Monday, December 26, 2011

Nerdy Book Club Celebrates the Power of Books!

I have found a new "cool" group to hang with after school.  They call themselves the Nerdy Book Club.  Hearing the word 'nerd' excites me!  I love being a nerd and also love books.  So, I was so excited when a new blog appeared and it was all about books - specifically children's books.  This morning I awoke to an email announcing a new post at The Nerdy Book Club, so I clicked on over to read it.  It was wonderfully touching and made me proud to be a teacher and lover of kids books.  The author of the post, Melissa Thompson, understands the power of a good book.

So I was inspired to write this post about chapter books I read aloud to my second graders.

This year I carved a chunk of time at the end of my day for reading chapter books to my class.  Each year I tell myself I am going to read more chapter books, but each year my day gets fuller and fuller and I cut out that chapter book time.  But not this year!  (so far)

I am sure I don't have to extol the benefits of reading chapter books, but I will tell you what I notice about it's value in my classroom.  My second graders' attention span and listening ability is not very long.  Most of them have a hard time sitting still and listening to a read aloud for more than 10 minutes.  Their independent reading stamina is very low also.  Read alouds give them opportunity to build listening stamina and attention span, which usually helps in the independent reading department too.  Chapter books don't have pictures, which means my students can't rely on any visual clues to understand the story.  They must develop their own visual story in their mind.  This is an important strategy when reading independently as well.  Chapter books allow me to introduce more complex vocabulary and story plots that most second graders couldn't understand or enjoy alone.  And my students get practice sustaining their understanding and concentration over a week or two of reading the same book.  But here's the most important benefits of my chapter book read alouds.  It is a favorite time of the day for my students and it builds community!  Everyone comes to the carpet and settles into a comfortable place.  They like to bring their clipboard so they can jot down important ideas to discuss!  I love hearing them talk about the book as they walk over to the carpet.  They talk about the characters like they are friends.  They discuss their predictions, they help each other remember what happened in the last chapter, they debate over details they disagree on, and they even wonder what the characters might be doing after the book is finished.  All of this conversation generally does not include me - it is casual and among peers.  It is book talk and it is wonderful.

So, here's the chapter books I have read so far this year.

The One and Only Stuey Lewis (Stories from the Second Grade) by Jane Schoenberg was our first read aloud of the year.  Each chapter was a separate story and problem for the main character, Stuey.  The problems are realistic and my second graders could really relate to Stuey.  This book is also a great fit for practicing making and checking predictions, and teaching about story elements.  The author's website has a book trailer that you can watch.  A second book about Stuey is due out in the spring.  It is called Stuey Lewis Against All Odds (Stories from the Third Grade).  Most of my students will be able to read this book independently by the spring.  So, I need to remember to add this book to my library!

My students fell in love with the characters in Toys Go out: Being the Adventures of a Knowledgable Stingray, A Toughy Little Buffalo, and Someone Called Plastic by Emily Jenkins.  This book is a collection of stories, or adventures, about  the main characters which are toys that belong to a little girl.  The story is told from their perspective.  My students immediately made connections to the Toy Story movies.  Each toy has their own identity and characteristics which my students talked about a lot!  This a great read aloud because it offers many opportunities for higher level discussions.  The author doesn't always tell you how the characters are feeling or why the character does something, so the reader needs to infer a lot.  I heard my students talking about the characters throughout the day, which made me so happy.  Emily Jenkins has also written two other books in the series, but I have not read them yet.  My students loved this book so much that I sent an email to Emily Jenkins asking if she would skype with our class.  But she does not skype.  

We just finished Molly's Pilgrim by Barbara Cohen.  This is the story of Molly, an immigrant from Russia, who is finding it difficult to fit in at school because the children are mean and tease her.  Of course my students are upset and shocked at the way students are teasing Molly.  This they can relate to! This was a great read aloud because my students had so many questions after each reading and it allowed us to go back and reread sections that they were confused about.  There were even some questions that the book couldn't answer - which was great because it gave me the opportunity to provide a bit of history for them.  It also gave us a chance to expand our understanding of the word pilgrim.

After the Christmas vacation I will begin one of my favorite read alouds, Gooseberry Park by Cynthia Rylant.  If you loved Charlotte's Web you will love this book about friendship.  This story takes place during an unexpected spring blizzard.  We had an unusual amount of snowstorms here on Long Island last year, so while I was reading the book we felt like we were experiencing the same storm!

Now I am starting to collect some other titles for my chapter book read aloud time.  Here are future books I am considering.  

What do you think?  Do you have some titles you think would be great for second grade?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

So Many Books! So Little Money! How far can $250 go?

I am a Reading Workshop teacher, which means my classroom library is the center of my literacy instruction.   Like many teachers out there I spend a great deal of my own money to purchase books for my classroom library.  I am very resourceful and have even found great deals on ebay.  I accept donations from librarian friends and past students too.  My bonus points from Scholastic book clubs are also helpful.  I even got a donorschoose project funded for math books.  And don't tell anyone, but I sometimes use the guided reading books to supplement my class library collection.  My school has invested money in creating a book room with a collection of books for guided reading.  They have also recently purchased a basal reading series.  But support for building classroom libraries has been less than adequate.  So, I am very excited that my principal has given each teacher $250 to purchase books.  Of course, I have decided to use the money to add to my classroom library.

I have been going through my wish list of books over and over.  I have asked my twitter friends for recommendations.  The problem isn't coming up with a list of books.  The problem is whittling down my list to under $250!  I teach second grade, which means my students' independent reading levels span a wide range - from Piggie and Elephant books to chapter books like Magic Tree House.   After some thought, I have decided to purchase more series books.  During the summer I purchased more books for my lower level readers since I felt my library was lacking in that area.  After looking at my collections I decided I needed more books in the Nate the Great or Pinky and Rex level.  It seems that there is a big jump from beginning chapter books with picture support to longer chapter books with little picture support.  And many of my students have problems with endurance when reading Horrible Harry or Cam Jansen books.  And I am also hoping I can add some books for my higher readers.  So here's my list.  I would really love your opinion.  Most I have read, but there are some books that I will need to go to my public library to read before making the final selections.  I know my list goes over the $250, but some of these books I can get with my Scholastic bonus points too.

Frankie Pickle: I've only read one of the books, but I think second graders will love Frankie, especially my boys.

Down Girl and Sit Series: These are shorter chapter books. Second graders love dogs and these are funny!

Keena Ford books: There are 3 books so far in this series that I haven't read yet, but they look like great reads for second graders.

Andy Shane books:  I have read one so far and I liked it.

Toon Books by Candlewick Press: I absolutely love these graphic novels!  I checked several out of my local public library last summer and have had them on my wishlist.  The only graphic novel I have in my library is Baby Mouse.  The books are very popular with my higher readers.  I love Baby Mouse!  I would also like to add Squish and Sticky Burr to my collection of graphic novels.

I always have a student that enjoys the one Geronimo Stilton book I have, so I thought I would get some more.  Has anyone read the Franny K. Stein books?  Do your students enjoy them?

Ivy and Bean:  Great series, especially for girls.  Longer chapter book - right now this books is for my higher readers, but by the end of the year many others will be able to read it.

I also like Marty McGuire and Bink and Gollie.  My students already love Mercy Watson books.

Here's some series that I have not read yet.  Please tell me if your students enjoy reading them.  Tell me what you think!

The Buddy Files
Andrew Lost Series
Owen Foote
Roscoe Riley Rules
The Fairy Chronicles

What do you think of my list?  Is there any book that you think is missing?  What are your students reading?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

VoiceThread in Math Class: A Lesson for the Teacher

I just love using VoiceThread in my classroom and wanted to find a way to use it in math.  After many lessons and activities on even and odd numbers I created a VoiceThread to help show what my students had learned about this concept.  That is how it started - I was proud of my teaching, in love with VT, and wanted to show off my student's thinking.  

As my students recorded their comments on the VT I was busy working with other students in class so I only heard bits and pieces of their comments.  I remember wondering why I heard one student mention skip-counting by threes, but I was busy and knew I would listen to all the comments later.  Later that evening I sat down at my computer to listen to the recorded comments and was shocked!  I was so upset that so many of my students were confused about even and odd numbers.  I thought I had done a great job with my lessons and activities, but apparently not.  I thought about it all evening as I watched my favorite television shows.  I annoyed my husband and complained to him about it!  By the next morning I thankfully had my AH HA moment!

I finally realized that this VoiceThread was a great assessment piece.  My students had some understanding of the concept of evens and odds, but there was still some confusion.  And that was okay.  Their comments showed clearly their misconceptions, which will allow me to create more opportunities for them to explore this concept.  In the end the VoiceThread was a lesson for me.  I probably would never have known about their misunderstandings if I had only administered the textbook chapter test.  I am not sure if I will share the VT with parents, or if I will let students add more comments later after more learning.  What is your opinion?  How have you used VoiceThread in your classroom?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Math on My Mind: Does this compute?

Math is on my mind this week.  In particular, computation methods, or algorithms - the fancy term mathematicians use.  No matter what grade I have taught students always seem to struggle with some computation methods.  When I taught fourth grade it was long division.   For my second graders, it's subtraction with regrouping, especially across zeros.  Addition with regrouping isn't so bad, but when we get to subtraction they hit that proverbial wall.

The purpose of algorithms should be to provide students with quick and efficient methods for computing.    Simple.  Painless.  Success for all.  When I am spending months teaching the standard method and I still have many students that can't perform the method consistently then I begin to think maybe I need to change my teaching.  

Over the years I have explored some non-standard methods, or I should say, methods that don't appear in most U.S. math textbooks.  It seems to me that the math textbook publishers are determining how we teach math in this country.  Just because the textbook teaches it one way doesn't mean that is the best way, or only way to teach a skill or concept.  My goal is always to find ways that work for my students.

When I taught 4th grade I taught my students 2 different methods for multiplication.  The traditional method and a method called Partial Products.  When I polled my students asking their preference the results were split down the middle.  I like to give my students a choice.  I want them to be active learners and find what works for them.

Now as I teach second grade my 3rd grade colleagues tell me that second graders don't remember how to subtract when they get to third grade.  This does not surprise me, because there was always a good amount of fourth graders who struggled with subtraction computation.  So, last year I decided to experiment with other subtraction methods I had learned about over the years.  I taught my second graders the Trade First method.  I like this method for several reasons.  First, it allows students to work from left to right, which is usually more natural for them.  Second, it is not that different from the the traditional subtraction algorithm.  Finally, I like this method because it works for ANY subtraction problem, even subtacting across zeros!

Trade First Subtraction Method

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This year I plan on teaching both the Trade First and standard methods.  My goal is to get my third and fourth grade colleagues on board because it doesn't help if my students aren't allowed to use the method of their choice after they leave my classroom.

Do your students struggle to learn computation methods?  Have you tried teaching alternative computation methods?  I would love to hear your experiences.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Seasons Around the World and VoiceThread

Here is the first installment of the Seasons Around the World VT, which is part of the Global Classroom project.  Classrooms grade K - 3 can join anytime.  Please check out Deb Frazier's blog, Primary Perspectives,  for tutorials and more information on using VoiceThread in the classroom.  Educators can get a free account.  You can also view my class website to see how we have used VT so far this year.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Global Classroom: Seasons Around the World VoiceThread Project

As part of the Global Classroom Project, my second graders are creating a VoiceThread called Seasons Around the World.  We are inviting other K-3 classrooms to join us!  Each season we will observe the changes in our natural world.  We will follow and observe a deciduous tree in our school yard.  We will collect data on temperature and sunrise/sunset times.  Our goals are to share and compare our seasonal observations and data with classrooms around the world.  How are the seasons around the world the same?  How are they different?  Why do the seasons change? If you would like to participate in this project by sharing your seasonal observations on our VoiceThread I invite you to join the Global Classroom Project.  For more information you can tweet me @DebraRosenquist or go to the Global Classroom Wiki.  You can also leave a comment on this blog!

Monday, October 31, 2011

How a Teacher Learned to Tweet

Welcome to my blog!  Over the last year or two I have been reading several teacher blogs.  They have inspired me to try new ideas in my classroom, given me the support I needed when things aren't going so well, and provided a place for me to find like-minded educators sharing their thoughts and ideas.  This all happened without any of these teachers knowing I was there.  

One of the ideas I starting reading about was Twitter.  Several bloggers urged their readers to use Twitter to create a PLN.  What is a PLN?  It stands for Personal Learning Network.  (You know how we teachers like  educational terms and acronyms.)  I couldn't imagine ever using Twitter.  Wasn't Twitter for Kim Kardashian and other celebrities?  How could Twitter help me, a mere second grade teacher?   A celebrity in her students eyes only.  But one day, this summer, while reading another blog post about the value of Twitter I couldn't stand it anymore.  I had to see what this what all about!  I went to Twitter and signed up.  I was nervous.  Who would I follow?  I decided to start by following a few authors of professional books and some of the bloggers I had been reading.  I think the first person I followed was Cathy Mere, author of More Than Guided Reading.  She also has a blog,  Before you know it, I was following several people.  And I was giddy with delight when Cathy and others followed me back!  But of course, I had decided I would just follow and read.  There would be no tweeting from me.  Absolutely not!  Of course, like most teacher, you know I couldn't stay tweet-free for long.  I joined Twitter in July, and by the end of August I had been involved in the best professional development I have had in many years.  

My PLN has taught me about Edmodo and inspired me to blog with my second graders.  By using Twitter I have learned how to use VoiceThread and joined a group of teachers around the world in the Global Classroom project.  I have been able to connect with other educators that use reading and writing workshop in their classrooms too.  Each day that I log into my Twitter account I learn something new or get inspiration from other teachers!

So, I decided to start my own blog.  I hope it will be a place where I can reflect on my teaching, improve my writing, and hopefully share and interact with other teachers around the world.