Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Can You Use a Time Out? Grab a Hall Pass.

I came across this linky (and loads of ideas that I'm making this week for my firsties) from Tunstall's Teaching Tidbits while reading an update from The Very Busy First Graders.  Since I am on February vacation this week, I've been enjoying a week long "Hall Pass."  It's been great to sleep in, hang with my dogs (Toby and Winston) and catch up on reality TV.  Of course, I'm doing school work here and there.  Teachers never truly get a vacation.  Here's what I have to share according to the following.


I would say my favorite product is my Informational Text Feature Scavenger Hunt.  It also happens to be my newest product.  In it, I feature a clue book with clues about each informational text feature.  To hunt for clues, students search for answers with examples  hung up in the hall or in one's classroom (heading, title, index, glossary, captions, etc.)  My product includes the colorful signs, clue book and answer key-- you just add your own examples.  

My first grade colleague and I put together this activity for our Family Literacy Night, and it was a huge success.   Here is me hunting for clues.  Looks like I spy the Table of Contents.


My favorite area in my classroom?  This is a tough one.  I try to build cozy areas that inspire learning in all pockets of my classroom.  My room regularly features an author corner, listening station, math center and cozy reading area (separate from the main "rug" area).   As far as "favorite" goes, I would have to say that it's my large rug/ classroom library combo.  As you can see it's colorful, lined with books all facing outwards for the children to see and celebrates reading.  It also features an area to highlight our author study, calendar information, my Boston College rocking chair and plenty of benches.


What's my signal for transitions?  I honestly don't have anything catchy, for I build my classroom expectations so that I don't need one.  From day one, I talk with my students about the importance of helping me move from one activity to the next.  I explain how I need their help; we don't want to lose valuable learning time while I struggle to get their attention.  

Before we transition, I remind them of what I want.  You will usually hear me say "I'm looking for leaders who will go back to their seats ready for mathematics with their journal open."  I highlight role models during transition time nonstop, "I'm so proud of Carrie, she knew we were done with our slates, and that I am now ready to start read aloud.  Look how she is not talking to her neighbor, but has her eyes on me giving me the quiet signal."

I find that setting the precedent for effective transitions and positively reinforcing those "helping me out" with the flow of activities is the most effective for me.  In addition to that, however, I throw in an occasional flick of the lights, a Brain Break activity, song to "get the wiggles out" and a good old "stand up and stretch."


How do I keep my sanity?  Who is sane, really?  A large iced coffee is a must.   Something from my teacher candy jar works at times, too.  I think the thing at school that keeps me the most grounded, though, are my colleagues whom I consider to be some of my closest friends.  When times get tough, we are there for each other for the much needed, instant venting--no questions asked.  I honestly can't imagine teaching without them.  We eat lunch together, text, facebook go out to a dinner or whatever else we need to stay grounded and connected to one another.

There you have it, my "Hall PASS."   Be sure to visit Tunstall's Teaching Tidbits to read what others have shared.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Care to go on an Informational Text Feature Scavenger Hunt?

Anyone glancing through the Common Core clearly notices right away the major focus on our young learners' reading and writing informational text on a regular basis-- as young as pre-K...yikes!  It's up to us to fill our readers' invisible backpacks with the tools needed to navigate through informational text and the distinct manner in which the information is presented.  We can't just assume that a transition from narrative text to informational text comes natural.  Teaching the text features we often encounter as adult readers when we read for information (WWW, menus, pamphlets, brochures, textbooks, magazines, newspapers etc.) is essential in order for our readers to make sense of what they are reading.  

According to the informational text guru, Nell K. Duke (2004), whom I have had the pleasure to hear speak,

     "More than anything, struggling readers need plenty of      
     opportunities to read text that makes sense to them. Requiring 
     students to spend most of their school time reading books that 
     are too difficult makes it impossible for them to learn and to 
     develop as readers (Allington, 2002).

     "Students should spend most of their school reading time with 
     texts that they can read and want to read. Students tell us that 
     when we give them interesting materials that they can read 
     without too much difficulty, they will read (Ivey & Broaddus, 
     2001). Providing books that span the content areas, match 
     students' reading levels, and encompass a variety of formats and     
     genres is nonnegotiable if we want struggling readers to 

The text that students "want" to read is clearly informational--I see this on a regular basis.  This being said, I've put together an "Informational Text Feature Scavenger Hunt" that can help reinforce some of the most common features found when we read for information.  I decided to premiere this activity at our Family Literacy Night held this Tuesday.  I worked with my fellow first grade teachers.  Here's how it works.  Bring on the pics!

Above you see the informational text signs I printed out (graph and diagram).  My first grade team and I searched through our classroom libraries to find the perfect example of each text feature.    Here I am scanning a bar graph of how much a tiger eats.  Then we used poster board and sticky photo squares to make our informational text feature posters.  On each poster went the feature name and the example.  Here are some terrific examples starting with the tiger feeding graph.  We also cut and added arrows to target the feature and to avoid confusion.  

Once our posters were laminated,  we assembled the Informational Text Feature clue books for our young detectives.  In the book are the clues that describe each text feature with a blank for an answer (the name of the text feature found on the posters).

Since literacy night was for the whole school, we did half of the features for K-2 to make it more age-appropriate and all the features for grades 3-5.  We hung the posters along the basement hall where our literacy night station was positioned.  Here is a side of the hall.

Since our youmg detectives were going to be using their clues to hunt for the correct informational text feature, they needed magnifying glasses and we needed detective hats-- both easily found on Amazon.com.  


While on the case, our sleuths needed a clipboard.  I made sure I had plenty on hand for students and their families.

This activity was a favorite among students, families and my colleagues.  Look at my first grade colleague, Mrs. Girard spying 
an example she found depicting a table of the planets.  Shhh!  This information remains classified!

Oh, no!  Top secret.  I was caught spying a neat table of contents.  This better not be a red herring to throw me off track.

My Informational Text Feature Scavenger Hunt includes all of the informational text feature signs and clue book.  Also, you get directions and an answer key.  Just click here.  You need to find your own examples in your classroom, school, or local library to add to the poster.  Obviously, I can't include them due to copyright issues.  We happened to hang our posters in the hall for our school event, but they can easily be hung in a classroom for a hunt.  You may also be interested in creating informational text visuals to use as teaching points BEFORE you do this hunt.  Click here for a past blog post about this.  Have fun sending your readers on the case of locating the correct informational text feature!

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Things We LOVE!

It's been a real crazy time of the year!  No school this past Friday and no school today = 100 Day and Valentine's Day on THE SAME DAY.  Yikes!  Tomorrow night is our Family Literacy Night (blog post to come).  Can you say crazy?  I've decided to celebrate Valentine's Day with a quick and fun writing workshop.  I plan to do this tomorrow, so I may post some pictures when I'm done.  Just in case your week is going to be as hectic as mine, I thought I would share this item.  Get it by clicking HERE.

First, I plan to read aloud some fun Valentine's Day poems from this book by my favorite children's poet, Jack Prelutsky.  

After that, we will brainstorm things that we "love" on chart paper.  I always like to start with a nice "work bank" to get the creative juices flowing.  Next, for prewriting, I plan to have students list BIG and little things they love.  We have been working on categories, so this fits in nicely.  I love when that happens.  Here is the organizer I have created.

After a quick edit, I will have my young authors copy their lists in random order on a heart I plan to copy onto construction paper.  Little things will be written small and BIG things will be written, well...LARGE, of course.  Two heart halves have been included for you to trim and assemble to make a whole heart.  I hope you and your students have a fantastic Valentine's Day AND an exciting 100 Day if, like me, they are close together.  Looking for more fun Freebies like this one?  Click below.

Classroom Freebies Manic Monday

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Mr. Giso's Room to Read's Bright Idea #11

Use a Hanging Closet Jewelery Organizer 
for Your Center Rotation Display

Looking for a way to display your center rotations that is quick to make, inexpensive, and (best of all) portable?  I've done magnets, Velcro, posters, pocket charts, index cards and those library card pockets that always rip--all to no avail.  I found this handy dandy jewelery organizer in a local craft store on clearance and knew I could use it for something.  They come in all sizes, shapes and patterns like this one...

When I brought it into school, I thought it would be perfect to use each row of the organizer as a center choice with popsicle sticks to display each student's name.  Since I already had my center icons, it was pretty easy to put together.  Here is what the whole thing looks like.  I can hang it anywhere.  Anyone that knows me would appreciate my being able to use the side of my easel for display purposes!  I'm not an animal print kind of guy, but it works for me.

Here's a close up of how nicely these little cards with each student's name fit into the pockets.

I have larger signs around the room (see below) that match the center icons.  Some of the clipart you see is free for teachers from Shutterstock.  Just click here to visit the website.  

Lastly, I have clipped a signed contract going over the rules for center time as we all know how crucial effective classroom management is for a successful and productive center block!  Hope this tip works for you.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Solving Number Stories

As part of our new system of teacher evaluation, teachers in my district were asked to create a SMART goal based on "student achievement."  This is quite new and daunting for a lot of reasons. We all know that the effective teacher has high expectations for ALL his or her students.  Conversely, we also know that there are many barriers that we as educators must overcome to get all learners to meet our high expectations.  Typical hurdles include different cognitive abilities, different levels of parental involvement, different levels of English-speaking, different levels of support staff and materials at hand and different socio-economical statuses.   These are just a sampling of what we as teachers encounter daily.

Since literacy is definitely "my thing," I chose to focus my student-achievement goal on mathematics--solving number stories-- in particular.  I used data from my previous first graders' end-of-the-year mathematics assessment results which indicated to me that the number of my students that were able to solve number stories had room for improvement.

From there, I needed to make a principal-approved action plan to boost student achievement.  My plan roughy included the following steps.

     1.  Create Number Story Journals:  I made one out of a small blue exam book for each of my students.  In this book, I glued our strategies for solving number stories visual that had been previously taught.

     2.  Develop a Rubric:  I devised a rubric to measure each of my first grader's responses to solving a number story.  Consulting our state's open response rubrics, I created my original, student friendly version.

     3.  Get Baseline Data: I glued a number story in the journals and let my students answer the first story problem "cold turkey."

     4.  Introduce Rubric:  I graded the first responses according to a scale of 1-4, and went over my rubric that had been glued into their journal.  I went over the scores and the rubric.

     5.  Introduce Checklist:  My students were concerned about having so much to remember to "get a 4."  They were pleased when I showed them my checklist to help them come up with the best solution.

     6.  Get Round 2 Data:  I glued in a second number story and students solved it using all three visuals (the rubric, the checklist and the solving number story strategies reminder).

     7.  Score Round 2 Responses:  I scored and noted differences in my students' responses.

     8.  Repeat:  Continue to showcase exemplars of high quality responses using my ENO Board and document camera and keep track of my data for the remainder of the year.  In addition, it will be necessary to make some small groups of students who need further support and interventions with solving number stories successfully.

So far, my results have been quite impressive!  My last record shows that 51% of my first graders had their score (1-4) increase since the baseline assessment.  How's that for results?  Check out these before the checklist and rubric and after the checklist and rubric pics.
Notice the brief, limited responses and poor record of thinking.

Notice the elaborated, detailed responses and use of multiple thinking strategies.

Grab all three Solving Number Stories visuals by clicking here.  Overall, it's pretty neat that I was able to set this goal, specifically fine-tune my teaching based on a need and see very quick results.  I'm happy, and my young mathematicians are happy!  I'd love to hear any goals you have created based on student achievement too.

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