks and now, she does!  So now, I am able to focus on a different area with her.

I am also not the only one in my room offering feedback.  I very often have kids giving student feedback.  I find that when suggestions are coming from their peers, the students tend to be less nervous and more apt to listen.  They take the constructive criticism a lot better and grow as writers.  I like to use Panicked Teacher's student feedback wheels (they are free in her store.)  This allows the students to talk about the things needed to improve the writing while giving them a chance to have something tangible and written to go back to their seat with when revising.  You can read a bit more about them in detail in her blog post here. (sorry, I forgot to take a picture of one of the wheels in action :( )

How do you manage the feedback conundrum?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Reading Rotations: Organizing it All

Now that you have the basic overview  (if you missed this post, I would highly recommend going back and reading it) of what is happening during Reading Rotations in my room, I thought I would show you what I have done to organize it all and get it going with my students.

I have 4 different groups in my room.  I named them....and you will be blown away by the creativity here....A, B, C, D.  I know.  I told you.  So creative.

My reading groups are homogenous.  I think that, for me, I am able to target the reading needs of my students better this way.  There are many times during the day that we use heterogeneous groupings in my room, but this just isn't one of them.  I know some of you prefer to mix your reading groups up, and that is fine.  Either way will work in these reading rotations.

Once my students were grouped, I gave each child a schedule for their own group.  The schedules look like this.

You will notice that there are three rotations.  At this point, you are probably having a slight tinge of anxiety over the fact that I have three rotations but four groups.  Let me explain.

In the first two rotations (Rotation 1 and Rotation 2....again....super creative here) I meet with TWO of the smaller groups.  So, say on Monday, I will meet with A and B during Rotation 1.  All 16 kids come to the rug at once.  I give my directed lesson to them.  Then, during Rotation 2, groups C and D meet with me.  They come to the rug and get THE SAME lesson as Rotation 1.

Why do I do it this way?  Because now, during Rotation 3, I am free to move around the classroom pulling small groups for remediation/enrichment, or doing one on one conferences with students about their reading.

I also find that if I do the whole group lesson with 16, instead of 32, I have more kids listening.  Since they are closer to me (on the rug) I can make sure I have their attention more effectively.  Doing the lesson twice also has the advantage of the kids hearing it two times.  While they aren't with me on the rug, they are doing work at their seat.....and you can bet they are hearing SOMETHING of what I am saying.  Also, having the groups and the timed rotations ensures that I don't talk too much.  I am limited on my time, so I focus what I say.

Now that the students know where they are going and when, the last thing I gave them to make sure they remain organized is this recording sheet.  On it, they mark what they did for the day, which book they read during Read to Self, if they completed a reading response card, what comprehension choice activity they did, what the reading response activity was, or if they met with my aide.  It is pretty open, but it allows the kids to record their activities.  I then put a score on it at the end of the week, and send it home for a grade, with any papers to go home attached. now you know the basics AND how to get it organized.  My next post will be about what the kids are doing in each station in much more detail than I gave in my first post. 

What questions do you have for me now about reading rotations?

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

15 Halloween Costume Ideas for Teachers

Halloween is just around the corner and, if you are anything like me, you are searching and searching for the perfect costume to wear to school.  I mean, it has to be something comfortable, relatively affordable (read: cheap) and easy to put on after lunch before the parade.  So I asked my friends, both in my network of teacher friends and on Facebook in our Teaching in Room 6 community, if they had any ideas for costumes that fit that bill, and here is what they came up with.

Now, if you teach preschool, I KNOW you know who this is.  Or if you have toddlers around the house these costumes might ring a bell too.  Well, this particular year, each of us had toddlers hogging up the TV, so we dressed up like DJ Lance and the gang.  Can you spot me?

What a wonderful peacock Heather, from Teach It Today makes!  Just a tutu and some feathers created this easy costume.

This middle school team from Oregon decided to go as the Duck Dynasty gang last year.  They nailed it! 

I love this one from Barbara at The Corner on Character.  Her team dressed as characters from Alice in Wonderland.  I think this is awesome!

Another great team idea comes from Barbara as well.  It is the Wizard of Oz, brought to life in Halloween costumes!  

Ari, from The Science Penguin, shows her love of science in this Hip Ms. Frizzle costume. A black tutu and some space ornaments is all she needed.
This is a great team costume, made from butcher paper!  Super cute and super affordable.  Thank you Daniella S. for submitting this Ms. Pac Man themed costume.

Fancy Nancy showed up at Krystal, the Good Enough Teacher's school.  (she REALLY loves Fancy Nancy!)

Shannon S. is Viola Swamp.  She said this was less than $10 for the nose...and that was all she had to pay for.  Everything else was in her closet!

 Bridget wore this one a few years in a row.  It is perfect for school and very recognizable too!

Shannon B. posted this picture of her school team dressed as Minions.  Yellow hoodie and overalls...and you have it covered!

Really good use of things on hand for this jellyfish costume from Mercedes at Surfing to Success.  Streamers and an umbrella are all you need for this eye-catching ensemble. 

How cute is this costume?  Jen M. said that all they did was print off the masks from the computer and wrap themselves up in blankets!

Molly, from Lessons with Laughter, dressed up as a Book Fairy!  What a perfectly fitting school ensemble :)
Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf are a popular duo for Halloween.  Katie from KTP on TPT shared this picture of the fairy tale characters with us.

And there you have it!  Some amazingly fun, witty, and fabulous costumes you can recreate this year.  What have you gone as in the past?  Any pictures you care to share??

Post one and tag me on instagram!  @TeachinginRoom6