Saturday, August 25, 2012

Montessori in public schools

Yesterday I met a friend (who is also a former colleague) for coffee. She recently left the school district and was hired by a Montessori school. I was anxious to hear about her new experiences, which I was certain would be no less than amazing, but I wasn't prepared to be almost in tears by the end of our chat.

In my mind "the Montessori way" was for the younger kids. I went to Montessori, as did my siblings, before starting Kindergarten, and I knew that it was a valuable step in our learning. I knew that there were Montessori schools that catered to upper grades, but I knew they were rare. In my studies I grazed the surface of the Montessori philosophies, and I knew that I agreed with Maria Montessori's ideas about education. But still I didn't think much about Montessori as an upper grade system. It is obvious that I was very wrong. My friend is teaching, actually she is called a "guide", in a 7th-9th grade classroom. There are two other "guides" with 31 total students. And so far she is loving everything about it. Everything is different from most public schools. They garden, they have a full kitchen, and more!

I came home feeling so happy for my friend, a bit envious, and also inspired to find out about implementing Montessori methods in my own classroom. Within minutes of Googling and reading a few blurbs I realized that my philosophies really do reflect Maria Montessori's and that much of what I do as a teacher aligns with her methods.

I believe that students . . .
. . . are responsible for their learning.
. . . should have opportunities to interact with concepts.
. . . need to create in order to gain a deeper understanding.
. . . must work together and learn from each other.
. . . should be taught with minimal whole class direct instruction.
. . . are striving to be responsible and good citizens.
. . . have opportunities to present/publish/share what they know.

Although I would love to have the opportunity to work in a Montessori school, I believe that it is possible to implement much of her teaching philosophies and methods into a public school classroom. I shall be reading more on this and hoping to include any gems that I find. Perhaps I have some readers that are more familiar with Montessori, and with implementing it in a public school classroom. I'd love to hear your thoughts and ideas!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Click! Take a pic!

Just a little Instagram shot from my desk. Notice that my binder sort of matches my blog theme. 

You wouldn't know it from the poor quality photos on my blog, but I am a photography buff. I have a decent DSLR and a few decent lenses. Plus I've had the pleasure of doing some family, kid, and newborn photo shoots. So why the mediocre photos on the blog? Mostly because I'm busy and love that I can upload photos straight from my phone to Picasa web. Besides, it would be ridiculous to lug around my expensive equipment and risk damaging or losing it at school. I've wanted an iPhone for years because the photos it takes make me drool, a lot are better than ones I take with my DSLR, but I don't think the iPhone will be in the cards for me anytime soon. Luckily, I should be able to upgrade my phone in a few months, and I hear the newest Galaxy takes some pretty shots comparable to the iPhone. So, if all goes as planned I should have some better blog photos in October!

What do you use to take photos for your teaching blog?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Read and Respond, we've almost got it!

I love seeing the progression that my students make from writing summaries, to actually responding to what they read. The progression is pretty predictable. The first few weeks many students are typically stuck in summary mode. Then as I score them, share quality entries, and offer them suggestions, they move to stage two, trying out too many prompts. This example is a student in said stage:

She has several different prompts mashed into one entry. She has:
I hope . . .
I think . . .
It surprised me when . . .
I think . . . (again)
I hope . . . (again)

All are excellent thoughts to jot down, but she needs to stick to one and use the rest of the entry to explain why she thought something. The note I wrote at the bottom didn't make it into the photo, but it went something like, "These are all great thoughts, but I would like you to stick to just one prompt, and then explain why you think or feel that way."

Nearly all of my students showed significant improvement in their responses compared to last week. They are almost there and it is exciting to see them to progress from re-tellers to deep thinkers!

I've sold quite a few of my Read and Respond kits on TpT. I'd love to hear how it is working in other classrooms!

Friday, August 17, 2012

What genre are you reading?

When I taught 6th grade I felt that the students knew genre pretty well, but this year my 5th graders seem to struggle with it in their Read and Respond (I haven't "taught" genre yet). I set up this genre bulletin board in our classroom library area.

Last year I started using those small shelves from Ikea to display books in my classroom. I don't remember how much they were but they are super easy to install and are very sturdy. Since we study ancient civilizations in 6th grade, I would display books to go along with whatever we were studying: ancient Greece, Rome, China, Egypt, etc. I figured that for 5th grade I would try to display different genres and switch them out every few weeks to help the students understand them better. I used the free genre poster download from Beth Newingham (who coincidentally inspired me to start a classroom economy years ago).

My photo isn't the best, and there is an inconvenient glare, but I currently have up Informational, Mystery, and Realistic Fiction. My hope is that they not only better understand genre, but maybe they'll pick up and read some of the books I have displayed. Books are so much more welcoming when you can see the front cover and not just the spine!

I am also planning on adding an insert to the students' Read and Respond that includes a handy guide to genre.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Contact paper update!

The biggest fear with spending time and money putting contact paper on the tables was definitely that the kids were going to pick at it and peel it off. Well, we are nearing the end of week four of school (crazy, right!?) and I can report that the kids have been doing great at helping to care for the tables and not pick at them. But, there has been a snag, literally. The contact paper is easily scraped by sharp objects such as scissors, binders, spiral notebook wires, etc. And there have been a few tears. Luckily these are quickly and easily repaired by covering it with a small piece of the contact paper. This formica style blends well and you can't even see where I covered it up. This was a good time to also remind the kids about caring for the tables, and I can tell they are genuinely concerned because they like the way it looks too!

Unfortunately my round table has been the hardest hit. I teach the intervention math class and three days a week we have a para who comes in and works with small groups at that table, and with white boards. These are my not-so-smooth, cut-at-the-hardware store, white boards, and the rough edges have been scraping the table. So today I put tape around the edge of the white boards to soften them up, and added some electrical tape over the scrapes along the edge of the table. If that doesn't work I might consider a white board alternative or remove the contact paper from that table. No biggie.

Regardless, I think my room is still looking quite good as we prepare for week 5! 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Teaching, modeling, and scoring Read and Respond

I've already mentioned how essential I feel Read and Respond is to promoting daily reading and improving comprehension. It is important to note that using Read and Respond is not an overnight and instant success, it takes a bit of work at the beginning. I introduce R&R the first week of school and we practice several times in class; after I read aloud to them in class we write an entry together. Then they start to try it out on their own for homework. I periodically have them score themselves using the rubric they attached, score each other, and share out loud.

All of this is never enough as students are usually trained to write summaries, and they are pretty good at that already. I have to guide them to move away from the summarizing and start to respond to what they read by including their thoughts and feelings. I try to read and score 1-2 of their entries weekly or bi-weekly. I ask them to only put one response on a page that way I have room to score them and leave feedback. Generally the first few weeks I am putting the same comment that goes something like, "This is a good summary, but I want you to respond to what you read. Try using the prompts at the front of your notebook." After a bit of practice they get it.

Here are a couple of the first ones I have scored this year and you can get an idea of the range (although I have very few that score a 3 or 4 the first couple of weeks).

Sunday, August 12, 2012

My new friend

I've known about wheeled crates forever, but resisted the urge to purchase one. I think I had the mentality that buying one would mean I was weak (or that I was taking too much work home with me). But lugging heavy bags that threaten to break was not working for me. So I caved and picked up this fella today. Just rolling him through the store made me realize that I should have bought one years ago. How many of you use one of these guys?

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Back to School Sale and new Freebie

We've been back in school for 3 weeks now and I am a bit jealous of those teachers that are enjoying their last bit of summer vacation. But I'm also happy that we've started! I'm enjoying my new grade level, my new classroom, my new team, and my sweet 5th graders (I didn't know 5th graders still give hugs!).

This week was pretty rough. Last Friday I flew to Seattle for my grandmother's memorial. My sister, nephew, and I were so lucky to get to spend time with her as she passed away a week after our visit. It was a beautiful memorial and it was great to have technology so that my sister and cousin who couldn't make it could say a prayer through Google+ Hangout, and my cousin also streamed the event on YouTube for other family members to view. I was out of school Monday and we all know how much work it is to plan for a sub, and then recover after a sub. The rest of the week I was at school late and then I started to feel allergy symptoms. Yesterday afternoon it hit me that it wasn't allergies, it was a cold! So, I'm feeling pretty achy with fever and chills, and hoping that I don't have to call in sick again next Monday.

Regardless I wanted to participate in the huge sale at TpT this weekend. EVERYTHING in my store is 20% off August 12-13. On top of that TpT is offering an additional discount of 10% when you use code:  BTS12

This is a great time to take advantage of all the wonderful resources created by teachers as many are participating in the sale. I know I'm excited to purchase some of the things in my wishlist!

I've also added a new freebie! I am on (the soon to be gone) Career Ladder and we have to complete a Student Achievement Plan each year. This year my team has decided to focus on personal narrative writing and hone in on the traits of word choice, organization, and conventions. We looked for a narrative elements graphic organizer, but couldn't find one that was just right for our needs, so of course I had to create my own, and I am offering it for free in my store!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

I {heart} Dollar Tree

I'm sure most teachers have already discovered Dollar Tree and its great teacher section, plus all the other great things to use in the classroom. Before school started I found this popcorn poster with popcorn pieces for $1. Remember, I am not a teacher who makes really crafty bulletin boards (I prefer simple but still effective) so this was not only cheap, but it was an easy way to spruce up my writing folders. There was only one left at the Dollar Tree I was at and it only came with 25 popcorn pieces, so I threw some on the scanner and printed out more.

The colorful folders I have been using forever. I just bought a few packs of the binder dividers that have pockets, cut off the little tabs, and stapled them up. Students have a great way to display writing and I have them leave previous writing in so that at the end of the year it's also a writing portfolio. Plus it's super easy for me because I don't have to do any work to update the bulletin board.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Ready, Set, Read (and Respond)!

In my years of teaching (this will be number 9) I am usually trying new things (or improve things that work) and easily get tired of the same thing year-to-year. The one exception to this would be Read and Respond. The first school I taught at used the Success for All (SFA) reading program. It was a phenomenal program that really helped students make huge gains in reading and writing. It especially benefited the students of that particular school, which was nearly all English Language Learners, because students quickly became proficient in English too. One of the requirements was that students, of all grade levels, read for a minimum of 30 minutes everyday, even weekends. They were also not to write a summary of what they read, rather they were to respond to what they read in a meaningful way. And so I have kept Read and Respond over the years although due to my current school district's policy I have had to reduce the minimum time and days (20 minutes Monday through Thursday).

Last week we put together our Read and Respond notebook which consist of pasting the directions and grading rubric in the cover of a composition notebook. Then we practiced writing responses using the book I read aloud to them. They have only been doing this for a few days but some of them are already doing a extraordinary job! 

For Read and Respond students can read fiction or non-fiction and I require them to.....
* write the title
* write the date they read
* write the pages they read
* write the genre
* respond to what they read in 5 sentences
* get a parent signature to verify their reading

This is a model entry that blew me away! It says: 

"In this section India Opal Buloni found out that Winn-Dixie is afraid of thunderstorms. I can relate to that because my dog Graham is afraid of thunderstorms too. He whines and scratches at the door just like India had described of what Winn-Dixie did. Graham is also like Winn-Dixie because he won't lie down during the storm because he gets too nervous. After the storm is over Winn-Dixie calmed down just like Graham does."

At the bottom of her entry you can see the score she gave herself for Reading and Language Arts. I will grade these periodically, and I will also ask students to score themselves and score each other too. 

Ready to use Read and Respond in your classroom too? The Read and Respond Journal pages are available in my TpT store. You will receive a teacher direction page, student direction page and rubric to paste into a notebook, alternate blackline master for photocopying, and Read and Respond passes to use for incentives/prizes.