Follow the Trail - A Product Swap Giveaway!!!

26 January 2014
Are you up for an adventure this week?  A number of fellow intermediate teacher-bloggers have joined to provide you with blog-hopping fun this last week of January.  Perhaps snow covers the ground outside where you are reading this from, making a real outdoor hike out of the we thought we would offer you a trail to "hike along" from the comfort of your couch!

Back in December, I was partnered with the amazingly talented Joey Udovich from Create, Teach, and Share!  I already had Joey's beautiful Interactive Writing Center, but I also wanted to try out her Reading Quadrants because I knew they would be a perfect fit for my reader response notebooks.

I'll start with her Interactive Writing Center.  I have to tell you upfront - my pictures DO NOT do this gorgeous resource justice.  I may have many strengths, but photography is not one of them.  ;)  This resource is SO extensive - it really does contain everything you would need to cover every single writing form throughout the year (and more)!  And the best part is, all the instruction cards (anchor charts) and examples are included so you could set this up as a writing center for your students (either posted on a bulletin board, or contained in a file box), where most students would be able to work independently, allowing you to sit with a small group for a guided writing lesson.  My students took on a newspaper article this week (we integrated our writing with our math this week, so students had to add 5 different measurements and prefixes to their article).  Each writing form has scaffolded sheets - making it perfect for differentiation for your students.  It also has blank templates for students to create their final copies on.  The images below show my students' rough and good copies side by side.  They had to highlight their measurement terms and show any revising and editing on their rough copies.  The templates and instructions allowed for success (and creativity) for all my students.  They LOVED it!

Here are a few of Joey's pictures that I *borrowed* from her blog because they were just too beautiful not to share.  

You can view her Interactive Writing Center by clicking HERE, or you can read a little more about it on her blog (and see a few more of her gorgeous pictures) by clicking HERE.

I also had the opportunity to review Joey's Comprehension:  Reading Quadrants.  I knew this would be a perfect addition to our Reading Response notebooks as soon as I saw it!  It covers all the reading comprehension strategies we use in class, and was the perfect way to have my students collaborate and work on building better answers.  These quadrants can be used in SO many different ways - as group activities or individual activities, as a minilesson, guided reading lesson, independent organizer, in reading notebooks - really, any way you can think of.  Each quadrant sheet contains 4 different questions, and these questions are revisited in other quadrant sheets allowing for student mastery of the information needed, and the opportunity for students to reflect on earlier answers, and how they can improve that answer.  

We've been using some of the quadrant sheets in our Reader Response Notebooks during the students' independent reading time.  At the beginning of the week, each student gets a quadrant sheet and glues it into their notebook.  They have to choose 1 question from the organizer to answer each day (this could also be done as a homework assignment if you assign nightly reading).  At the end of independent reading time, I have my students share their answer with their "elbow buddy" for review and suggestions for improvement.  These are some pics of their quadrants from this week.

I also used these quadrants for group work during our read aloud.  I put students in small groups of 4, with each student responsible for one question to answer.  When all were finished their answers, each student had to revise and edit another student's answer, using a different colour.  They did this twice.  They then got a new copy of the organizer to rewrite their "better answers".  A perfect fit for our "building better answers" quest.

This resource also contains full page graphic organizers to go along with your teaching of the comprehension strategies.  I enlarged these organizers up to 11 x 17 size so my small groups could collaborate on the completion.  We are studying inferring right now, so the Schema organizer was a perfect fit this week during our study of Martin Luther King, Jr.  Each student in the group used a different colour to record their thinking on the organizer.  They worked together to fill in the chart throughout each step ... and you can SEE the learning that occurred through the lesson.  I love having them work in groups on these kinds of activities, because some of the students who have difficulty retaining some of the information, instantly get that review and "aha" moment when hearing and reading what their other group members learned.

These larger sheets also make a great visual for displaying student thinking on a bulletin board.  We hung our organizers along with our "I Have A Dream" brainstorm web.  

Again, I just have to share some of Joey's pictures of this resource so you can see more of what's included.  

You can see her Comprehension:  Reading Quadrants by clicking HERE, or read her blog post for a little more information by clicking HERE.

Now, to help with your exercise for the day, here's what you need to know about our hike and giveaway!

Hiking Tips 
-Start anywhere along the trail!

-Along the way, stop by each blog and read about the resources swapped between bloggers.

-Enter to win the resource that is featured at each blog in the raffle below (the same raffle is at each blog, so you can just add to your entries as you go!). While you are at each blog, if you’re not a blog follower already, sign on to follow! (You can earn bonus entries for following all blogs once you unlock the additional entries.)

-The raffle is open until midnight on January 31, so feel free to take a break from your hike, rest up, and finish it later! 

One winner will receive the entire set of resources being featured by all 14 collaborating bloggers AND a $25 TpT gift certificate! 

Here’s the list of blogs to "hike" to: 
Swap Stop A

Swap Stop B 

Swap Stop C 

Swap Stop D 

Swap Stop E 

Swap Stop F 

Swap Stop G 

 Well, friends, settle in on your couch and grab the granola. It's time to get your hike on! :)

Something New For My Math Class

21 January 2014
I hope by now you know how much I value student reflection time in all our subjects.  I'm pretty sure I haven't kept it a secret.  At least once in every single class during the day, I ask my students to reflect on their learning - new learning, an answer they've given, a mistake they've made ... there are so many opportunities for reflection in a day.

Reflections are built into our Math Journals, and we use our Math Reflection Fans all the time.  

This year I added some new "tricks" to our math program.  One of my favourite purchases so far this year is Number Talks by Sherry Parrish.  We have set Operational Fluency as a school goal this year, and using the lessons and questions in our daily number talks are DEFINITELY increasing the students' number and mental math skills.  It's an amazing program.  The book even has a DVD that models number talks and lessons.  My students love this time of the day.  I set up a quick one page template on the smartboard, and this is what we use everyday.  We started our daily number talks in early October and haven't looked back.

Once this was running smoothly, I added in a daily Error Analysis question.  Every day the students have a simple skills question in their agenda.  In the morning I take a quick peek at their answers, and choose one error to go through together.  I set up another quick template on the smartboard with the question and the error, and each day a student volunteers to come up to the board, identifies the error, and takes us through the correct solution.  Together, our daily number talk and error analysis take about 15 minutes.  This doesn't happen in our math block, though (couldn't spare a second there) - I "borrowed" that 15 minutes from a different block.

And then ... last week, one of my followers on facebook shared an AMAZING video that changed my math block yet again.  It's brilliant - quick, simple, effective, and BRILLIANT.  The reflection on the question, the error, the communication ... I LOVE it.

"My Favourite No" made its way into my classroom today.  I run the actual problem exactly how the teacher runs it in the classroom (I ran out and bought a huge stack of index cards the second I watched the video).  I'm going to try to use an EQAO (my provincial testing) question that matches the lesson from the day before every day, but if I can't find a good one that fits, I will use a problem from the daily work the day before.

I added a few things to make it a perfect fit for my classroom.  I wanted students to be able to track their progress through our math units, so I set up a quick spot on our math bulletin board for this purpose.  I put up a library card pocket with each student's name on it.  This is where we will put the cards at the end of the activity each day.  At the end of the unit, students will collect all their cards, reflect on their growth and learning, and then I can file the cards in their portfolios (GREAT for parent conferences) and start fresh with a new math unit.

This is the question we used today (we're currently studying linear measurement and metric conversions).  This was a multiple choice question from EQAO, but I took off the multiple choice answers.  I put it on an index card and put it under the document camera.  I gave students 4 minutes to answer - an answer plus explaining their thinking.

Right before I collected the index cards, I asked the students to add a "traffic light comprehension dot" to the corner of their card.  If you click the link, I have a freebie poster at my TPT store for this.  Basically, students add a small red dot if they had a lot of difficulty with the problem, a yellow dot shows they think they could master it with a little more practice, and green dot shows they solved the problem with ease (more reflection).  It also makes a quick visual for me to see who to pull for a quick minilesson or guided math lesson.

This was my favourite "no" from the today.  This student thought the question was pretty easy (green dot).  He knew what the marks on the ruler represented, just needed to check his answer (counted 85 cm instead of 75 cm).  My students were quick to point out the strengths on the card (clear explanation, using the marks on the ruler), but were just as quick to point out the corrections needed - CHECK YOUR WORK!  (lol).  When we were going through the solution, I highlighted the information / corrections we made on the card.  (I did rewrite the solution on the back of the question card so the student couldn't be identified from their printing).  

My students LOVED every part of this today.  Maybe even as much as I did ... maybe ... I am a big reflection nerd, after all.  ;) 

Happy Tuesday!!


Just Let Them Write ...

12 January 2014
Late last year I had one of those "slap yourself in the forehead asking why didn't I think of that" moments during a PLC meeting.  I was listening to some of my primary colleagues talk about their writing block, and they mentioned how much their students love to write ... so they just let them write.  They still do writing lessons and have formal assignments and assessments, but they also just let them write for fun.  No strings attached.


I drove home thinking about it.  I ate supper thinking about it.  I went to bed thinking about it.  It just made sense.  I have always always always protected my independent reading time - singing its praises as it turned my students into lovers of literature.  I don't bog them down with reading logs or assignments for their independent reading - I just want them to read.  Sure, they do the odd assignment, and we do have a challenge for the numbers of books we read, but really, it's pretty simple - just read.  They are so excited to share their reading that we do a pair share every day after reading - students read a page to each other from their reading (practising their oral reading skills) and then give a quick summary and ask and answer a comprehension question about the reading (this is where I use my Reading Question Fans).  This simple daily practice where they use the skills they have been taught during more formal lessons and minilessons works.  Peroid.  So why wouldn't it work with writing??

The next day I grabbed 25 notebooks and we started.  I call this time "Free Writing" - free to choose your own topic, free to abandon a piece and start a new piece, free to make your own choices.  About half the class was eager to start immediately, and about half the class looked at me with blank stares.  Clearly, they were not as excited as I was ... yet.  So, we talked about it.  We made anchor charts showing all the different forms of writing they could do, we brainstormed all the different topics they could write about.  We set expectations for the time - write the whole time, focus only on your own work, practise writing skills taught, 100% effort, etc.  And then, I crossed my fingers and we just dug in and started.  WOW.  

Find It And Fix It
Immediately my kids were getting excited - at the end of each 10 minute daily free writing block (yes, just 10 minutes ... surely you can find 10 minutes somewhere in your day) there was such a buzz and excitement in the class.  Students wanted to share with me, with each other, with anyone who would listen to them.  It was like striking gold.  But still, even with our "no rules" free writing, I still wanted to make sure they were going back and revising and editing - thinking about ways to improve their writing, so "Find It and Fix It Fridays" were born.  This is free in my TPT store and is a fun and interactive way to practice those editing and revising skills.  It's a zipped file containing both a PDF and Smartboard file - you can use either with your class.  

We started Free Writing last year in March, and the results were quickly evident - our writing scores improved over 30% by the end of the year.  I'd say it was a success.

Fast forward to this year.  I knew free writing was something I was going to continue in the class, but I wanted to wait to introduce it until we came back in January.  I just wanted to make sure they had good foundations and solid lessons before they started to free write - I didn't want them to spend the time practising bad habits.  Well, it was the plan, anyhow.  By mid November, my students were literally begging me to start free writing again.  Some of the students I had last year had kept their notebooks going and continued to write in them over the summer.  And I've never been one to squelch enthusiasm, so we began.  And it's just as good.  :)  

Writing Reflection Fans
I knew I wanted to make a few improvements this year, and really get them thinking even more about their writing, so I started working on a set of Writing Reflection Fans to use during a pair/share for our free writing.  These fans use the 6+1 Traits of Writing as their foundation, which is what I use for my writing minilessons in class.  There are 15 different questions for each trait, so there is a lot of choice for students or me.  After our 8-10 minute free writing block, students get together in a pair share to share what they have written.  While they are sharing, I have a question ready for them (which I project under the document camera).  With their partners, they have to answer the question - highlighting evidence in their writing, or reflecting on a sticky note.  They are also explaining their thoughts or proof to their partners.  I am loving how it's working so far.  Sometimes, when I really want them to think about a particular concept before they start writing (like paragraphs) I'll post the question first, but a lot of time it comes later - as more of a reflection.  Fridays we still do our "Find It and Fix It" because the kids loving using the Smartboard for it.
Writing Reflection Fans

Writing Reflection Fans

Writing Reflection Fans

Writing Reflection Fans

Writing Reflection Fans

Okay - I know you have a few questions, so let's see if I can answer some of them already.
  • What do I do about those extremely unmotivated writers?  Well, I think I'm pretty lucky.  I've really only had one or two each year.  And even they began to write.  I model enthusiasm and excitement for it.  I'd meet with them more to help them come up with ideas (linked to something they are passionate about).  The fact that they could start with a comic book (or graphic novel) really helped the motivation.  One of them last year got hooked writing descriptions of his dream skateboard.  One this year is writing about his favourite hockey trip. The fact that they have to share with a friend after really motivates them, too.  They don't want to be the student who doesn't have anything to share.
  • How do I assess the writing?  This is the best part - I don't ... usually.  This is their practice time - it's not a summative assessment.  I do observe them while they are writing, and I point out things when I'm walking around (maybe even make a note or two for myself) but this isn't another assessment to add to your plate.  This is just a small part of our writing block.  The rest of the time is spent on grammar, writing minilessons, writing formal pieces - all things I DO assess.
  • Where do I find the time?  I just do.  It's important to me.  It's only 10 extra minutes a day.  If I just stop talking for 10 minutes, it can happen.  And trust me, my little sixth graders get a whole lot more out of this than listening to me talk for another 10 minutes in the day.  ;)  And the benefits speak for themselves - you can't argue a 30% improvement in writing scores, but best of all, my students LOVE to write.
Whew ... I think I almost wrote a novel here.  Can you tell I'm passionate about this?  Sometimes it's the little things that make a BIG difference in the classroom.  

Happy Sunday!!!


Friday Art Feature - Snowy Birch Trees

10 January 2014
I LOVE teaching art!  I love it even more on a Friday morning when you just know the students are exhausted and teaching something new would be an exercise in futility.  ;)

Whenever I post one of our art activities, I inevitably get asked, "How do you have the time to teach art?"  Art is part of our curriculum - which we have to assess.  My students don't have "specials" - I teach almost all their subjects, including art.  And I am so glad that get the opportunity!  :)

Today we took on snowy art trees - and as impressive as they turned out, it was a very easy art project with success for all!

We started our with a piece of plain white computer paper.  With very light pencil marks, we drew in the horizon, a large moon, and some lines for birch trees (students were free to draw as many as they wished).  We talked about perspective - how the trees closer to the bottom of the page would look larger, and the trees closer to the horizon would appear smaller.  

We then used a deep blue oil pastel to shade in the sky area.  From there, we used black and grey pastels to make the markings on the birch trees (a tree we are VERY familiar with up here).  When that was done, we added in the shadows for the trees with the grey pastel, and used the white to make a subtle ring around the moon.

The last step was to add some "snow" (white acrylic paint) by dabbing it over the whole page with the end of a paint brush.  When all was done, I laminated them (on a lower heat so the pastel didn't bleed) and posted them for all to admire.  We finished the main part (the drawing and pastel work) in about 45 minutes (some less) which gave lots of time for the paint to dry so I could get them laminated and posted at the end of the day.

Happy Friday!