Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Keeping the Winter Blues Away

Unlike many school districts around the country we have school through Thursday (a full day, no less!). I realized on Friday that I wasn't up for holding things together that long. So we had a normal day yesterday (Mondays are short for us always so it was doable) but are doing all kinds of wintertime fun for the rest of the week.

Today we read Snip, Snip...Snow! It's a cute book and introduced the idea of making snowflakes. I had circles ready on construction paper for the kids and I modeled cutting one out, folding it into eights, and snipping out some bits. As I slowly unfolded it I had nineteen first graders holding their breaths or saying, "Ohhhh..." When I opened it out they applauded.

They headed off to make their own.

After that we took the thirty high-frequency words we've studied so far this year and made them into holiday lights. Our word wall looks awesome but isn't very user-friendly. I have to come up with a better way to display these before too long.

Tomorrow we're working on some snowman crafts and hopefully doing some writing about them. Thanks to another teacher on my team we're also going to have some hot chocolate with colorful marshmallows. They'll draw what they have a write the addition problem shown by the marshmallows. We might even write the whole fact family! Hopefully all this fun will get me through the week (the kids seem to be doing just fine).

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Thinking About Our Learning

Last year I moved from having separate reading and writing workshops to one larger literacy workshop. I wanted to hand over more of the responsibility and choice in the learning to my students and to help them see the connections between reading and writing. I was mostly pleased with the results last year and am doing the same thing this year.

We began a bit earlier in the year and, I think, I set things up better beforehand. One big goal for me was having my students make choices that would help them become better readers and writers. So as I introduced various literacy activities we had discussions about how each activity was helping them become better readers and writers. As they worked on various things I would walk around and ask them what they were doing to become a better reader or writer in the hopes that they would begin to recognize the purpose in what they were doing. We created a list of things we could do to help us become better readers and writers and I took pictures of them and we made a list of words that described what we were doing.

When we introduced our L.A.B. (language arts block) I gave each student a checklist. We wanted to ensure they would remember each of the things we expected them to do: guided reading, independent writing, and their work station (listening to a book on the computer, buddy reading big books, practicing high frequency words, etc.). We also wanted to be sure they were thinking about why they were doing each piece of L.A.B., wanting them to internalize things. We used these checklists for a couple of weeks but have phased them out now. (I do have a new, more basic but with more activities checklist for a few students who have limited stamina and need help focusing their time.)

I love what my students wrote about their learning. Glimpses into the minds of six-year-olds never ceases to fascinate me.
(I read a book. I wrote a book. I read a different book.)
 (I read and read. I wrote and read all my words.)
 (I had fun my work station was fun very.)
 (I read my book. I read my story. I read words.)
 (I met with Ms. Orr. I writed about my dad. I put the letters.)
I offered them the option of drawing pictures if they writing didn't seem to convey what they wanted and I loved these. The first is a picture of him reading and the second is a picture of him writing.
 This time the top picture is him reading his writing and the bottom picture is him working on high frequency words.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Kids in Charge

We finally did it! It is only the sixty-first day of school but we finally managed to get our routine in shape for the kids to write our class blog posts. I take a lot of pictures throughout our day and week to use in our class blog. So when the kids get the chance to take over I open up the folder of pictures and show them the most recent ones to pick from. The pick one topic (today the choices based on pictures were the book fair, painting in art class, and tumbling in P.E.) and then decide which pictures they want to include. Usually they end up including all of them.

The kids today picked the book fair. They picked all the pictures (each one would have eliminated one or two but the other would want that one so we kept them all). I dump the pictures into a post and the kids decide what they want to write. They dictate to me and I type as they talk. We reread it together, paste it into google translate in order to have it in Spanish as well, and publish the post. Then I show it to them and today we put it up on the projector so the whole class could see it. I'm hoping that will mean lots of kids want to give this a try.

You can't leave comments at the site, sadly, but we'd love to hear your thoughts if you have any about it. Feel free to tweet us @exploreorrs or leave a comment here and I'll share it with the kids.

Monday, December 05, 2011

NCSS Presentation on Thinking

My VSTE presentation was the second conference presentation I did in the past 3 days. The other was at the National Council on the Social Studies conference in Washington D.C. I shared about the patterns of thinking we've been using (thanks to some fabulous folks from Cornell) for a few years now.

The room intimidated because it held about 150. Luckily enough folks are interested in ways to help students become better thinkers rather than simply better test takers and the room was more than half full. We had some great conversations. I was thrilled with everyone's questions and ideas.

I am especially grateful for this experience as I will be leading a conversation on the same topic next month at Educon.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Technology for Tots at VSTE 2011

I shared about the technology tools and projects I and my students use and create this afternoon at the Virginia Society for Technology in Education. I had planned to have a page up about the presentation before it began, instead it is finally complete just 8 hours after the session ended. Oh well, better late than never.

Putting this together was a blast for me because it was such fun to see all the things my students have created in the past couple of years. It's a reminder to me that we often underestimate kids. They are incredibly capable, creative, and brilliant.