Sunday, April 28, 2013

Elated to be Back to Blogging!

I am getting back to blogging again regularly. Started a brand new blog, fresh start. It is very different now. Easier to write on the go. Now, with an IPhone, I can keep a list of topic ideas and draft my posts in my notes app. So convenient! Then, when I am ready, I can cut and paste the post into my blogger app. I love technology! I just came up with another topic to write about. I could write for pages about how my IPhone has helped me in my teaching and in my life in general. So many ways. Will write about that at some point. For now, I am just happy to be blogging and reflecting this way.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Fifth Grader Approved Read Alouds

Below are six read alouds, chosen from many, that I have read to my fifth graders through the years. These books, in no particular order, have been the best received by students. Some are probably not appropriate for younger than fifth, for instance, Thief of Always.

This may seem obvious, but I never read a book to the class that I have not read myself. One reason is that I choose standards that I want to model through the read aloud, so I need to see what standards the book best demonstrates. For instance, some books have stronger character development than others, lend themselves to prediction more than others, have more examples of figurative language, etc. If the book is not well written, there is nothing to model, and I do not read it aloud.

Another reason that I will not read aloud a book is if I know that it will make me cry. For instance, the beautifully written book Wonder , which would have caused me to be sobbing in front of my fifth graders, will be a great guided reading book instead. I cry very easily and at the end of a couple of the books listed below, I knew I would get choked up at the end. This led me to create the fun tradition of a student or students reading the last chapter or two of the read aloud. They even get to sit in my swivel chair! The end of Thief of Always gets me every time, but as long as I don't have to read it, I can control the tears!

Probably the most important reason to read the book first is because, otherwise, I run the risk of reading a boring or inappropriate book. I may realize it half way through and that is just not a great feeling. If I read a book and it is boring to me, I do not read it aloud. If I cannot enjoy the book, then I risk the chance that my students will also find it boring. Also, if I am bored, then my reading and instruction around the reading will not be interesting or dynamic. Also, if you have a student who has experienced a loss of some kind, you need to know the content of the book, so that you can make a judgment call about whether to read it or not. Lastly, some books in this list have some degree of violence. Fine for some classes, not for others. Depends on the maturity of your students from year to year. Beware of intriguing books that are high interest, but may be too violent and possibly provoke parent phone calls. For instance, Zach's Lie is very vivid and disturbing in parts. Know your read aloud so you can justify it if parents have questions or concerns. I can't stress it enough, read books yourself before you read them to your class!

A great quality about most of the books below is that fifth grade students have never read them before or even heard of them!

Thief of Always by Clive Barker

I usually start the year with this book as my read aloud. It grabs the kids and doesn't let go. It is a mix of fantasy and horror, as well as having a strong message and a sweet ending. Barker has written a book that is perfect for boys and girls, which is really important. Reluctant readers enjoy this book and it is a way to hook them into the value of stories and reading. Fantastic for modeling prediction and inferencing.

Crash by Jerry Spinelli

Also a terrific book to start the year, Crash is a fifth grade favorite. The class gets invested in the characters and cares about what will happen. They love how the character changes throughout the story and the book is a natural tool for open circle discussions.

Among the Hidden Margaret Peterson Haddix

What an amazing book! Another book that is equally popular with boys and girls. They strongly relate to the characters and root for them. Very cool concept, strong character development and nail biting plot. There is an entire series of books to follow this first one! Warning: Death of a main character at end.

By the Great Horn Spoon Sid Fleischman

What a clever, funny historical fiction book! So well written and chock full of figurative language. The structure of the book lends itself to studying plot. There is the major plot of the book, but then most chapters have a problem that is solved by the end of the chapter. Many years ago, Disney made a horrible version starring Roddy McDowall. Do not bother showing that to your class unless you want them to do a compare and contrast essay or persuasive essay about which was better.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh Robert C. O'Brien

Classic story. Not much to say here, except it is long. It is an investment to get through it as a read aloud. Some years I use it for guided reading instead. Secret of Nimh , the animated film version is fun to watch after reading.

Skellig David Almond

This is a thought provoking book full of symbolism and metaphors. A lot of inferencing is required, so great for teaching that skill. Not a read aloud for every class, but when I have chosen to read it, the students become enthralled. Good one for boys and girls. Empathy and death are strong themes in this one. Throughout the book we discuss, "Is Skellig a man, bird or angel." Spoiler alert: the author leaves it for the reader to decide. I love this, but most fifth graders want closure. I have them write their own ending chapter to get the closure they want. :-) The movie version is slow paced and hard for the kids to understand in parts.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Boston: Surreal April Vacation

I am "shelter in place" in Waltham right now as the second bomber is loose, armed and dangerous. My thoughts go to Monday, when we go back to school after this traumatic vacation.

Unfortunately, we as teachers recently had to face trying to control the talk of the Sandy Hook tragedy in our classroom since we didn't know how much the parents wanted their kids to know. I think this is a similar situation.

Worries: Were any of my students at the marathon or did any know people who were injured/killed? Fifth graders are going to talk. Many will know a lot about this on Monday. Some will have been sheltered from the information completely.

I hope everyone stays safe and I am so sorry for those who are suffering or have passed on due to these horrible acts.

Teaching has never been so complex.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Bird Theme for Next Year

I have always loved birds and have had owls as a theme in my classroom for the past two years. I love many different kinds of birds though.

The decision was made today, that next year my classroom theme will be birds, all kinds of birds! Love it! Wading birds like majestic herons, backyard birds, birds of prey, cute waddling penguins, so many birds!

I was especially inspired by some beautiful paintings that I bought today in Rockport, MA. I love bright colors on my classroom walls and these are the brightest, most fun paintings I have seen of birds in a long time. Matted, but not framed, these were very affordable at only $8.00 each. Everyone knows teachers spend a lot of their own money on their classrooms, but this is a fun, aesthetically pleasing purchase that is for me just as much as it is for the kids.

Just remembered, I have 3 years worth of Birds and Blooms magazine issues with vivid photographs that I will use as well. Plus, I have numerous pictures that I took last spring of the swan babies that were across the street from where I live. Great close ups. Who knows what birds I will see in Hawaii!

My next job will be to find great figures of speech and inspirational phrases involving birds. "Birds of a feather" may be my classroom door idea?!?! The possibilities are endless. More bird theme ideas to come.

Pinterest Update: After searching Birds Classroom Theme, I am convinced more than ever that this theme is perfect!

1. Possibility of incorporating Angry Birds paraphernalia is fun!
2. Tweeting idea that I have been trying to incorporate this year. Like Twitter, but on a door or bulletin board in the classroom. Kids tweet about what they learned. Great for practicing summarizing of a lesson, main ideas, etc.
3. Birds of a feather idea and also flock or nest sayings for door with kids pic on it.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

April Vacation

I never fully take a vacation. Most teachers don't. We take a few days to relax and maybe even go somewhere. We sleep in if that is what we like, go see movies and set our own schedules. However, most of us don't turn off our teacher.

For instance, when I was recently in Newport, R.I. and saw rocks that were beautifully layered, I took multiple pics so I could have my science classes discern what kind of rock they are seeing. This is an easy, real world review of what they have learned and many teachers do this while they are vacationing. I also took pictures of the tide pools and cliff areas to review ecosystems and weathering/erosion. Showing a picture and having the students just write what they see using science vocabulary never gets old.

Because I do this, some of my students through the years have adopted the same habit. They come in after a vacation with rocks or shells they collected "for class" or with pictures they took with our science class in mind. I hope they maintain their wonder wherever they go!

This same kind of obsession, never turning off my "teacher mind," like many teachers, does not end with just science class. I am working on developing a figurative language unit and have had to pull over while driving to write down a song title or lyric that demonstrates a figure of speech. There are so many!

I am online regularly finding better ways to present difficult concepts to students. It never ends. By the way, if you are an educator and have not checked out Pinterest...get on that!!!!

Looking forward to my honeymoon in Hawaii this summer. I know I will come back relaxed, tan, and full of great experiences/photos, etc. to apply to my classroom.