Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Nerdlution Round #2- Jumping on the lipstick bandwagon!

I have been sitting in front of my computer for about 15 minutes now mulling over what I should write and what my goals are going to be for Round two of #nerdlution should be. I have also been reading over several other posts about #nerdlution in hopes to gain some inspiration. My educator and reading idols did not disappoint! The inspiration and ideas were abundant among the #nerdlution community. @iChrisLehman and @dogtrax  posts made  me laugh and smile! @CathyMere reminded me of all the great books I read during round 1 of #nerdlution and want to keep reading into round 2. ( I am itching to finish Rump right now!) But the one #nerdlution post that resonated with me the most was by @frankisibberson
          The past weeks have been absolutely crazy between the demands of work and family. Sometimes it feels like I can't breathe or get a moment to just "be." I keep thinking when is it all going to slow down? Well, after reading Franki's post, I realized that life probably won't slow down anytime soon- unless I make adjustments. Like Franki, I need to stop and put lipstick on! Not just the organic chapstick I put on everyday, but my favorite shimmery pink MAC lipgloss that smells like delicious sweet strawberries!

"So, the lipstick is not about how I look really (although I should look a little better!). It's about making a decision to not let little things go because I'm in a hurry and I want to get to the next thing faster.  That the 15 seconds I gain from not putting on lipstick is not going to make me any more productive during the day. If I am going to slow down and enjoy the days, it has to start with the morning, the "getting ready for the day" part.  So, lipstick seems to be a good reminder of that. (And my mother will be oh, so happy at this #nerdlution!)" ~Franki

 So after reading across several different blog posts and INTEGRATING and SYNTHESIZING the information ( just like the CCSS asks our students to do! And yes I feel like I eat, sleep and breathe the CCSS these days!) here are my Nerdlutions for round 2!

Nerdlution #1
Continue to read books for young readers and teens. The characters I have met over the past weeks are beautiful! Reading the young adult literature has not only brought me back to my days in middle school and high school, but the books have also helped me to gain insight into the issues and concerns of students today. I feel more connected to my students and have a better understanding of the world they are growing up in.

Nerdlution #2
Stop and enjoy life. I need to make time to enjoy the little things in life. The constant going, going, going of life can take a toll on anyone! I want to get better at leaving work at work, and not focus on what I need to do for work after my boys go to bed. I plan on acting out more Star Wars scenes with Drew, and building crazy ramps with Nolan for his trains to go down. I also want to make sure I thank my husband more often for the support he gives me. He'll probably appreciate a kinder me!

Nerdlution #3
Take more risks, and stay positive. Who knows.. there maybe a #nerdcamp coming to Connecticut! (Talk about a huge risk and under taking!) This educator and reading community I have become a part of is life changing and an incredible experience. I want bring a sense of excitement and passion about teaching, learning and reading that is evident through the #nerdlution community back to my colleagues and students. With so much stress surrounding the CCSS and the SBAC assessment, it is so easy these days to get go down the rabbit hole of data, teacher evaluation, and mid year conference and lose sight of what is important. It is so important to keep the love of learning alive in our students! And to help us all remember why we as educators went into teaching in the first place- the kids.

I am really looking forward to this round of Nerdlution. I am ready to keep learning and growing among a fantastic group of people! I can't wait to read other's nerdlutions, their progress and to cheer each everyone on!


Saturday, January 25, 2014

Celebrate we will because life is short but sweet for certain

Discover. Play. Build.

For the first time, I am linking up with another blog! I will be joining Ruth Ayers and her weekly link-up, Celebrate this week. Check out all the other celebrations HERE!

As I was scrolling through the other Celebration posts, I came across this quote on Mrs. Knott's Book Nook. These words resonated with me and thought they were a perfect way to start this celebration post. 

"It's always good to end the week on a positive note.  Sometimes we concentrate on the negatives.  We have a choice.  Choose positive.  Choose to celebrate."

Here is what I am choosing to celebrate this week:

Celebration #1: My mom to the rescue! My boys were sick all week with a yucky virus that included runny noses, congested coughs and sleepless nights. I had to take Tuesday off from work and my husband took Wednesday off to care for the boys. And my mom, the saint she is, offered to watch the boys on Thursday and Friday. She made our lives so much easier for those two days. I want to celebrate the fact that she left her house at 6am to be at our house for 7am. She then proceeded to not only watch and spoil the boys, but fold 5 loads of laundry and put the laundry away! She cleaned up the playroom, put dishes away, and had dinner waiting for me when I got home. My mom, or Nonni as my boys call her, played all day with Drew and Nolan. They made tents on the floor, nests in their beds, and had dance parties. I don't know how she had the energy to do that all!! I would be lost without her! Family is everything. My family is so blessed and lucky to have my mom to support us and help when sicknesses invade our home! 

Celebration #2: On Friday, I got to spend the day with four fabulous ladies to revise Unit 4 for our ELA curriculum. Usually these days are long and can get a bit monotonous- but not with these four amazing educators. We found a great balance between tweaking the curriculum and telling funny college stories! But what was most amazing, was the way we all collaborated. We shared resources. We thought deeply about what we wanted our students to understand by the end of the unit. We read aloud from the following picture books: Nelson Mandela, Brick by Brick, and Brave Girl Clara. We read aloud from novels, such as One for the Murphy's, and  The Great Wall of Lucy Lu. We wanted to find the perfect books, and passages within those books, that would have an impact on the students as readers and help them understand how characters are changed by conflict. We also scrutinized the photography in Little Rock Girl 1957:How a Photograph Changed the Fight for Integration to develop ways to incorporate these powerful pictures into our instruction. We thought about ways to incorporate specific strategies from Notice and Note and Falling in Love with Close Reading. Together, we chose specific short stories, poems,  historical fiction and information text to use to teach these strategies.  It was also so cool to really dive into Lucy Calkin's Units of Study and align some of the writing lessons and resources into our curriculum.  I feel so lucky to work with such a great group of colleagues that truly want to do what is right by kids. They want to push the kids, but all the while encouraging them to take risks and love their new learning. When the unit was done, we looked at our work and said, "Wow! This is a really long unit. It is jam packed with so many rich learning objectives and activities! We love it! The kids are going to love it!" I think I echo the sentiments of the group by saying, we all can't wait to start teaching this unit next week! 

Celebration #3: My youngest still likes it when I rock him to sleep at night when he has trouble sleeping. Nolan is going to be two in a few months and is still my little peanut. I love the fact that when I hear "I want my momma!" coming from his room, I magically forget what I need to get done as far as chores and school work, and I melt when I pick him up. He snuggles onto my chest, sighs and says, "Momma!" Tonight, I just stood in the middle of his room and rocked back and forth, holding him tight, as he fell back to sleep. It is these small moments I will treasure forever!

Celebrate #4: Drew, my oldest, is overcoming his fear of skating. He always gets nervous when he is going to try something new. He started ice skating lessons a few weeks back. The first lesson was a disaster- but each week has gotten progressively better. And this week-  according to my husband- he has gotten so good- he actually falls to get attention from the skating instructor! I am so proud of Drew for not giving up and really trying his best! I am also proud of me and my husband for not giving into Drew when he screams, "I don't want to go to skating! Nooo!" The will power of a 4 year old is amazing! 

Celebration #5: I get to go back into my colleagues room on Tuesday to finish my last lesson with Falling in Love with Close Reading. I was able to go back in this week to visit with the students and check in with them. Meetings, trainings, and my sick day kept me out of their classroom this week. :(  I felt so guilty about that because I did not want to leave them without having a closure to our time together. However, one student Kyle, who was a reluctant participant in the lessons at times, shyly said, " When are you coming back to teach us? That was AWESOME!" All the kids wanted to share with me the songs they were listening too, the books they were reading, and the commercials they had seen. They all wanted to show me their work using the different reading lenses. These students are absolutely amazing and I cannot wait to join their class again! 

Celebrating the positives we experience during the day and the week is important. We can get lost in negative energy. I feel better about my week having written this- and I hope to carry the same positivity into the new week! 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Nerdlution = Rejuvenation

About 50 days ago, I joined #Nerdlution, set goals and wrote my first blog post. Little did I know that these past 50 days of #Nerdlution would lead me to such a sense of rejuvenation as a teacher, reader and learner. And when I read on Kevin Hodgson's blog (@dogtrax) that the last day of #Nerdlution had come and gone- I was absolutely shocked! (I guess time flies when you are having fun!) I feel like I have so much to reflect on and don't even know where to begin!

 I am sincerely grateful for the past 50 days for more that one reason.

I know I am a better teacher because of the connections I have made with other educators and the learning I have done through them: @JustinStygles, @iChrisLehman, @KateRoberts@Deb_Frazier@knott_michele, @patrickontwit@colbysharp@donalynbooks and @lynmullalyhunt - just to name a few! I feel like I finally found my niche among some great educators where it's ok to take risks, share ideas, and LOVE reading. It's ok to jump on desks and yell "YOU ARE A ROCKSTAR!" and "I LOVE READING!" And it's ok to be passionate about teaching and reading in a time when education is in such a state of transition and uncertainty. 

 I know I am a better teacher because of the INSANE amount of reading (all through the recommendations of educators on Twitter and Blogs) I have done of  professional, children's and young adult literature.

I have met some of the best characters imaginable: Carley Connors, Ivan, Hazel, Augustus Waters, Mattie Breen, Rebecca, Eleanor and Park. These characters have all left an imprint on me. Through these characters, I relived what it was like to go through your parent's divorce, but come out just fine. I was able to relive some of those awkward years in  school where you aren't really sure where you fit in. I felt the emotions of falling in love for the first time and the heartache that follows when that relationship is over. The authors of these characters have taken such pivotal moments in our lives and found the words to paint them for us to read and experience over and over again. 

As I read over my first post and reviewed the  goals I set, which were:  to write a post weekly, end each post with a quote, and read One and Only Ivan in two days. Of these goals, I probably didn't come close to mastering one! But to me, that is ok because of everything else I got out of this experience. So it took me close to a week to read Ivan. And so I didn't always end each post with a quote; nor did I post every week.

 However, I did take some pretty big risks. I FILMED myself teaching a lesson using one of many strategies from Falling in Love with Close Reading. The last time I had been filmed was probably close to 10 years ago when I was filmed for my BEST portfolio as part of the now defunct BEST program in CT. I have watched portions of the video, and while some of it is cringe worthy, what I LOVED was watching the students interactions with each other and observing the learning, that was led by them, that was happening. I saw students that wouldn't normally participate or share their thinking, practically fight over sharing their answers. The students listened to each other. The sense of ownership and pride in their work was incredible to watch and to be part of.

  I also invited teachers in to watch the lessons I taught for two weeks straight to a group of amazing, charming and hardworking students. I never expected the positive feedback I received from the teachers! The lessons they watched were wonderful segues into conversations about planning, choosing texts, facilitating student discussions, and building rapport with students. I really had no idea I would have such an impact on my colleagues. I only hope that together we can sustain this sense of learning from each other and talk about each others instructional strategies as a means to better the learning lives of our students. 

I am so looking forward to round two of #nerdlution. There seems to be a world of endless possibilities out there, that I hope includes making new connections, reading more FANTASTIC literature, and learning with fellow educators. Here's to new goals and new adventures! #NCTE14 #nerdcampNNE

“Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.” 
― John GreenThe Fault in Our Stars

Friday, January 17, 2014

Falling in Love with Close Reading Resources

After talking with my friend Theresa, she suggested that I share the link to the google docs folder where I am housing the lessons I have created for close reading strategies. My lessons are adapted from the lessons created by Chris Lehman and Kate Roberts in their fantastic book Falling in Love with Close Reading. In the lessons I have written and implemented, I took the structure from their work, their wording from lesson design, and adapted it to meet the needs of the class that I have been a guest teacher in for the past two weeks. The ritual of close reading that Chris Lehman and Kate Roberts have developed has had a major positive impact on my students. The perseverance, active learning, and love of reading that my students exhibited is truly remarkable!! I am so incredibly proud of each and every one of them! Inviting teachers in to watch the learning of the students and the implementation of these lessons have opened our PLCs up to deep conversations about student engagement, students constructing their own meaning,  meeting the students where they are in their learning process, discussion techniques, and promoting the love of reading. I encourage reading specialist and teachers alike to take a risk, work out of your comfort zone, and try these lessons out!

 I also filmed a lesson that I am hoping my husband can help me edit down to the most important parts- and that is not an hour long! Hopefully I can post that as well. Also included in this post is a link to a Professional Development presentation that I presented today. Again, I want to cite the work of Chris Lehman and Kate Roberts. I embedded discussion questions from their Falling in Love with Close Reading twitter chats as well as their study guide for their book. I also what to acknowledge the work of Colby Sharpe as I showed his YouTube video to kick off the presentation. I hope that you find these links helpful! I am very happy to share all I do! It has been an amazing learning experience! 

Click on the picture below for the folder of lessons and PowerPoint Presentation. I welcome any feedback or questions!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A little sunshine

How cool! A follower of mine on twitter, Michelle Knott, gave me the Sunshine Award for inspiring her! Wow! To quote Mrs.Knott directly from her blog "  I'm such a newbie to all of this, but I'm so glad to have connected with so many talented educators.  It amazes me how people have found me - through Twitter Chats, RTs, and link-ups.  I will be forever grateful for everyone's endless knowledge and willingness to share." I couldn't agree more with her! 

I want to keep the Sunshine Award going. I will also nominate the people I have met through this blog and Twitter. I am passing this award on to you because you have impacted me in some way as a teacher, mother, wife, reader and life long learner. Thank you! Thank you!

The Rules of the Sunshine Award
  • Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  • Share 10 random facts about yourself.
  • Answer the 10 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  • List or tag 10 bloggers that you believe deserve some recognition and a little blogging love!
  • Post 10 questions for the bloggers you nominate
  • Let those 10 bloggers and let them know they have been nominated. (You cannot nominate the blogger(s) who nominated you.)
So here goes! 

10 random facts about me:
1. When I was little, I wanted to be a teacher, hairdresser and figure skater. I planned that I would teach during the week, do hair on Saturdays and skate on Sundays. 
2. I am a HUGE fan of Gone with the Wind.
3. The Dunkin Donuts employee at the drive up window knows me by name. This will soon be happening at the Starbuck near school as well. YIKES!
4. Before I met my husband in college, I never drove past exit 17 on I-84 West.
5. I was voted Most Outgoing in high school.
6. I have an intense fear of spiders that stems from the movie Arachnophobia.
7. My favorite go to meal in the summer is hot dogs, baked beans, and apple sauce.
8. I was a drama major for a semester in college. 
9. I owned two wedding dresses at one point. I bought my second dress six weeks before my wedding and sold the other one on ebay. 
10. My family used to call me," Marcia, Marcia, Marcia" from the Brady Bunch in high school because I am the oldest sister and could do absolutely no wrong in life. 

Answers to Michele's questions:

1.  Favorite place to vacation? Old Orchard Beach, ME. I have been going there with my family since I was in 6th grade, which works out to be 24 years straight. 

2.  Guided reading or Independent reading?  Why? It needs to be a combination. The guided reading is where the specific strategies are taught. The independent reading allows the students to practice these skills in a book they absolutely love!
3.  Swimming pool or ocean? Pool. I am not a fan of not being able to see the sand below my feet in the ocean. Although I find lying on the beach, next to the ocean, while reading a book the absolute most relaxing activity in the world!
4.  Would you rather close your door and teach or co-teach? Co- teach. I am all about learning with and from others.
5.  City or country? City. I always dreamed of living in Boston or NYC.
6.  Most anticipated 2014 children's book release? I have to admit, I am behind on this. I need to research this more.
7.  Where do you buy most of your books? Amazon or Barnes and Nobles
8.  Best way to incorporate CCSS in your reading block? I don't have my own classroom because I am a Reading Specialist. When I co-teach with teachers we plan specific strategy lessons that will move the students toward meeting the standards. 
9.  How many books do you have checked out from your public library right now? ZERO- but I have a stack of about 10 books that I plan to read. Some books I have bought and some books I have borrowed.
10.  Best original teaching idea you've had? When I was a Special Education teacher, my students and I planned a cafe, "La Chaunce Cafe" (based on my maiden name) in my school. The students were responsible for cooking the food, calculating customer checks, setting tables, serving food, taking orders, counting money and giving change, and designing the menus. All the teachers, parents, staff and administration were invited to our cafe. It was a HUGE success. The students were so proud of their work! It was definitely one of the most memorable teaching experiences of my career to this day. 

And the Sunshine Award goes to:
Theresa Schrader at Pinkadots Elementary @Mrs_Schrader4
Liz Teed @Teedliz
Justin Stygles at writing 15minutes daily @JustinStygles
Kevin Hodgeson at Dogtrax @dogtrax
Gigi McAllister at Book Blog @GigiMcAreads
Cindy Minnich at The Stars @CBethM
Catherine Flynn at Reading to the Core @flynn_catherine
Allison Jackson @azajacks
Mr. D. Reads @MisterDReads
Franki Sibberson at Reading Year @frankisibberson

Sunshine Award winners here are your questions:
1.What is your favorite book?
2. What is the best strategy you use to keep your students engaged in your lessons?
3. How long have you been teaching?
4. What is one of the best memories you have from your teaching career?
5. Do you still remember the names of your teachers growing up? If so, how many can you name?
6. Who inspires your in your life?
7. If you won one million dollars, what would be the first thing you would do?
8. If you could change one thing in education right now, what would it be?
9. Given the chance to travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
10. Why did you go into education? 

Have a great time! And thank you again for inspiring me each and every day! 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Carry on, Carry on

Good lord, was I nervous today! Not only was I introducing the students to closely reading informational text, but two teachers as well as the Superintendent of Schools, were coming in to watch my lesson. My stomach was in knots! I knew going into today's lesson that it was going to be tough. It was going to be a concept the students were going to wrestle with and a strategy that I wasn't entirely comfortable with teaching. BUT to pump the kids up and to get myself pumped up, I played the song Carry On by Fun. I listened to it on my way into work, and kept thinking that no matter what happens with today's lesson I am going to "carry on" and continue to take risks in my teaching to bring the students to higher levels of thinking and increase their love of reading. 

The purpose of today's lesson was for the students to determine the point of view and/or central message of the following text. 
This rich and complex text presented two sides to the issue of building a road that cut into Asian elephants habitats. The students were charged with task of paying attention for those moments they felt confused about what they were reading. We were then going to look for a common theme in the confusing parts and collect facts and details that match the idea we were trying to better understand. Once we had collected those facts and details were were going to look for patterns and then use those patterns for a new understanding. 

Well, once I explained the purpose, read the text aloud, and monitored the students abilities to mark up the text for confusing parts, I immediately heard from three students, " We understood everything. I get it. The road was bad." Now, I knew this was going to be a possibility in this lesson as I couldn't really plan for what the students would be confused about. My response to the students were, " I am glad you feel confident in that- but I want you to continue to read to support your thinking. It is those details and facts we collect as we read that will only give you a better understanding. Hold on to your thoughts and see if your thinking stays the same by the end of the lesson." (GULP! I was praying that statement was going to help keep the students engaged and still see the purpose in reading this article.) 

The teachers who watched the lesson said I did an excellent job bringing the kids to a higher level of understanding. I, on the other hand, felt like I spent the most grueling 30 minutes of my teaching day. While teaching the students, I kept thinking," Oh my god. This is not going well. Oh god!" BUT I was not determined to give up. I was determined to not let the kids give up. Teaching them to look for confusing parts and then facts and details to help bring them to the central idea is INCREDIBLY hard work. It involves partner work, partner sharing, independent practice and whole group sharing out. I was incredibly cognizant of the students that I was suddenly losing and seeing them drift off. I followed the gradual release model and at one point- when we were charting our details and facts I noticed that not only was I completely confused about where we were in the lesson and the kids were confused. I thought, " OK, Kara..regroup. Slow down. Reset the stage for learning." THEN SUDDENLY- I heard the magic words that made it all click for the class. My buddy Logan shouted out, " Oh- there are 3 points of view." Other students chimed in "No, there are 4. No, there are 2!" And that is what I pounced on. 

I reset the stage " Well it sounds like we are confused about the points of view in this article. Let's look at our evidence that we collected and look for patterns." Then it was like a light bulb went off as I modeled my thinking. Nolan and Ian said, " Wait, that evidence shows that it is a bad thing to build the road." Slowly but surely, we started to code the evidence for the pros for the road and the cons for the road. 

And then- in the last 5-10 minutes of the lesson, as my friend Suzanne said, a beautiful thing happened. An authentic, deep and thoughtful debate/discussion broke out. I let the kids go. They debated whether a statement we had collected that stated "poaching and habitat loss was a problem" really belonged up there. Through their debate they determined that creating the road was just as bad as poaching. They brought in their background knowledge,  and connected it new knowledge from the article. The constantly went back to the text. I interjected a thought or question from time to time but really let the students lead their own learning. 

Their last task was to show their new understanding in writing. And BOY- did they ever! Using the sentence frames they took off. Their writing was emotional and grounded in text evidence. They really showed authentic thinking. I did not see one cookie cutter response. They were all able to articulate their thinking and show they had figured out the point of view and/or central idea of the article. 

 There is one student, Jose, in this class that holds a special place in my heart. He was quiet throughout the lesson and I so worried he wasn't getting it. I watched him persevere and work at his own pace. Although he was behind the other students, he started underlining and noting his understanding on the article. He called me over twice during the lesson to show me his work. He was a rockstar! Jose gets very nervous when it comes to writing. He needs that constant reassurance that he can do it, as well as just to talk out his thinking before he writes. As Jose got set to write he called me over and said, " I think I am going to start this way. I think elephants..." Then literally two seconds later he shouts, " NO! Wait- its not about the elephants. It's about the greed. The people building the road are greedy. They don't care about the animals. The elephants- nothing! It's all about them!" His response prompted me to jump on a desk and proclaim him the rockstar. I re-read his statement for all the kids in the class to hear. It was amazing!! The kids clapped. The kids immediately got to work to improve their writing. 

Closing the lesson, I told the kids they were brave today, which prompted me to play "Brave" by Sarah Bareilles. I told them they were remarkable today. They persevered and worked through a pretty difficult lesson. I was so proud of them! My head hurt from thinking and I told them that. I cannot wait to go back to teach them about Word Choice tomorrow. These students have my heart and are my inspiration. 

So moral of the story- it's ok to not feel comfortable with teaching a new strategy. It's ok to show the kids you are struggling with reading too.  Put faith in your students, because they will surprise you. It may seem like they aren't getting it- but in the end they will! 

As the song "Carry On" says, 
"'Cause here we are
We are shining stars
We are invincible
We are who we are
On our darkest day
When we’re miles away
Sun will come
We will find our way home

And boy did we Carry On today! 

Friday, January 10, 2014

Two hour delay reflection

It wouldn't be New England without a surprise snow fall! It was a nice surprise to wake up this morning to find new snow had fallen throughout the night- which led to a 2 hour delay! 

Normally, I would have been thrilled to have a two hour delay for school, but today I thought "Crap! I am not going to see my students today!" I was totally looking forward to teaching the strategy of closely reading for text evidence in informational text. With all the schedule changes, I wouldn't be able to coordinate having teachers come to watch as well as be able to attend PLCs, a PPT and plan a PD presentation with a colleague. For lack of a better description, I was pumped to jump into a rich informational text about Asian elephants and the risks they face with my students. I never in a million years thought I would say," Man, now my students can't learn about how humans are destroying the habitats of elephants!" 

However, by teaching these two weeks of close reading lessons I have a new appreciation for the learning and engagement of the students. I am completely invested in this learning process and never imagined I would become so passionate and in love with the learning of my students as a guest teacher. I don't want to give the classroom back! 

 Now that I have been bitten by the Falling in Love with Close Reading strategies and Notice and Note strategies bug, my hope is to impart this knowledge onto my colleagues. The teachers and I are all learning how to implement the CCSS together. It has been a crazy journey together, but we are on the right path. I am such a reading dork, that when I hear a colleague have an "Aha" moment about teaching and their students, I literally want to jump across the table and hug them. I see their eyes light up. I see them become animated when they talk about student work. I hear them ask questions of each other and even question their own thinking! The teachers are thinking more deeply about their teaching, and recognizing excellent teaching goes beyond CMT strands and isolated skills. Test scores should not be the driving force in teaching, it's the students that should be! 

The teachers I work with are constantly pushing each other and truly want to do what is right by students. We need to celebrate our students' successes by planting seeds of excitement, enjoyment and love in our teaching. One student told me, " You are happy everyday! I love that about you! It makes me happy!" My response to him was, "Of course, I am happy! I get to spend the morning reading and learning with you!" 

Schools are a very stressful place right now. Teacher evaluations test scores, assessments, and SBAC are all looming over our heads. But with all the stresses we cannot forget our students. We cannot forget our colleagues. We need to not only listen to the needs of our students, but listen to the needs of our colleagues. As teachers in one of the most radical times I can remember in my 11 years of teacher, we really need to band together and work through this era of change together. 

My grandfather gave me this advice when I started teaching- "Always go into school and ask your kids how they are. Pat them on the head. Let them know you care." 

And I think that piece of advice can go along way for our teachers too. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

I got the Eye of the Tiger!

"Mrs. DiBartolo!! I know! I know! I want to tell you, Mack is a jerk! Mack is a mean man who is abusive! Come over here and let me show you what I wrote- what I circled!" .....

All this from a boy in an ELA class that has the reputation of being a behavior problem and not available for learning. The strategies from Falling in Love with Close Reading have changed not only my teaching, but the learning of my students. 

I have completed three days of my reading lab "Strategies in Action" in a colleagues classroom- and it has been truly amazing! Not only am I learning more as a teacher than I thought I ever would- it is the students that have made this experience of being in the classroom remarkable. 

My first lesson was closely reading for text evidence using the song "ROAR"- and boy did the students show they have "the eye of the tiger"! The students took the song to a whole new level- and walked away with a deeper meaning. Not only that, they stopped me in the halls and in  class to tell me the new songs they are listening too and trying to understand. Students are asking to continue to read lyrics to music. They took the extra music lyrics I printed off from popular songs like, "Home" by Phillip Phillips, "Demons" by Imagine Dragons and "Firework" by Katy Perry and brought them home to read over and annotate for a deeper meaning. I want to point out that this is a class that requires a lot of emotional and academic support through a special education teacher, classroom teacher and paraprofessional- yet they were engaged and motivated to learn. They questioned each other, they extended each others thinking and wrote and wrote!  I couldn't have been more proud!  Here is a snap shot of their work with "ROAR". 

 From this lesson we moved into closely reading an excerpt from The One and Only Ivan. I realized as I was planning out this lesson, that I couldn't really predict which lens the students were going to chose to read through. By having the students start off by making observations about the characters, it gives them the freedom to decide what is important to know about the characters. Students are all going to have different responses, and I realized that I would have to look for those common patterns within the observations  in order to help them understand the idea of reading with a specific lens. I could plan it one way, and the students ideas could take the lesson in a totally different direction. Being such a type A personality and knowing other teachers were going to be watching, it made me nervous- but then I realized it isn't about me- it's about the students. It is my job as their teacher to facilitate their learning and lead them to a deeper understanding of the characters. If I told them what lens to read through- I have done the work and not them!

The students rose to the occasion! They immediately saw they focused in on the characters actions and dug deeper into the text to locate further evidence of the characters actions. This is really where their learning took off! Even without introducing the ideas of patterns and grouping our evidence, through their discussions the students began to make inferences about the characters. They began to see the characters motivations and relationships. By color coding the patterns, it only strengthened their thoughts! I heard students say, " Wait- I agree with you because Stella rushes to Ruby even though she is in pain!" and " Ivan is so caring just by the way he tells Stella it will be ok!" The biggest Aha moment came when the students realized the relationship between Stella and Ruby- Stella was going to care for Ruby like Ruby was her daughter. All this through the close analysis of the actions of Stella and Ruby. They saw how Stella defends Ruby against Mack, the awful zoo owner. And how Stella risks her life!

Nothing compares to seeing the success of the students. I informed them they are scholars and reminded them that this was hard work and they accomplished it! So many times, students are described as having trouble connecting their reading and ideas into their writing. But not today! Students I had planned on needing to provide extra support during the written response didn't need it. Honestly, I have never seen a group of students work so diligently and persevere through the lesson.

 Before we started our lesson today, I played the song "Best Day of my Life" by American Authors. I explained to the students that when I hear this song, it energizes me and gets me ready for the day at work. I told them I considered being in their class over the next few days to be the "Best Days of my Life" and I hoped that when they read and learn with each other they are having the "Best Days of their Life" just like the song. ( I know kind of corny- but their reaction was priceless- They ate it up!) I want them to know I value them as students, readers and children.

I have about 5 more classes left to teach with this group of students. I plan on taking them through a journey of reading informational text about elephants to strengthen their understanding of Stella and Ruby in The One and Only Ivan. I want them to continue their work of closely reading for text evidence to make connections between the fiction and nonfiction and to gain an understanding of the central idea of the informational text.

And as a request by a student, I better find a way to incorporate the song "Radioactive" into my lessons! Guess I have my work cut out for me!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Back in the swing of things

I think every teacher gets those back to school jitters after a fun filled Christmas break. That is exactly how I felt last night while enjoying our family's New Years Day dinner. It was a combination of anxiety and excitement- ok maybe more anxiety than excitement. 

On January 6 and lasting until Jan 22 I am going to be teaching a sequence of lessons modeled after the strategies from Falling in Love with Close Reading in a 4th grade classroom. Teachers are going to be invited in to watch these lessons and then debrief about them at PLCs. Talk about taking a risk and putting myself out there! I'll just preface each lesson with " I am not perfect at this- we are all learning together!" 

Today, I went to visit the classroom I am going to be teaching in. After watching Colby Sharpe speak at NCTE and share his video of running around the room professing his love for reading, I thought I need to do that! And I did! The kids responses was overwhelmingly positive. The excitement in the room was palpable! A student shared that he couldn't wait to have lessons to look forward too! Another student said, " yes! You are coming back! I love learning with you!" 

And then I shared we would be reading music lyrics- Katy Perry's song Roar - and you would think they won the lottery! ( I kind of wished I had filmed today!) They want to "read" songs by One Direction, Michael Jackson, Imagine Dragons- even Journey! (Although they weren't sure I had ever heard of Journey!)

Well, that anxiety I had about embarking on this teaching journey went out the window! It's about the kids! It's about getting them to love reading and enjoy reading. I told them by the time I leave my hope for them is for them to become a reading dork like me and they all cheered! It was so cool! 

Immediately after I left the classroom my friend Elaine and I went back to my room and grabbed as many books as we could from my bookshelves. The kids need independent reading books to practice strategies and read, read, read! I cannot wait to see their faces when we bring in the stacks of books and have them choose! I have to thank the nerdybookclub, title talk and all the people I have met on twitter and at conferences for the book recommendations! 

Monday cannot come fast enough! Of course I'll be reading and planning and replanning my lessons over the weekend. But those fantastic students will be my motivation to make this the best reading experience for them! And if the lessons aren't perfect- so what! We are all learning together.