September 23, 2017

Good readers ask good questions

For the first six or so weeks of the school year, we really focus on asking, "What do good readers do?" Last week, we talked about inferring, reading with fluency and asking questions. It's time for us to move into writing about what we read.  On Wednesday, we started talking about how good readers ask good questions about the book they're reading. 

Right now, we're reading a novel called, There's a Boy in the Girl's Washroom by Louis Sachar.  The boys and girls love it! We're just about halfway through the text and there are many questions still unanswered.

On Thursday, I asked the boys and girls to write 1,2,or 3 questions on a Post-it Note. Giving an option to write a number of questions appeals to all learning levels. Kids who have difficulty putting their thoughts onto paper find this task less daunting and those kids who love to write know they have some freedom too. These type of flexible instructions allow students to feel a sense of accomplishment and as these experiences build, so does their writing confidence. Before you know it, everyone is writing up a storm because they know they have the skills to get the job done.  

Have a look at the photo of our questions. I know you can't read them here but if you visited our class, you would see how thoughtful and sophisticated their questions are.   

On Tuesday, we'll start a reading response booklet I've created based on a very relate-able text called, "Those Shoes".  This is an assignment that builds a variety of skills and I'll blog more about it next week.

Writing about one's reading is an excellent way for teachers to assess both writing skills and reading comprehension. And within this type of task, kids still have freedom to add their own creative flair because they're responding to a wide-variety of questions, which are always more fun to read when you can get a sense of the author's voice and personality

September 21, 2017

What is schema?

We had an important talk on Wednesday. We talked about schema.  

What is schema? 

I use a book by literacy expert, Debbie Miller as my guide. Reading With Meaning is one of those books I come back to time after time in my literacy instruction. Debbie Miller is *that teacher*. When I was a kid, I wanted hair like Blair from Facts of Life. As a teacher, I want to be just like Debbie Miller. 

Schema is all the stuff in your head. It's your experiences, your likes, your dislikes, your friends, your knowledge, all that good stuff. Basically, it's the prior knowledge that you bring to the table when you read a book, watch a movie, have a conversation, just about any experience you have. 

When we read, we use our schema to connect with the text. It's really the deciding factor in whether or not we like a book. If you can't connect to a text on some level, you likely won't enjoy it.  Without our schema, we're just reading words and not relating, we're not constructing meaning and having a conversation with our self.

You have more fun with a text when you can relate to it. We can likely all think of a story that we just never got "into" (hello Harry Potter...I'm looking in your direction).

When you use your schema, you say to yourself, "Hey, that happened to me once" and you can appreciate how the character must feel, you can put yourself in their shoes.  

So now that the boys and girls know what we mean when we talk about schema, we say it a lot. In fact, even when dealing with challenging situations that arise throughout the day, I might say to a child, "Now you can add this to your schema, so you'll know what to do next time." We don't only use our prior knowledge to assist with reading. I get a lot of mileage out of this word! 

As a youngster, I loved reading Judy Blume books because I could so easily relate to many of the themes in her stories.  I didn't realize it at the time, but that connection, that use of my schema, is why I devoured every one of her books. When we use our schema, we tend to see reading as a more pleasurable activity.  

The boys and girls learned and reviewed all kinds of new words: schema, connection, relate and prior knowledge. It was a great Literacy Block and as we move through the year, my hope is that the students will see how using their schema takes reading to a whole new level.

Reading With Meaning by Debbie Miller  

September 20, 2017

What do you infer?

This week, we have begun our discussion about how good readers infer. 

We explain it to students by telling them that inferring means we read between the lines. We understand the implied message by using two things: 
  • our own prior or background knowledge of the subject (our schema) 
  • the clues the author has provided in the text or pictures 
I'm looking forward to reading the boys and girls this simple, but funny story called, I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen. It usually takes a moment at the end, but the kids soon infer just what happened to the rabbit in the story. 

I found this funny photo online a few years ago. I'll show it to the class later this week and ask, "What do you infer?" 

Now, if you have never had or heard of pumpkin-pie, an inference would be hard here but if you have enjoyed making or eating pumpkin-pie, you likely know exactly why Senor Pumpkin looks a little concerned.  

Please review this photo with your child and discuss the two factors that help us to infer messages in what we read and view.


September 18, 2017

Fabulous fluent readers!

Each morning, students are responsible for volunteering to read something from our Morning Message.  You can read all about Morning Messages from an older blog post here.  I've tweaked and updated things since then, but the overall purpose remains the same.  

Here are some screen shots from a recent M.M.    

Students are invited to identify new (and often fake) events I post on our calendar as a way to develop oral communication confidence.  They are required to speak in full sentence (e.g. "I notice that on Saturday September 9th, we're going to a baking class.) 
I purposely design my messages so that there are reading opportunities for every level.  The focus is on participation, developing fluency and building skills in quick, short, commercial-type bursts of information.   

We also review our T.O.T.W (Text of the Week) each morning. We read the text together and then students respond to a variety of questions that help prepare them for the test that Friday.  

One area where I would like to see the boys and girls grow, is around fluency.  I would like to see oral reading sound more smooth, like the way we talk.  What exactly is fluency?  I would like to refer you to the photos below from Jennifer Serravallo's "The Reading Strategies Book". This resource has greatly influenced the way I teach reading for the last few years. I can't recommend it enough to teachers and to parents who are interested in supporting their child at home.  Please click on the photos to read what she has to say.  

To help support my students, I wrote this story over the weekend. 

I'm asking that parents have their child read it aloud each night.  The text is quite simple and most students should be able to read it with little support. Please encourage your child to: 
  • group words into phrases so it sounds natural when read aloud
  • try to sound like the character (he doesn't actually speak in the story, but there are opportunities to express his exasperation and excitement) 
  • avoid reading word-by-word (we call that "robot reading") 
  • pay attention to punctuation! Pause at commas and show excitement at exclamation points.
  • monitor pace: we don't want to read too fast or too slow 
I think that with practice and a little bit of nudging from the grown-ups who love them, my students will be able to become very fluent readers! 

September 15, 2017

Two very important chats!

Last week, we talked a lot about how to show initiative in the classroom and school.  I explained to the boys and girls that within our little community, when they see a problem they can (within reason) solve (e.g. sweeping up a mess they didn't create) they are invited to do so.  Asking me, "Mrs. M, would you like me to hand back those agendas?" is another way children can show initiative in the classroom.  Taking it upon oneself to tidy up some papers on an absent classmate's desk shows initiative, so does straightening up the carpet pillows while waiting for Evening Meeting to begin.  These are all safe and reasonable ways children can begin to develop their leadership skills.  

On Thursday, we talked about another important trait: being accountable for our actions. I explained that when we're accountable, we accept responsibility for what we've done, apologize if necessary and don't blame others for our actions (e.g. "She did it too" or "It was his idea"). We also don't deny what we've done as this causes confusion for others, especially teachers and parents. 

Being accountable means being responsible and owning than "5-star"decisions (guess who's been shopping on Amazon?).

I believe that even in grade three, children can develop their leadership skills. By explicitly teaching kids how to show initiative and role playing accountable talk, we can (and I know this sounds cliche) help children be the best version of themselves,  but we also provide them with a foundation on which to build even stronger skills, and those are the people that change the world. If you can admit you were wrong when you're 8 and fully own and apologize for the decision to eat the teacher's lunch,  AND you think to organize an absent classmate's desktop full of papers, what does that look like when you're 18? While you might have a hard time keeping your hands off someone else's sandwich, you're likely a person who is confident, compassionate, creative, dependable and responsible.

And of course, we have Brag Tags for this! 


September 13, 2017

It still smells so good!

A new school year, new teacher, new classroom, new expectations, new, new, new!  It can be hard for an 8 year old to keep up with all this new-ness!  They're even on a new floor in the school!  

I don't know about you, but I can't do my best when I'm feeling overwhelmed, so this year, I'm trying something different: Play Doh.  

In addition to initiatives such as Brag Tags, morning handshakes, lots of singing and notes in the agenda, I'm  using Play Doh first as a confidence booster and community builder, and then as an actually learning tool.

Here's a bit of our backstory: each student had to "earn" their Play Doh this week and I'm proud to say, that by Tuesday afternoon, they've all done so.  By copying their agendas neatly, correctly, and in a timely manner, they were able to choose their color from the reading table. Students were told to put the Play Doh in their desks and that at some point this week, an explanation would be given.  The curiosity started building right away!  

On Tuesday afternoon, the boys and girls learned the rules around the Play Doh:  

  • it stays in our desk until we're asked to take it out
  • using the Play Doh will require a great deal of listening 
  • we're likely not talking when we're using our Play Doh 
  • if expectations are not followed, the Play Doh is put away for the session and one becomes "an observer" 
  • little bits of Play Doh are not to be removed to play with at our leisure  
  • natural consequences will be experienced if the lid is not replaced correctly and the PD dries out 
  • we can't be pounding our desks with the PD because the purpose of our sessions is to relax our mind, focus on developing our listening skills, overall self-regulation and support our learning
Finally, around 1:55 on Tuesday afternoon, the boys and girls were told that if they "Took out their agendas, retrieved their lunch bags from the shelf in the classroom and lined up quietly to pack their school bags for the night" I would have a big announcement. They knew where this was going.  See what happened right there? A common goal to work toward and they succeeded! 

From there the instructions were, "You may open your Play Doh and play with it. Please do not talk, just enjoy your time. If you want to communicate with someone, you must find a way to do so without actually speaking."  That was their challenge and once again, success!  

When they couldn't get their Play Doh out of the container, they silently asked for help and a table-mate assisted (relationships building!). From start to finish (including the trip in the hallway to pack those school bags) this all took about 6 minutes and it was well worth it. Everyone went out for recess with a huge smile on their face and I believe it was the highlight of our day. 

I'm really excited about all the different ways we can use our Play Doh in the classroom.  I found some great ideas here to support my students' learning, but right now, the focus is on simply developing our listening skills, showing responsibility for our own success and learning materials, along with building relationships.  I'm hoping it helps my students relax, and because they're able to follow my simple instructions and expectations, they feel like they're succeeding in grade three, regardless of their reading level or math skills.  

I think we're on to something here! And I couldn't resist, there's 19 students in my class, but I picked up an extra can for myself, just to take a whiff and go back in time!   

September 11, 2017

What's a whisper-phone?

Well they're just the greatest thing ever! Sure, I could have bought them from some fancy-dancy school supply website, but when your Valentine happens to be a handy feller, you get a class-set for less than latte (say that five times fast!)!  

A little ABS pipe and elbows (did I get that right, dear?) and we're talking greatest classroom tool ever. 

A whisper-phone is just that. It looks like a phone and when you whisper into it, you can hear yourself. Students can monitor their own reading fluency and proofread their work to see if it "sounds right". The boys and girls will be asked to read all their work into a whisper-phone prior to handing it in. It's such an effective tool because children can hear themselves read without disturbing others.  They also help students who are reluctant to read aloud to the class develop their confidence.  

Each student in my class has one in their desk and they are welcome to not only use them to proofread their own writing, but during any reading opportunities throughout the day. 

September 09, 2017

What's Fun Friday?

We have a long standing tradition in room 208 called "Fun Friday". Most Fridays I plan something super-fun to complement the week's learning. Occasionally, we're not able to have Fun Friday, but I always do my best to make our Friday afternoon special. Sometimes the activities build math skills, other times, it's more of an arts focus.  And every now and then, we do some cooking on Fun Friday (which usually goes hand-in-hand with whatever we're learning in math)!  I especially love "Puzzle Day" because it gives the boys and girls a chance to develop their interpersonal skills and work together on a non-competitive group task.  

Our theme for last week's Fun Friday was "You're oh-fish-ially in grade three!"  and the boys and girls learned how to draw a cartoon fish!  Next Friday, we hope to paint them.  We were a bit short on time because the first FF usually takes a bit longer to get rolling, so next week, I'll read the boys and girls this great story to kick off our afternoon and we'll enjoy our very appropriate snick-snack!  

We love Fun Fridays in room 208 and I'm sure parents and blog visitors will too! 

September 07, 2017

What's a "Text of the Week" test?

Today's post is a bit of a yawn-er, but I think it'll be a helpful one. On Thursday, students are going to record: "Text of the Week test tomorrow" in their agenda.  Each week, the boys and girls will receive a text of some kind that becomes our focus for the week. Some weeks it'll be a poem, others, a story or non-fiction article.  On most Fridays (and the occasional Thursday), they'll have their Text of the Week (TOTW) test. The text goes in their "Text of the Week" duotang and it comes home every night. Please see that your child packs it each morning in their Zippy.  

To help establish expectations for test-writing, we're going to write this week's test together.  

I find the text of the week to be highly effective for two reasons.  First, I can cover a number of those skills that need to be taught but don't really fit in anywhere else, such as: what's a verb and why do we use italics? The second reason I like them so much is because I can tailor them to meet the unique needs of my class.  If we're having trouble understanding point of view or main idea, I can find a story or article that meets this need. Or, I can do what I did this week and write one myself.  The purpose of this week's text is to talk about how we relate to stories.  When we connect to a character or situation, we can interact with a story on a higher level. Making those text-to-self connections is usually one of the first reading comprehension strategies we teach students.  

In the past, I've used poems exclusively as our texts, this year, I'm expanding that to include a wider variety of texts.  

I'd like to share with you how we actually "do" the text of the week. We read the TOTW each day and discuss the different features of the text. Let's use a poem as an example.  

On Monday, after reading the poem aloud, I'll pose a variety of comprehension questions about it.  On Tuesday we might look at word study and talk about syllables, compound words and contractions. We might even review parts of speech such as nouns and verbs.  

On Wednesday, we'll look at figures of speech such as idioms and irony.  

On Thursday, we review everything we covered earlier in the week and prepare for the test on Friday.  

The tests follow a very predictable format (see picture below). After a few tests, you'll likely be able to anticipate the types of questions that will be on the TOTW test.  Students are always allowed to use the text itself to support them while they write and to help them to be accountable for their own success, they are expected to spell words from the text correctly. Tests are usually out of 10 or 12 and come home Mondays for signing.  I ask that they are corrected and returned the following day.  

Students will store their tests in their "work binders".   I haven't handed the binders out yet, we'll get to that later this month.  All tests will come home in June.  

This is a photo from last year. Our room looks even better now! :) 

And that's how the TOTWs work! Students are encouraged to read their texts aloud to you, a pet, their siblings or toys as often as they can to develop their overall fluency. Our on-going goal is to make our oral reading sound like natural speech! 

This is a study guide I created back when I was using poems exclusively as my texts of the week. This document should still be helpful for parents looking for extra support in helping their child prepare for the weekly tests. You can download your own copy here. 

September 06, 2017

Do you know about brag tags?

Once again, I'm so excited to be using brag tags as a motivational tool in my classroom. You can read all about them and why I love them so much in a blog post from last year here

I set up our bulletin board on Tuesday night and the kids were so excited to hang up their lanyards on their personalized hook.  

We had our first "official" brag tag meeting this afternoon and it went really well. Prior to handing out the brag tags that were earned today, we talked specifically about the following: 

  • We must remember to applaud our classmates when they earn a tag.
  • How will we cope when we don't receive a tag? After all, not everyone receives a tag every day? 
  • They're called "Brag Tags", but we know we should not actually boast about how many we have or which ones we've earned. We'll need to stay humble and gracious about our tags.  
So right now, we're really working on these three points. We talked a lot today about what a good and supportive audience member looks and sounds like.  We even practiced cheering for classmates when they earned a tag. Being able to cope with "not winning" is also a secondary benefit of Brag Tags. It's really and essential skill that helps children learn to develop emotional resilience and builds collaboration.  

At this stage, everyone wants to earn, earn, earn,  but soon, my students will be able to look through their collection of tags and begin to tell a story: a story of hard work, special memories and many achievements.  


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