Sunday, December 27, 2015

Exploring and Experimenting with Inquiry Circles

Over the years I have been interested in taking my student research in a more authentic direction.  I wanted to move away from a teacher-chosen, whole group topic to more of a student chosen topics.  While teaching second grade I did this with research clubs during reading workshop.  After finding out what my students were interested in learning about I collected books and magazines on that topic.  Students selected the group they wanted to be in and spent time reading and taking notes on that topic.  I usually had at least 5-6 themed clubs prepared.  The usual topics were outer space and various animal groups. Groups usually presented their learning on a poster.  Kathy Collins' book, Reading for Real gave me the inspiration for these clubs.

Since moving up to third grade last year I started reading about inquiry units and recently read the book, Comprehension & Collaboration: Inquiry Circles for Curiosity, Engagement, and Understanding by Stephanie Harvey and Harvey "Smokey" Daniels.  What a terrific book! The book explains why small group inquiry should be used and describes 4 different models for inquiry.  The best part is the lessons that are included, which are divided into 3 sections: comprehension, collaboration and inquiry.  The books is filled with examples from real classrooms with real teacher talk.  This book gave me the push I needed to dive into inquiry circles in my classroom.


First, I want to say I am so excited that my school district hired full time librarians once again for our elementary schools.  After many years of budget cuts I am delighted that our school board worked to restore these wonderful library media specialist.  This unit was completed with the help of our most wonderful library media specialist, Ms. Yilidrim.

I decided to make my first inquiry unit a curricular inquiry.  I began with a broad theme, "Oceans".  As part of our science curriculum we are suppose to study plants, photosynthesis, etc.  I decided I could teach the skills and concepts using the Ocean theme.  By using a collection of read alouds, short articles and videos I taught my class important reading comprehension and note-taking skills.  Along the way I gave my students an "Inquiry or Wonder" Notebook and gave them time daily to enter questions they had about our topic of study.  I used the information in these notebooks to pull questions that I thought might work for our first "mini-inquiry".  It was my intention to get them into the research part quickly so they could begin answering their own questions.  Here's some of the questions we started with: How deep is the ocean?  Where are the underwater mountains located?  What is the temperature of the ocean?  How do fish breathe underwater?

Students chose the question they were interested in researching.  I placed students in pairs to begin the research.  They have limited experience working collaboratively and I thought partners would be a good beginning.  While students researched together everyone was responsible for their own note-taking.  When I do this again I will have larger groups to compensate for absences and learning/reading abilities.  Besides more researchers get through more research!


While we taught our students how to use trade books and reference materials to search for answers to their questions, I also decided to BEGIN teaching them how to use the internet to get answers to their questions.  I was hoping to teach them how some questions are quick to answer, while we might have to delve further to answer other more complicated questions. But that didn't happen. For my third graders these questions were hard to answer!  Here's some problems using the internet with third graders.  First, reading level.  There are some good sites to help them out, but often they are so full of technical language that they needed help to figure it all out. I think for the future I will create a list of helpful websites for students when doing research.  Second, trying to teach them that everything on the internet is not always trustworthy is an ONGOING lesson.  Hopefully by the end of the year my students will have acquired some basic knowledge on using the Internet for research.


I decided to put my students in larger groups after the research was complete.  Most groups had 4-5 students.  I taught them how to use Google Slide Presentation.  Students divided up the slides making sure they had an introduction slide and a slide with all the resources included.  Each group presented to the whole class.

You can see some example slide presentations here and here.


I reminded myself the entire time that the PROCESS was more important than the product.  I learned that my students could work collaboratively but it was messy and filled with problems along the way - but very worth it.  I know that with practice, they will be better at it next time.  This was authentic because they researched questions that were important to them.  I want to make sure I give students skills and strategies that they will use for a lifetime, not just for the moment.  Finding reading materials on a third grade level is the most challenging thing for me, especially if I want students to be able to work on different questions.  Going to the library to work with on the Chromebooks was great because I had access to another teacher.  It was a joy working with our new library media specialist.  Completing this type of research would be very difficult without having another expert involved!

Here's a list of some of the skills and concepts they learned and practiced:

  • working collaboratively, listening, helping and not always getting your way, being a member of a team
  • listening and taking notes
  • reading and taking notes
  • non-fiction reading strategies
  • locating information in table of contents or index, deciding if the text will help you, deciding what key words to use
  • rereading over and over to understand something
  • using graphics to understand what you read
  • summarizing key points from text or video
  • asking questions when you don't understand and helping someone when they don't understand
  • why it's not nice to plagiarize
  • what does .gov, .com, .org mean?
  • how to locate the author of the website
  • how to use key words to look something up on the internet
  • getting your questions answered is hard work, you have to concentrate and persevere
  • how to use Google Drive and create slides
  • how to use a Chromebook
I know my list could go on and on, but I will stop there.  I wanted to make sure I documented my thinking after I was finished with this first try at inquiry circles.  I look forward to our next set of inquiry circles.

Have you used inquiry circles?  Have you taught young students how to use the Internet for research? Do you have favorite search engines or websites?

Saturday, November 21, 2015

What can you do about fake reading?


A colleague recently complained to me about a group of fake readers in her class.  You know what I'm talking about! Those students that hold the book and try to look like they are reading.  They turn the pages and when they think you are watching they place their eyes on the book.  But we know they are often looking around or just staring at the pages.  Often they might read the words, but they aren't making any meaning.  They just can't seem to stay on task reading!

I see this problem every year, mostly in the beginning when many of my students unfortunately, have not had a lot of experience reading independently. And sometimes it sneaks back in and I have to do a few reminder lessons. Here’s a list of possible lessons.  I know it might sound like a lot, but it’s worth the time.
(If you have a couple fake readers, your other students are probably fake reading at some point also)

  • Do a mini-unit to build stamina during independent reading.  I spend the first couple of weeks of school doing this, but you can do it any time. (I have also needed to do a repeat with a small group of readers mid-year in second grade, and last year I pulled a couple of fake readers mid-year to “practice” our stamina.
  • Define stamina.  Tell students directly that the class will be building reading stamina.  I start with 3-5 minutes the first day of school. As soon as I see one student become unfocused I call time.  I tell them how many minutes we have done and set a goal for the next day. Some teachers even graph the stamina. (Always connect why these habits are important to them - i.e. they become better readers, this is what good readers do.) 
  • Model independent reading time. The good and the bad!  Make an anchor chart with the class, and review it every day until it becomes habit. Go back to it when these habits breakdown later in the year.

  • Model fake vs. real reading. (Here's some ideas from Pinterest)  I find naming the problem and telling them why it isn’t good for them helpful.  Students are often relieved to find out that they aren't the only ones that have a difficult time staying focused during independent reading.

  • Teach students Fix-Up Strategies. In my third grade class we create a chart that displays problems we have during reading. Once a couple of students share their difficulties other students begin sharing too. Then we can begin talking about what to do to fix those problems. I refer to this chart all year long and even add to it as we become more advanced readers. Once students can name their problem it's easier to focus on solving it!

  • Teach them how to select good fit books.  I have found lack of stamina and choosing the wrong book to be the key reasons students fake read. Sometimes choosing an easier book (or one we think is easier) can help students develop better stamina and feel successful. I also think it’s important to confer with readers to check accuracy and comprehension on their independent book, especially if they fake read.

  • Third reason students fake read… comprehension strategies or lack of… lessons on what good readers do (think) while they read are essential for all, but especially these fake readers.  Fake readers often have never experienced what it feels like to read and enjoy a book. This is constantly a topic of my small group instruction.  Pull those fake readers together for a group (level doesn’t matter) and give them a strategy to practice.

Independent Reading needs to be taught and modeled. Simply putting a book in their hands is not enough. We need to send the message that Independent Reading time is important. If you use this time to lesson plan, organize your desk, check in with colleagues or grade papers what message are you sending to your students? Instead, pull up a chair next to a reader. Take a few minutes to talk with them about their book. This will go a long way in teaching your Fake Readers the value of independent reading. They will long for you to talk with them!

Other than fake reading, what do these types of readers have in common? My experience has been they are my lowest readers. Not surprised, are you? But I also find they are my students that are performing "on grade level", but at the lower level of that group. I call them my "low average" students.

I hope one of these ideas helps! While Fake Readers are so annoying, I don’t believe most are doing it on purpose. I think there is some kind of “breakdown” in their reading that we have to address.

Here's some books that I have found helpful in teaching independent reading routines and comprehension strategies.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Mercy Watson to the rescue! How one student becomes a reader.

This is the story of a student in my class, we will call him Nathan. Nathan reads below grade level and receives academic support services for both reading and math.  In September Nathan struggled to complete the reading survey that I gave to my third grade class.  Even when I read many of the questions to him he was confused-he didn't know himself as a reader.  He worked hard to answer questions, but the survey was handed in incomplete.   He readily admitted he didn't like to read, or "sort of" liked to read.  But this is not why I am writing this post.

Early in September Nathan found the Mercy Watson series of books in our class library.  I would like to say that I introduced this wonderful basket of books to him, but most likely I did not, because Mercy Watson books are considered too difficult for him according to his benchmark reading level. Having said that, I rarely, if ever, tell a student No, they can't put a book in their reading box.  I do however help them navigate the book selection process - some students need more guidance than others. Choice is the key element to my reading workshop.  Students chose the books that go into their book baskets, but they must be a good fit book, one they can read independently. (Students are free to read any book during our Free Choice reading time.)   This is where the story really begins - during "shopping time", when students in my class select good-fit books from our class library to put in their personal book baskets for independent reading.   Nathan asked to put a Mercy Watson book in his basket and I said yes.  I prepared myself mentally to have some other book choices ready for him when we met later to read Mercy Watson.  I felt fairly confident that Nathan would struggle and decide to choose a different book.  But Nathan proved me wrong.

As I conferred with Nathan he stumbled over word after word, often reading nonsense words and he lacked fluency.  I dutifully continued with our conference and taught him a decoding strategy that he readily applied.  Of course he was struggling and this book definitely wasn't a good fit, but I knew he wasn't ready to let go of this book.  I asked, "Do you think this book is a good-fit, just-right book for you?"  He replied, "I think so."  I realized he had probably never experienced reading a book that was on his independent reading level!  No matter how many lessons I had done on choosing a just-right book he couldn't relate...yet.  So the book stayed in his basket.  I made sure there were other books that were a better fit, just in case.  I made a note to meet with him again soon.

Every time I met with Nathan I thought, "this will be the day" he figures out Mercy Watson is too hard for him.  But each day we met he kept rereading that Mercy Watson book and practicing the strategies that I showed him.  He had even began collecting the tricky word on post it notes so that he could practice and show me them later. Before long he was discussing the content of the book with me.  It was clear his comprehension was sound and he really liked the story!  Then a few more amazing things happened.

During shopping time and free read time I observed Nathan chatting up Mercy Watson with fellow classmates and even taking them to where the basket of books was located.  Other students started to check out Mercy Watson books.  Nathan even told the AIS Math teacher who pushes into our room about Mercy Watson!  One day he showed me a page in the book that had a picture of all the books in the series and said he was looking for two that were missing.  After asking classmates it was clear that 2 of the books had gone missing. (Yeah, this happens sometimes...a book finds a new home.)  He wrote the titles down on a post it note and asked if I could get them for the library.

So what can we learn from this story?  Choice matters.  Time to practice reading matters. Students are individuals, not levels.  All the data we collect on them should be used to help us help them!  And most of all, we are teaching children to read and write so that they can read for enjoyment, connect with other humans, and learn about the world - we are NOT teaching them to to read and write so they pass a test.  I know this.  I believe this.  I try to remember this ever day in my class.

It's October and Nathan is still a below grade reader.  That's okay.  He's a reader now.  And he knows what he likes to read, and he can't wait to tell you.

By the way...those missing Mercy Watson books...I ordered a new set and they came in the mail today.  I can't wait to hand them to Nathan on Monday morning.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Word Study - inspiration from Word Savvy by Max Brand

One teaching goal I have this year is to improve my word study, in particular my vocabulary instruction.  I will admit that I have been working on this goal for awhile!

Last year I moved to a new school and new grade, a change I embraced and was looking forward to. Over the last ten plus years I had done individualized spelling with my young students in first and second grade. Vocabulary was embedded in my read alouds, but I knew I needed to go deeper. I wanted to see my students use new vocabulary in their language and writing, but the truth was that it rarely happened.  I've been reading a lot about best practice in word study, trying to get a handle on what exactly I needed to do to improve my lessons. I thought a lot about how to fit in these crucial lessons. I always had the best intention and planned for word study, but often when schedules get tight these lessons seem to be the first to be "rescheduled".  Each day as a third grade teacher last year I knew I was missing opportunities and I knew one lesson and a worksheet wasn't the answer. But how could I create a word study program in my classroom of diverse learners including many English language learners that would be meaningful and improve my student's spelling, vocabulary, word solving and comprehension? And I knew whatever I created had to be easy for me to incorporate and teach my students. Just like my reading and writing workshop, which has a predictable routine that my students could rely on, I wanted to do the same for word study. I also knew that time, or lack of time, was a problem. I needed routines that both myself and my students looked forward to and could automatically incorporate into my day.

Last spring I read Word Savvy by Max Brand. It was so inspiring for me and came to me at a crucial point. As I began thinking about my back to school lessons this fall I started taking notes and planning how I would create a stronger word study program in my classroom. How could I take what Max was doing in his fifth grade classroom and make it work for me and my third graders?

Read Like a Writer
This idea wasn't new to me - I use this idea in writing workshop.  I often reread mentor texts with the eyes and ears of a writer.  Asking students to notice writers' craft so that they might use the same ideas in their own writing.  But Max says that if we want students to go beyond the surface level of words we need to start by "modeling our own curiosity with words."  He suggests embedding this in read alouds right away, at the beginning of the year.  Max has his fifth graders collect these interesting words in their Reader's Notebooks during read alouds.  Max also teaches his students how to note and identify important words, particularly in content areas and non-fiction.

How's it going for me?
During my class read alouds I have definitely made sure I'm modeling my "curiousity for words" regularly. This wasn't too hard, since I read aloud regularly and have an authentic love for literature that I share often with my students.  I just needed to make that mental plan for making sure I hit that point each day.  Word Study and Read Aloud time merged.  A great way to save time! Within the first week I had my students using their Reader's Notebooks to jot down interesting words and phrases while they listened.  I encouraged them to share what they were writing.  A handful of students were jotting, most were not.  We kept sharing and talking and a few more students started jotting.  Some were writing down the words that they heard others share.  That was okay.  A couple of students shared some amazing and deep thoughts about words and phrases, especially after I modeled for a few days.  What did I learn and notice?  First, they can't spell the words and often can't read what they wrote. This isn't really surprising because the words they choose are hard words! 2. They mostly want to know what the word means - that is why they thought it was interesting. (Future teaching) 3. Most students can't listen and take notes. (Not surprised.) 4. Many students are poor listeners and struggle to focus on the story.  The good news is that I can tell my students love read aloud time and they will improve with time! The next steps are getting a lot of these words up on display in class so we can refer to them and use them in our language and writing.

Our school has a motto this year.  Since we are a grade 3-5 school, this is my students' first experience with the motto.  Each day it is recited on the announcements.  So, I decided to use it as a non-fiction text and focus on some vocabulary that we thought was important.  We did this over several days.  And these wonderful words are referred to all the time, so I know students will use them in their oral language.

Discovery Note Taking

I've taught and used various KWL and R.A.N strategies for note taking or deconstructing non-fiction texts.  And of course their are plenty of graphic organizers out there.  But I like the Discovery Note Taking tool that Max uses with his students because I think it is versatile and can be used for all types of non-fiction.  I also think it directly reflects the types of thinking we do as we read non-fiction.  So far I have used it to model my thinking as we read an article on Wonderopolis.  I should mention that this was our third reading of the article.  On the second reading I asked students to highlight important words in the article as they read independently.

Future Plans

Word Savvy also includes a section on Spelling as well.  This year I have decided not to do traditional weekly spelling lists and tests.  Of course I will continue with my spelling and word study instruction, but I will assess differently.  I'm really trying hard to look at student writing to determine spelling instruction.  As a third grade teacher I think that decoding and word solving are also an important part of the Word Study umbrella and need to be linked together.  I want my students to make connections between writing and reading tricky words.  Max's book also has a section on word walls, another topic that I would like to improve upon.  I hope to write about my experiences throughout the year.  Word Savvy by Max Brand is a great book.  It's a quick read full of great ideas.

Please share your thoughts about Word Study!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Keeping track of Student Reading Conferences and Assessment Data - The Confer App

Here in New York we had a slow start to school.  Tomorrow will begin the 4th week of school.  But due to many September holidays tomorrow will only be Day 11.  I use to stress about the choppy September schedule, thinking that my students would struggle to develop stamina and get their learning mojo going.  But over the last several years I've become more zen about the whole September schedule.  I enjoy the slow start and having a few extra long weekends.  It gives me time to build my teaching stamina and I'm sure it helps the students too.

One challenge of this slower beginning is the fact that TONS of assessment data is due.  Some that is helpful and some that is meaningless to me.  But I won't be going into the meaningless stuff today.  I try to keep it positive here on the blog, or mostly positive.

Since I'm thinking about assessment today I thought I would write about my tracking method.  For the last 3-4 years I've use the Confer App to keep track of my reading conferences and assessment notes.  But I will admit to falling behind once late winter or spring comes and "forgetting" to log in my notes. One reason I think this happens is that the app wasn't always working for me, especially when we started to do more book clubs.  And sometimes I forgot my ipad at home. Using my iphone is a pain because I often need to take my glasses off, even thought I do have progressive lens.  So I started to think I might start recording the old fashion, paper and pencil way, again.  But then I thought, Yuk, I already tried that many ways. So, back to the Confer App.  I decided to go back and read all the directions. I like simple and it is a simple app, maybe I missed something.  And wouldn't you know, reading the directions helped.  There were things I could do that I didn't know. (or they are new to the app)

Here's some things that I liked and learned by rereading the directions;

You can customize the note categories!  I didn't know that.  I thought I was stuck with only strength, teaching point and next step.  So I added "text" so that I could enter titles or other text the student is reading.  I also added a "concerns" category.  Sometimes I wanted to note a concern that wasn't related to next steps.

I also figured out how to create groups.  This will be so helpful when doing book clubs or even strategy groups.  I was never clear on this before.

Other things you might like;

There is a section to enter benchmark level.

You can sort students by categories.  For instance you can sort them by date of last conference.  That is helpful for making sure you conference with all students and don't miss anyone. Sorting students by "next steps" is also helpful for forming strategy groups.

You can set up multiple classes.  You could keep your writing and math conferences on the app also.  I only use it for reading.

If you are looking for a simple way to collect your conference and assessment information this might be a great tool for you.  It's not fancy or colorful, but it gets the job done.

INTERESTING NOTE: The same company that  makes the Confer App is developing Snapfolio App.  If you go to the website, you can watch the video.  If you have used Snapfolio I would love to hear your thoughts.

How do you keep track of your reading conferences and student assessment data?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Classroom Library Check-Up and Changes

It seems that I am always trying to improve how I arrange and present books in my class library!  I have written other posts about my class library here, here and here.  The class library is the center of the universe in my classroom.  It gets lots of business and I want students to be able to locate books easily.  Many of my students come to my classroom with limited experience self-selecting books and are unfamiliar with many titles and collections.  Many rely on parents, teachers and librarians to find and choose books for them to read.  But if I want my students to own their reading lives I need to organize my library so my young "customers" can locate books they will enjoy. The traditional way public or school libraries display books, with spines out or by Dewey Decimal system is not reader friendly and I think difficult for students to find books independently.  I like the books to be face out and I try to group my books into categories that make sense to my students.  So my August planning always begins with a library check-up.

Last year I moved to a new building and a new grade - I went from second to third grade.  Packing up my classroom for the move pushed me to weed out books from my collection, sort and pack books in boxes that made sense for life in third grade and donate books to some of my colleagues in the primary grades.  Over the years I had not only collected books, but some nice prime shelving as well.  My new classroom had much less shelf space for displaying collections.  Even with the purchase of some inexpensive Target shelves I still had hundreds of books packed in plastic storage containers. This year I was fortunate to inherit a huge shelf when another third grade teacher retired.  So the first thing I did when returning to my classroom this month to begin setting up for the new year was to start rearranging the class library.

I still like sorting books into series, but have added baskets reflecting genres and categories that third graders relate to - realistic fiction, fantasy, humorous, animal fiction, etc.  I also have a non-fiction section and have tried to group them into different categories to make it easy for students to select books.

The biggest change I am making to my class library is putting nearly ALL of my books into the library which makes them available to my students all the time.  In the past I have only put out certain types of books at certain times of the year.  For instance, while teaching second grade, I only put out the poetry books or other themed study while we were currently studying that topic.  One of the reasons was simply lack space in the library, but I also think I didn't view many of these books as independent reading material, especially when I taught second grade.

So now I have an entire shelf for poetry books out on permanent display which also reflects my goal of reading poetry more regularly.  I have taken all my wonderful picture books and lined the shelves with those as well. I still have a small personal shelf where I keep books that I refer to as mentor texts that I use in my lessons.  Those will not circulate in the class library.

As elementary teachers, we all have students with varying reading levels and abilities, so it's important that our libraries have books for all of these readers.  However, last year I found that certain book baskets were rather unpopular and I think it is because students may think these baskets are easy or baby books.  In second grade I had put my Hello Readers, Step into Reading and other leveled series into separate baskets.  This worked for my second graders, but not my third graders. So this year I decided to take these books and integrate them into other baskets.  I'm hopeful that this change will help.

Another change I am making is my book check out system - or I should call it my lack of a system!  I've tried many ways to do this and the truth is every system falls apart by November.  I do not want to police my class library and I have tried to organize methods for students to record and maintain records for book sign out.  The simple truth is the organized students do it and the less-organized students don't!  In the end, I generally know what books my students have in their book baskets because I talk to them about their reading every day.  And students usually know who has the most popular books as well!  The biggest problem I have is re-shelving books.  Students either can't remember where they go, or are careless and place the books anywhere.  It only takes a few careless students to cause a real mess of the class library!  So I'm trying something new this year - a return basket.  Students will put any returns in this basket and I can re-shelf them as needed.  Of course if they know where the book goes that will be fine and I know I will always have a few student helpers that have excellent organizational skills and will want to be library aides.  And in case you are wondering, some books do go missing with my system, but only a few.

I love seeing how others organize their classroom libraries.  So please share in the comments below.

Here's some pictures of my newly arranged class library.  It will always be ever-changing!

New shelf all ready to be filled with books! It does cover up a wall used for displaying student work and anchor charts, but it is the only wall wall available.
All filled up, just need to add some labels.

View of the Non Fiction Section

Some of those storage boxes that are now empty and books are in the class library ready for students!
Picture Book Section

New Poetry Section - I wish the baskets could be turned so students could see covers of books, but the shelf sections aren't wide enough.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Picture Book 10 for 10 Event - #pb10for10

It's time for the annual Picture Book 10 for 10 Event hosted by Cathy Mere and Mandy Robek.  Each August 10th picture book lovers get together and share their top 10 picture books.  This year you can connect with everyone through The Picture Book 10 For 10 Google Community! This is my 4th year participating.  In fact, the first time I didn't even have a blog yet!

The Bee Tree
I love most all of Patricia Polacco's books!  She writes from her own family experiences and they always pack an emotional punch.  I start with this book and nearly every year I cry or get choked up.  A great story to share the love of reading.

Each Kindness
I won't be surprised if this book is on a lot of lists this year.  A great story to read any time of year, but I like to read it during the first month of school.  A very realistic story with a very realistic ending.

Short Cut
I use this book every single year as a mentor text in writing workshop.  I've used in grades 1-3.  Enough said.

The Incredible Book Eating Boy
Fun, silly and imaginative book.  I read it on the first day of school.  Then later in the week I use it as a discussion starter about the books we love.  We turn it into an art activity.  Yes, I still think it's important to do some arts and crafts in the classroom sometimes! You can learn a lot about students while they cut and paste and talk.

Oliver Button is a Sissy
Oliver likes to draw and pretend.  He doesn't enjoy sports, but wants to tap dance.  Another book relating to bullying, acceptance and being yourself.

Amazing Grace
I'm always surprised that my second or third graders have not read this book before! It's a classic as far as I'm concerned.  Grace wants to play Peter Pan in the school play, but children think she can't because she is a girl.

Jacob's Dress
I found this book sometime last summer and knew I would be adding it to my read alouds.  The story of how Jacob convinces his parents to let him wear a dress.  It's so hard to find books that deal with LGBT issues for our younger readers.  We all have students that don't fit the norm in our schools and classrooms.  It's so important that we find books that represent students that are a bit different.

A terrific picture book biography about a young Jane Goodall.  My students always enjoy this book.  It is generally the first biography I read to my class.  Not only does it describe Jane as a young child it connects to the ideas of following your dreams and persevering.

The Most Magnificent Thing
Another great book to read early in the school year!  Read and watch as this little girl struggles to create the most magnificent thing.  She has to stop and start over many times to get it just right.  I use this book to introduce the concept of persevering to my students and we will use it over and over throughout the year.

Wolfie the Bunny
Just because it's funny and I know my students will giggle.  It's very important to read lots of humorous books, especially in the beginning of the year.  Great for building a community of readers. Just because it's funny doesn't mean it won't have a message and create some conversation. 

Happy Reading! And don't spend too much on all those new books.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Google Drive in the Elementary Classroom - inspired by #cyberPD2015

This summer I participated in #cyberPD Google Community.  We read and discussed Digital Reading: What's Essential by Bill Bass and Franki Sibberson. The conversations have continued at the CyberPD blog. You can also find this post there!

Last year I began exploring Google Drive with my third graders after my district had recently began using Google Apps for Education.  I wrote about my first experiences here. For this post I thought I would share the different ways I have tried to use Google Drive in my Reading Workshop. I certainly am not an expert, but I hope by sharing my experiences it will inspire others to share how they use Google Drive in their classrooms.

I think many teachers probably have some experience using Google Drive, probably Docs, which is similar to Word, a word processing program. However Drive is much more powerful and versatile!   What makes it so powerful is the ability it gives teachers and students to collaborate and share what they create in an authentic manner.

Google Draw
The first tool that my students got familiar with was Google Draw.  I love this tool because it is so versatile.  Students can make posters, graphic organizers, thinking maps, diagrams and can even add clip art or images.  And since my third graders had basically no typing experience this was a great tool to start with to help them get familiar with the keyboard, and not get bogged down by typing. Just like you might partner or group your students to work on a project traditionally you can do the same thing in Google Drive.  Students and teachers can share documents digitally and work on them together.  For example, after participating in book clubs my students worked in partnerships to create Circle Thinking Maps about main characters.  One student creates the document in their drive and shares it with the second student.  Then they can work together to create the map and share it with me when they are done.  I have my third graders sit down next to each other in the computer lab so they can communicate with one another easily and I can help or chat with them together while they work.  However, students can work in separate places and even at home in a collaborative fashion using the Chat function to communicate with one another.  To get an idea of what is looks like on the screen when students are working on the same document you can view this quick video of Brian St. Pierre's 5th grade class working on on document together. Of course it is wonderful to see students creating digitally, but the exciting part is all the ways we can now share our creations.  With Google Drive you can embed documents in websites or blogs, or share them by using URL's.  And yes, you can still print them out traditionally.  All student work is saved electronically becoming sort of a digital portfolio.

We didn't create a lot since I was learning last year, but I wanted to show you a few student samples so that you could see all the possibilities this tool provides.

My colleague, Brian St. Pierre, has several tutorials on Youtube for using Google Drive that you might find helpful.  The first one is on sharing a document with another person.

Google Presentation
Google Presentation is like a slide show.  Once students were familiar with Draw it was very easy for them to learn how to make slides. At the end of the year each student created a slide and then I was able to put all the slides together to create a Google Presentation that I embedded on our Class Blog.

Google Forms
Another tool we tried was Google Forms.  Forms is a great way to collect information, whether you are surveying your students about their reading life or creating a quiz or test, you can do it with forms. After we had read an article in our Scholastic News about whether video games should be considered a sport we decided to create a survey using Google Forms and then embed it in our blog as a post called Is Video Gaming a Sport?.  When you are in Drive viewing your Form you can also click 'view responses' and you will see a spreadsheet of all you data.  You can also create a chart or graph of your data once in Google Sheets. I am still learning how to do this!

Organizing Google Drive
It doesn't take long to collect lots of student documents once they start sharing with you! I will admit I have not organized my student shared documents.  One of my colleagues creates a file for each student in her class and shares the file with that particular student.  She asks that all their finished work go into that file.  This is something I will probably do this year.  It will be a mini-digital portfolio.

Students also need a list of student usernames so that they can easily share documents.  I created a document that listed everyone's name, including mine, along with their usernames, and shared this document with my class.  That way they could copy and paste usernames when they needed to share documents.  Students have usernames that look similar to an email, but are not an email account.

Google Classroom
If you want to have a central place where you can digitally hand out assignments, provide links and collect student work then Google Classroom might be right for you.  Google Classroom is linked to your Google Drive.  Once you sign up and create a Classroom you can invite your students to join. It's definitely very middle school and high school friendly.  You can upload worksheets and hand them out electronically to your students.  Students complete the work and hand it back in electronically.  All student work is than located in your Classroom folder. Google Classroom keeps track of this and you can even grade assignments digitally.  Late in the spring I decided to experiment with Google Classroom to see if it might work for my third grade class.  I made a short video so that you can tour my Google Classroom to decide if it is right for you and your classroom.

As you can see Google Drive has much potential for helping students create and share in a meaningful and authentic manner.  I have just touched the surface of how we can use it in our classrooms.  I look forward to teaching my new batch of third graders and exploring more ways to use Google Drive in my digital reading classroom! I would love to hear how you use Google Drive in your elementary classroom.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

#cyberPD - Week 3 - Ch. 6-7 - Digital Reading

This summer I am participating in #cyberPD Google Community.  We are reading and discussing Digital Reading: What's Essential by Bill Bass and Franki Sibberson.

This week's reading reminded me of previous experiences I've had with digital tools and trying to connect with parents.  As I read the chapters I was able to really reflect on what I've done in the past, the present, and how I want to expand or change what I do now.

About 6 years ago when I was teaching second grade in a different building I became very interested in using more technology in my classroom.  I had been lucky enough to be one of a few teachers to have a Smartboard installed the previous year and had begun to see the possibilities for connecting my students to the outside world beyond our classroom and school.  This realization came shortly after I started using Twitter.  I had 2 computers in my classroom and that was all that was available. (LOL At least I have a computer lab in my new building!) I had heard about a set of Netbooks that were available to borrow from a Teacher Center about 15 minutes away.  After harrassing contacting my superintendent regarding the need for wireless he was able to move a router from the office to my classroom so I could experiment with the Netbooks.  I should also mention that he kindly showed up in my room one day with a webcam so that I could use Voicethread and Skype.  I mention this story because I decided to have a Technology Day in my classroom and invite families to come in and experience the technology we were using.  Of course it was a wonderful day as parents used the Smartboard, recorded on VoiceThread, posted comments on Kidblog and our class blog, and used other websites that my students were familiar with.  However, as I now look back I realize my focus was on the technology instead of the learning.  I have definitely grown since that time.  Once I got over my, "OH, shiny new toy!" phase my need for authentic and meaningful use of these new digital tools began to kick in.

Love this quote from the book - great message - The Internet is a place where reading happens.

I will add to that:  The Internet is a place where reading, writing and learning happens.  It's a place to connect, create, collaborate and share.  That is the message I want both my students and parents to hear.

Connecting with parents is very important to me, but I often feel like only a handful of families really know what is going on in our classroom.  And so little student work actually goes home regularly because of the nature of a workshop classroom.  Everything is in a notebook and I don't give regular traditional tests. I have a website with details about our day-to-day running of the classroom and helpful websites for home.  We have a class blog where we write about our learning and share some of our class work.  Only a few parents ever, if rarely post a comment to our blog.  (Hmm...maybe they don't know how to do this?) This communication problem extends to our report cards which are only available online, unless parents request a printed version.  We are able to find out how many parents log on and how often, and let me say it is not a very good statistic!  Most of the elementary teachers report less that 10 families looking at the report card.  There have been many conversations in the faculty room as to why we have such a poor interest in the report card.  I think there are several reasons, but one that comes to mind after this weeks reading is understanding the digital tools.  Do my parents know how to access the report card?  Is the information meaningful to them?  I'm guessing it may not be.  I really need to find a better way to communicate with my parents about their student's learning.  One thing I want to try more is student made videos - either tutorials or general information about  our learning.

Franki suggests setting up communication goals for the year.  So that is what I'm going to do right now!

  • I want my students to be able to connect with family, fellow classmates and more global audiences.
  • I want to have a space to share our learning.
  • I want to have a hub for general information and class activities.
  • I want my students to learn how to use the Internet safely and with good etiquette.
  • I would like to explore sharing individual work and information with parents digitally.
I have a class blog and I know I can use it better! My students enjoy commenting when in the computer lab, but few comment from home.  I also want to increase our global audience.  I think I will start a Class Twitter account!  Trying to get parents more involved is a challenge.  I though about having a Class Facebook page, because I know most of the parents have a Facebook page!  It's the one social media place I have not entered yet.  I use Instagram and Pinterest for personal use.  Our district recently discontinued the platform we used for our teacher websites and is now using Google, so I am currently building my class site.  All of the information I have learned from this #cyberPD will help me a lot.

It has been great reading this book with other educators!  I can't wait to read other posts and comments.  

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

#cyberPD 2015 - Week 2 - Chapters 3-5 - Digital Reading

This summer I am participating in #cyberPD Google Community.  We are reading and discussing Digital Reading: What's Essential by Bill Bass and Franki Sibberson.

Frankie's recalling of the 'rock girls' and how they easily transitioned from one tool to the next, whether it was digital or not was simply amazing...something I dream of.  Ahhhhh...

Frankie's discussion about the Book Trailer assignment was very interesting.  It was looking back and reflecting on her assignments that helped her to make necessary changes and have more successful Book Trailers.  I find sometimes that is the best way for me to learn as a teacher!  I dive in and try something out, then I can reflect and make changes. (When I say dive in, I do spend time planning first. LOL)

Thoughts on Authenticity
Questions about authenticity come up whether lessons are digital or more traditional.  As I teach my students the skills they need to use Google Drive Apps I  must balance the need for an authentic literacy experience with the need to teach my students HOW to use these tools.  When I introduced Google Draw I found it necessary to let my third graders just play with the app for a period, similar to letting students play with math manipulatives before using them as a math tool.

Creating authentic literacy lessons that really help my students grow as readers and writers is a challenge, no matter the tool, digital or otherwise.  (I had a moment, actually several, where I thought, "These people already have the traditional reading workshop down! What the heck!  Where have I been?") But seriously, I am a work in progress when it comes to finding ways for students to respond personally and thoughtfully to text.  I do think digital tools help make it more authentic.

We are picky about the books we bring into the classroom library so we must be picky about the digital text and tools we introduce too.  This is one of my favorite quotes from the book so far!
My district recently purchased a subscription to an online program that provides leveled texts for students to read online.  I think teachers can also print out some books too.  Students have their own accounts and can take reading quizzes as well.  I have to be honest and say that this program disturbs me just a bit. Is it the quizzes?  Probably?  Is it the leveled texts?  Maybe.  As I've said before I have limited access to computers so I haven't used the program yet. Is this really authentic reading?  How can I use this program in an authentic manner?  I would love to hear your opinion.

Thoughts on Digital Tools
Bev Gallagher's poetry experience reminded me that I have used Audioboom with my personal iPad even though I don't have wireless in my I need to explore this tool more.

Cryslyn reminded me that I need to use digital tools more often to build background for my third graders.  I have begun, but there is so much more I can be doing.  I show videos to introduce lessons but I think it might be important to start modeling how to listen and take notes when using video.  This part is very exciting! We do not have a science or social studies text so this seems like a perfect place to add more digital text and video.

Judy Johnson's lesson on critical thinking and evaluating websites was fabulous and hilarious! Where was she when I needed her this last winter? My one foray into research using Google was unsuccessful to say the least.  I really didn't even know how to narrow down my lessons.  I wanted them to know that all websites were not created equal, but how to do that with third graders?  I finally gave up.  Judy has given me some new ideas to think about.

Franki talked about curating collections of digital media for students.  I have used Padlet to collect websites and videos for a unit on the Water Cycle.  I want to explore Symbaloo now!  I think this idea could be a great way to use my limited computer access.

I also loved how Scott Jones uses Padlet for Read Alouds.  I think Padlet could be a great tool for me to expand upon.  It's important to choose tools that have wide uses especially when technology is limited in the classroom.

SHARED READING:  I do it a lot.  In fact this is the main way my students see digital text.  This weeks reading reinforced how powerful shared reading can be for my students.  I got so many ideas for modeling how to read digital text.  I also realized that I needed to start modeling how to understand all types of digital media.

Franki is amazing.  How she created her unit on communities was amazing... so much depth.

Connections - putting it all together and sharing it.  Isn't that the final part of reading?  But so many students don't understand that.  Most only learn that when you are done reading you take a test.  Just connecting a few times outside the classroom can open so many new doors for students.  I have begun making connections outside the classroom as a whole class community.  I would love to  find more ways to do this.

So much to think about with this week's reading!

Monday, July 6, 2015

#cyberPD 2015 - Week 1 - Chapters 1 & 2 - Digital Reading

This summer I am participating in #cyberPD Google Community.  We are reading and discussing Digital Reading: What's Essential by Bill Bass and Franki Sibberson.

Chapter 1 & 2

The authors pose several questions that definitely resonate with me.  How do we decide whether any new thing - especially technology related - has enough potential to try?  How do we determine the best ways to use technology in order to teach reading in the digital age?  It is easy to get lost in the newest, best technology because it may be flashy, or we are told it meets the common core standards.  But for me it remains important that I continue to make reading authentic and meaningful for my third graders.  I love how Franki uses the reading workshop as a framework.  With the introduction of technology we don't have to start over or throw out the workshop methods.

"Just because students are 'good' with technology does not mean they are literate in the digital age."  I definitely agree with this quote!  Yes, my students use their parent's Smart Phones to play games.  Many even have access to iPads, but very few of my students do anything but play games or take photos on these devices.  As a teacher I am interested in introducing digital tools to my students and showing them how they may be used in their daily life.  So I thought it might be helpful to list the different ways I am beginning to introduce these digital tools and as I continue with this cyberPD I can think about how I might continue or change the way I teach digital reading.

In my classroom I have one computer and a Smartboard that I use for my workshop mini-lessons.
- Youtube videos - I use videos for all sorts of comprehension and content lessons.
-Wonderopolis - great website for teaching non-fiction reading strategies
-Skype - I have connected with authors and other classrooms.
-Scholastic News - we can access our weekly magazine online with videos
-Class Blog - we share our learning and students learn to write comments.

Computer lab: We have access to the computer lab 2 - 3 periods per week.  This year I began teaching my students how to use Google Drive.

How else might I use my "technology time" to teach my students how to use digital tools in authentic ways?  I don't want my students to think going to the computer lab is a separate learning time - I want them to see how it is an extension to our literacy learning.  How can I help them connect with other readers digitally? What are the skills I need to teach my students to help them be successful digital readers and writers? What other digital tools might I introduce to my students?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Google Drive in Third Grade

My school district has recently introduced Google Apps for Education. I've used google docs myself for awhile now, mostly to share with teachers I meet through my twitter account.  I've never used it with students.  This year I moved from second grade to third grade.  This required a move to an intermediate grade 3-5 school, which has a computer lab.  I was excited to be able to explore ways we could create, share and communicate using technology!

In our district each student has been assigned a username and password for Google Drive.  The username is very long and includes our school district name - Comsewogue - which I imagined would be a challenge.  I created an index card for each student that included their username and password.  These cards are held in a small basket which we bring to the computer lab.  Their first assignment was to just sign in to their account.  For most of the class this took nearly the entire 40 minute period.  It took several students a couple lab periods to sign on to their account.  After a month or so some students have their information memorized and most can sign-in fairly quickly.

For our first experience I thought would share a document with them and teach them how to chat using the commenting feature.  We were going to begin a new read aloud chapter book soon, so I thought instead of doing the introduction and predictions in the typical fashion we would do it through a google document.  Students were so excited!  The first problem happened when I failed to mark comment only on the document.  So even after modeling how to comment correctly, students began to type on the document, delete items and even make bizarre comments.  It was actually hilarious to watch on my screen in real time.  It was a great teachable moment for both myself and students.  The following day I showed them how we could look at the history and see what got changed and who was responsible.  The nice thing was that only their user number appears, not their actual name - so no one was embarrassed.

Next, I introduced Google Draw.  I showed students the different functions and just let them do a free draw before assigning any particular projects.  I think of Google Draw like I would a poster, or a page in their learning log.  It has both drawing and text features, so I could see endless possibilities.

In math we had been working on multiplication so I decided to introduce Google Presentation and have each student write a multiplication story problem using 2 slides.  The first slide was for the story problem and the second slide was for the answer to the problem.  Presentation has many similar functions as Draw so students were able to transfer their understanding easily.   I taught them how to use the research tool to find clip art to go with their story.  I thought learning how to share documents would be a challenge, but most students had no difficulty.  To make it easy for sharing I shared a document with a list of everyone's account numbers, including mine.  You can view our completed slide show with our Multiplication Stories here on our class blog.

For the next project students worked in pairs to create a Circle Thinking Map for the main character, Albie, in our read aloud, Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff.  They used Google Draw and learned how to draw objects and move them to the back to create layers.  When they were finished we printed them out to hang up in the classroom.

Most of my students don't have a lot of experience with technology beyond using their parents' smart phone and playing video games.  Some have access to ipads and computers at home, but many families do not have computers or Internet access beyond their smart phone.  These students come from a primary building that is restricted to 2-3 desk top computers, so I knew there would be a wide range of computing abilities depending on experiences at home. Other than the difficulties with signing on my students caught on very quickly.  In fact, computer "experts" emerged quickly and instead of waving their hands in the air and waiting for me, they started helping each other out.  Most naturally figured out things like how to use the tabs in Chrome to toggle between documents.  Using the computer was very motivating and those students that often need lots of redirection in class were very engaged in the assignments.  Of course the biggest challenge is that I was only able to sign our class up for 3 periods a week in the computer lab. (We have over 17 classrooms, so I am lucky that I got 3 periods.)  Just like any other classwork there are those students who lag behind and need extra time to complete work.  This is an easy fix in my classroom, but challenging nearly impossible in a computer lab setting.  I tried creating a "catch up" day, but that means that these slower working students often don't get to do all the assignments.  While they catch up, the rest of the class is trying something else. I want every minute of our computer lab time to be productive for all my students, so I am still working this out.  Of course I know what you might be thinking!  Students can use Google Drive at home and finish their work.  In a perfect world this might be ideal.  However, most of those students that need extra time also need extra help.  And like I mentioned earlier, my students don't all have access to the Internet at home.

There are so many wonderful tools for students to share, create and communicate using technology.  Google Drive is just one option for my students.  I would love to hear how you have used Google Drive with your class, especially if you are an elementary student.