Monday, October 28, 2013

It's Monday! What are you reading?

Thanks to Jen at TeachMentorText  and Kellee at UnleashingReaders for the weekly meme highlighting children's literature - picture books to young adult.  Don't forget to visit their sites so you can see what everyone else is reading this week!

I haven't posted for #IMWAYR since August! Yikes.  So these are the highlights of my recent reading.

Journey by Aaron Becker

This is such a beautiful illustrated and imaginative wordless picture book.  I love how Aaron Becker used the color red!

Locomotive by Brian Floca

I am a big fan of this author/ illustrator.  This book is amazing.  The illustrations are so detailed.  It is beautifully written with a poetic quality, but filled with historical details as well.  The illustrations compliment the writing so well - perfection.  I even love how the text is laid out on the pages.  I am a huge train fan.  When my children were young we always found old steam trains all over California to ride - from the Santa Cruz mountains to the Sierra Nevadas.  Our vacations always had a train theme!  Now, as a New Yorker I ride the Long Island Railroad!  Such a great piece of history.  I am sure I will have many second graders that will enjoy listening to this book.

Daredevil, The Daring Life of Betty Skelton by Meghan McCarthy

Love, loved this picture book biography on the life of Betty Skelton.  It's so wonderful to see all these great biographies coming out on not-so well-known people - especially women, doing something they loved even when they were different.  This one is perfect for younger students in grades 2-5.

8 Class Pets + 1 Squirrel Divided by 1 Dog = Chaos by Vivian Vande Velde

I found this book when I was visiting Portland this summer.  It listed on Oregon's Beverly Cleary book awards shelf.  It's a hilarious story about a squirrel that gets chased into an elementary school by a neighborhood dog.  Each chapter is told by the point of view of a different class pet as they experience the "chaos".  I plan on recommending it to my more advanced readers, who are reading longer chapter books right now in my second grade class.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Advice needed: How do I help my struggling readers?

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I've been ruminating a lot over the last couple of years about the way my district provides academic support services to our youngest readers.  With all we know about how students learn to read and what struggling readers really need, it just doesn't make sense.  But I'm pretty sure my district does it the same way thousands of other districts do it across the country.  Here's how it goes.  Sammy, a struggling reader in first or second grade leaves his classroom for 30 minutes a day to meet in a small group (6-7 students) with our reading specialist.  They focus on phonics skills using a program called Fundations, along with guided reading.  Now here's my concern.  We tell ourselves (and parents) Sammy is getting "extra" help in reading.  But how is this "extra" help, when Sammy is missing important instruction in his classroom everyday for 30 minutes.  Let's be honest here.  We are making a choice.  Sammy needs all classroom instruction and extra reading time.  He is getting neither in my opinion.  But I don't know exactly how to fix this way of doing things.  We have one reading specialist serving our 17 K - 2 classrooms, and with our dwindling budgets and growing class size, staffing is not going to get better.  But I'm not here to complain.  I actually want input.  How does your school support  your struggling readers?

I have this idea that my struggling readers need to practice reading even more than their on-grade level peers.  And I'm pretty sure that's what the research suggests also.  But we know these struggling readers don't have as much stamina, so while the rest of my class is able to read for 30 minutes they aren't.  Another waste of their valuable reading time!  So I try to make sure I meet with my struggling readers daily to listen to them read, introduce a new book or just give them a boost during read to self time.  That is my goal, but it hasn't happened - yet.  I believe that we often talk to our students way too much about "how" to read instead of providing time to practice the reading skills we have just taught - especially with our struggling readers. I am guilty of this myself, and am looking for ways to change this!

So today, as I write my lesson plans for the week, I also try to meet the scheduling challenge as well, because I don't want students that are pulled out daily to miss math, writing or reading every day.  How will I meet the needs of my most needy students daily?  How will I use their classroom time wisely?  How do I make sure they don't lose small group or individual reading time, but gain it?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Halloween Books and Activities

Are you looking for a fun and easy way to integrate math and literature?  Here's some great lessons I do just about every year during October.

First, I read Harriet's Halloween Candy by Nancy Carlson.  After trick-or-treating Harriet doesn't want to share her candy.  She sorts her candy several ways, and then hides it in several places.  She soon becomes so worried about finding a good hiding place that she decides that she will just have to eat it all.  This of course leads to other problems!  This is a great book to reinforce story elements and summarizing.  The pictures add more details to the story, so it's also great for inferring and reading the pictures.

After reading this book I like to do a graphing activity.  I give pairs of students a bag of candy to sort.  Each group makes a tally chart and then creates a bar graph.  For my second graders I keep it simple-5 different types of candy and no more than 10 pieces of each type.  After making our graphs we make some math observations and write some sentences about our graphs.  And then we enjoy a few pieces of candy!

How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin by Margaret McNamara is another great book I use each year.  This is a fictional story about a classroom of students that are estimating the number of seeds in different sized pumpkins.  The students learn that it's not always the biggest pumpkin that has the most seeds.  The author also provides some information about pumpkin seeds in the end notes.

For this activity I bring in enough pumpkins for groups of 4 students.  First, students clean out the pumpkins, separating the pulp from the seeds.  This is quit an event! I am always surprised by how many children haven't looked inside a pumpkin.  The seeds are dried and roasted by a parent and returned to school the following day to be counted by each group.  (We roast them so they are easier to count.)  I give the groups blank hundred charts and show them how to glue the seeds down.  I have found it is easier to count them and provides a great visual of groups of hundreds.  Some years we even estimate the weights of the pumpkins too.  You can read a post my class wrote about this activity last year on our class blog.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Stamina - It's Not Just for Students!

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I really don't know how some of you keep up with twitter and blogging during the fall!  I am constantly amazed at the quality and quantity of blogging in education.  For me, school began September 9th.  It has been nearly a month since my last post.  I love back to school time.  And the fall is my favorite time of year.  But I am exhausted folks!  I can barely keep my eyes open at night.  I sit on the sofa, eyes glazed watching my favorite reality show.  I haven't been to the gym.  My husband and I order take out way too often.  If you saw all the dust bunnies floating along the edges of my floor you would be shocked.  Even the quantity of my reading dwindles this time of year.  While I focus on building my student's reading and writing stamina, I realized I also need to build up my "school-year" stamina.  After a relaxing summer I need to gear up and slowly build back my work stamina!

So this weekend is a 3-day week due to Columbus Day.  Don't you love a 3-day weekend?  That extra day just seems to energize me and help me re-group and re-focus.   Getting your year up and running is a lot of work - both for my body and brain.

I have a wonderful, kind and sweet group of second graders this year.  Our routines are established (mostly) and we are off to a great start.  Their stamina is increasing and so is mine!  Now, I have to get back to the gym...