Sep 21, 2013

Celebrating Authors

Happy Saturday Teacher Friends!  I wanted to check in with a quick post today to tell you about a wonderful experience my class and I shared yesterday with our parents.  I think it had a big impact on my kiddos, but was super simple on the teacher end, so I thought it might be something you could use in the future.

For the past month, my students and I have been reading and writing about reconstruction using any types of materials we could get our hands on.  Although we still took the traditional Social Studies tests, and still had traditional notes to study, pretty much everything else we did for our unit was totally woven into our reading and writing stations and small group lessons.  There was a learning curve for all of us because this was the first time my students or I had experimented with fully integrated content material.

I have to admit that after we got our feet wet, we jumped in head first!  It is truly a wonderful way to explore the events that have occurred throughout history.  Yesterday,we had a celebration to wrap it all up!

The focus of this ELA/SS unit was OPINION WRITING and RECONSTRUCTION.  Because our opinions play a huge roll in the point of view and perspective we take when we write, we worked A LOT on point of view.  Also, because voice is so important in opinion writing, I chose a task that allowed us to weave VOICE into the lessons as well.

Our culminating writing task was this:  Each student will write 2 letters representing the opposing points of views of the issues that existed during the RECONSTRUCTION ERA.  The students will first take the stance of a FREEDMAN and write to their grandchild explaining what reconstruction was like from their point of view.  The student's second letter will also be written to their grandchild, and will take the stance of either an EX-CONFEDERATE GENERAL, or a member of the SOUTHERN ELITE, and will tell the story of reconstruction from their opposing point of view.

Because the letters were written to their grandchildren, the students were able to experiment with voice in some truly amazing ways.  :)  There were a lot of "sugar dumplings" and "honey pies" addressed in their letters.  They were required to explain their points of view on at least 3 different issues, and give at least 3 details about those issues to prove they knew their facts about the topics.  We were all quite pleased with the final products, and although they were very NERVOUS, they were excited to share their work.

So, onto our celebration!  We invited the parents and drew numbers for our celebration groups.  Each student drew a number 1-5 to select their celebration table.  Once there, each student took 5 sticky notes, and each parent that was attending took 5 sticky notes as well.  Each student stood to read their letters, and then waited as every member of their group, including the parents, wrote sticky notes of praise about their writing.  The sticky notes were added to their "Walls of Fame," (see below) and their walls of fame will be added to their writing portfolios for safe keeping!

I plan to have a celebration at the culmination of each unit.  By the end of year, each student will have 9 WALLS OF FAME in their portfolios.

Benefits that I noticed right away:
  • The students had an opportunity to share their writing and practice public speaking in a safe setting with an authentic audience.  
  • The students heard other writing models, and were able to mentally compare their work to the work of their peers.  This should help with future pieces.  
  • Their sweet faces simply lit up when they received their sticky notes of praise about their work. :)
  • They are now aware that we are working toward these celebrations throughout each unit.  The awareness that their work will be shared in this setting should be quite motivating as they gather their research.
On the teacher side of things:
  • The students shared in groups of five, so I simply rotated the room and listened a bit to each group. Knowing we had a few parents at each group to keep things moving along, I was free to observe all the celebrations.
  • The white table cloths were a simple touch that made the experience special for my kiddos.  :)
  • Other than organizing the materials, there was little work on my end.   Now that the kids and parents are trained, the celebrations should almost host themselves in the future! ;)
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Sep 2, 2013

Building a Firm Foundation for a Literacy Workshop

Hello, hello, hello!  Thanks for all the sweet emails checking on me! I took the month of August off from blogging simply to get my feet on the ground for the new school year!  We are off and running and had the GRAND OPENING of our workshop this week.  My little workers were trained and ready! :)
Vista Print!  Amazing :)
In case you are wondering why on Earth I would need such a large sign, let me explain. I make a huge deal about training my students for their "jobs" in our workshop before we can begin. I always ask a student to name a place they might work. This year, I got BURGER KING!  I guess that's what I get for asking, but it did work perfectly for my analogy. ;). I then proceeded to explain that I certainly wouldn't want to eat a whopper by a man that wasn't properly trained!  I proceeded to explain that we would use the first 5 days of class to "train" for the jobs in our workshop, referring back to the whopper analogy way more times than necessary over the week, for effect. ;)

A few things we did during our "training":

Reading is Thinking!  Believe it or not, kids can actually make it all the way to fifth grade by just calling the words on the page and not digging in any dipper!  Lesson #1 for building a FIRM FOUNDATION is understanding that reading only occurs when you mix the WORDS ON THE PAGE with the THOUGHTS in your head!

Lesson #2 is always a brief introduction to the Six Plus One Traits of Writing.  I like to give this brief intro so that my students and I have a common language right away to use when we discuss their writing, or the writing of others we find along the way.

Another important part of sharing a common language for writing is knowing that there is a difference between revising and editing.  Many kids think that checking over their writing means making sure they don't have any grammatical mistakes.  I want them to understand during the first week, that writing is more than GRAMMAR in our classroom!

One of my all time favorite lessons to teach involves these glasses!  It is important to me that my students know that there is more than one type of reading required in our WORKSHOP.  Each and everyday they will be required to read for pleasure with a book of their own choosing, where they can kick back and simply enjoy a good read!  Other times, they will need a pencil in hand for serious close reading of a text that requires digging in, making notes, rereading, and responding to the informational text they have been assigned.

While doing our close reading, I like to set my students up with a model for how to respond to informational discussion questions.  I found this fabulous APE model some time ago on the internet.  Not sure where it came from but it is wonderful!  I made labels with the model for my students to add to the Literacy Notebooks for future reference, and made an anchor chart for the wall.
A-  Refer to what you are ASKED
P- List PROOF from the text as evidence
E- EXPLAIN your answer thoroughly

And last but not least, I want my students to understand the "WHY" behind why I often give them Social Studies documents to read and analyze during our Literacy Workshop.  Okay, let's face facts, I am responsible for our state's social studies standards.  I posted a few weeks back about my Social Studies Story Board, and it is working beautifully with one exception.  I was planning to use incomplete notes that come straight from our support documents as part of their reading material.  Then it occurred to me, that I really didn't understand the "WHY" behind why the blanks in the notes were needed.  If my goal is for my students to comprehend the text as they read it, why did I feel the need to leave holes in the text for them to fill.  In the hopes of getting away from the traditional Social Studies textbook and notes to memorize, why did I need this traditional method?  So, out the window it went!  And if "because we always have" wasn't a good enough reason for me to teach that way, I certainly don't think that it is a good enough reason for kids to understand why they needed learn that way.

So, we are taking a different route this year!  We will be using EDMODO to view and reflect on videos, we will be reading lots of lots of historical fiction, primary and secondary sources, and talking about how we feel about what happened in HISTORY, rather than reading the notes and hoping for some memorization!

I opened my first Social Studies lesson with this video!  I think they totally got the "WHY" behind why we learn HISTORY!

So that's it!  Our first week in a nutshell!  I truly believe that you can't effectively teach until you have a full foundation of what is expected, along with a clear understanding of why what you are teaching is important. Take the time to build a firm foundation in your classroom and you will be off to a terrific year!

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