Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Survey Says Linky

I am linking up with my friend at 5th Grade Rocks, 5th Grade Rules to share a little more about myself and to learn about all of you all out there in blog world.  Join us and share some fun info about yourself.  All you do is copy the questions off of my post, paste them onto your blog and then add a new question for your blog.  Don't forget to link up at 5th Grade Rocks, 5th Grade Rules to share your post with everyone else!  

5thGradeRocks, 5thGradeRules
Here goes...

1.  Are you married, do you have a bf, or are you flying free as a single lady/man?
Flying free...do you know any cute, red-haired, male teachers who also happen to play the guitar, live in CT, love musical theatre and want to take me out on the town?  No?  Didn't think so!
2.  Where did you grow up?
Ames, Iowa till 8th grade and then East Lyme, CT for high school...both a mid-western girl and a beach bum!

3.  Do you have any pets?  If so, what kind and what is his/her name?
One cat named Bella (not after Twilight) who I got from a former student.  She is a total brat and a goofball...but I love her.  She is obsessed with any type of bags and with feathers.  She also loves to chase her tail, but only in the bathtub...weird right!?  Here's a picture from last Christmas...yes, I dressed her up, No, she did not enjoy it!
4. What is a favorite tv show you are embarrassed to admit to watching?
Toddlers and Tiaras and Dance Moms... I know!  I think because I grew up singing, dancing and performing and since I now run a drama club, I am intrigued by all of those stage moms.  Right?  Can I claim it as research?

5.  Are you a saver or a spender?
I'm a spender...cue music "Hey, Big Spender" ( I have a song for everything!)  In fact, my resolution this year is to live on my budget!  I feel so much more peace knowing that I am making smart choices!

6.  What is your favorite children's book?
AHHHH!  This is the worst question - because, do we mean picture books, chapter books, as a read aloud, my favorite to suggest to my students, my favorite from childhood...Grrrr!  Ok - I guess if I had to pick a book for all of these categories it would be Frindle by Andrew Clements - I love a good teacher/student story!  

7.  Were you the class clown, teacher's pet, or neither?
Totally a teacher's pet...I still am!

8.  Who is your favorite athletic team?
Iowa Hawkeyes!  Go Hawkeyes!  

9.  Where did you go on your last REALLY fun vacation?
Williamsbury, VA with my best friend and parents after college graduation.  This summer I am heading to Disney World!  WOO HOO!

10.  Who is your favorite actor?  Actress?
Actor - Ryan Reynolds         Actress - hmmm...Sandra Bullock 

11.  Tell about the last time you cried because you were happy.
I was so happy when we went to see Les Mis a few weeks ago...I cried during it, I was sad about the plot, but SO HAPPY to be there!  

12.  What is your favorite season?
Even though I love fall for football, spring is my favorite.  I love flowers and seeing everything come back to life.

13.  What is your biggest regret?

Probably getting a credit card in college, it sounds like a small thing, but it really has haunted me for years!

14.  What food do you just NOT like at all?
Blue Cheese and Blueberries - YUCKY!

15. Who was your most memorable teacher, and why?
My first grade teacher, Mrs. Knox.  She told us on day one that we could always come back to her for a hug and someone to listen.  When I went to college, I did just that and it was magical.  She was magical!  

And for my blog:

16.  What is your favorite flavor of ice cream?
Chocolate with a peanut butter swirl...PERFECTION!

I can't wait to see all of your blog posts!  Happy linking!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Linking Up to Share Some Anchor Charts!

I am so excited to be linking up with Ladybug's Teacher Files to share some of my anchor charts.  I had a student help me out with the photos, so they aren't perfect - but hopefully you can still get the ideas from the charts.  I use Sharpie's Chart Paper markers for my charts because they don't fade and I love the bullet point tips.  I also get them laminated to protect them while they are hanging up.  (Which explains the shine in the pictures)  I hope you enjoy them and find them useful in your classroom!  And - it you want to pin them...feel free!  It would really make my day!

The most important anchor chart in my classroom is my Class Constitution.  We just re-wrote our constitution to get us back on track and this anchor chart features writing and art work by my lovely student teacher.  I try to limit our expectations to under 5 - since any more than that gets complicated.  We refer to this one on a daily basis, so it is hanging in a very prominent spot in our classroom.

In addition to our class constitution I have other anchor charts that have the expectations for various parts of our day posted.  I write these with the students and then post them to be referred to during those time periods.  These posters are based off of Fountas and Pinell's Guiding Readers and Writers, which provides the backbone to my reading and writing workshop.

Since I have a SMARTboard, I don't write up and anchor chart for each lesson - that information is usually on the board.  However, I wanted to keep everything we have covered visible to my students.  Thus I created the following board.  At the top it says "Active Readers..." and below are sentence strips with the teaching points from our lessons throughout the year.  My students are always amazed to see this board come to life over the course of the year.  Right now it is pretty unorganized...just a listing of the skills and strategies we've worked on.  However, thanks to Kristen over at Ladybug's Teacher I think I might be switching it up to her CRAFT board next year!

 I love laminating my anchor charts and writing on them with dry erase markers...this is especially useful for small group instruction (or when my SMARTboard is broken...always a sad, sad day!)  I made this plot diagram to use with a small group.  We read a short text and outlined the elements of the plot.  Then they did it as a group without my help.  For some reason...using dry erase markers always makes an activity more fun!  

As for test prep, I tend to make a LOT of anchor charts during those times.  My principal believes that if you have anchor charts posted for awhile they will get burned into students memories.  Then, during the test they will look to see where they anchor charts used to be (we take them down during the test) and remember key information.  I don't know if that is really true - but it can't hurt, right?  So here are a few of my favorites from test prep...the beautiful handwriting is done by my student teacher.

The final anchor charts I am sharing are from my unit on figurative language.  This is a tie in unit between reading and writing.  We both read and write historical fiction, so students are identifying and analyzing figurative language as they read, while also incorporating this into their writing.  

 For my flashback poster I always put the key work (flashback) in orange to focus my students.  I like to include vocab hints to help them remember the meaning and the key phrases are essential in helping students identify and include this in their work.  

 In working with students on symbolism, always a hard topic, I start with a definition and some examples that are universal to all of us...hearts, a red cross, and of course Harry Potter.  Then students went back into their book groups and found examples from each historical fiction book they were reading.  During independent reading each group added their example on to the anchor chart and we shared these out during the close of the lesson.  Having all of these examples from their classmates really helped the students see symbolism in many different texts.

 My final anchor charts are for Theme...duh, duh, duh!  This is always a challenging topic to tackle.  I have one anchor chart that defines Theme and gives students prompts to think about.  The final anchor chart is a brainstorm of all sorts of possible themes to consider.  This really helps students, because sometimes the hardest part is naming the theme.  Once you put a name to it, it is easy to describe and support it.

I hope you like these!  I was super excited to share my charts and to link up to this great event.  All the other teachers have shared so many excellent ideas...I am proud to add mine to the mix.

Happy Reading!

~ Jenny

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Power of August(us)

Yep, I finally caved and bought/read both Wonder by RJ Palacio and The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.  Ironically (?) both the main characters in these books share a common name...August and Augustus.  Is there something in this name that makes the characters so powerful?  I tend to resist reading highly recommended new books.  This is why I put of reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn until a long, sleepless night in college.  If only I had listened to my mother all those years ago!  (She doesn't read my blog, so I am safe saying that she was right all along!)  

So after reading all of the blog post commending these two books, I decided to purposefully not read them.  I mean, I don't want to be like everyone else...right?  WRONG!  What is wrong with me!  I finally caved on Sunday night and ordered them on my IPad.
I started off with Wonder and was immediately transfixed.  I loved how Palacio keep switching narrators and bringing multiple points of view into Auggie's story.  It wasn't too simple, too sweet, too anything!  It was honest, fair and uplifting.  In many ways it reminded me of Melody's story from Out of My Mind.  I can't wait to share it with my students and I know it would move many of them.  Plus, I love any story with a strong teacher-student relationship!  Between the precepts and the graduation speech, I almost cried.  I started the book Sunday night and finished it by the next evening.  READ THIS BOOK!  Don't be like me and resist it!  Give in to the temptation!  (only you should by a real copy for your classroom library...not the Kindle version, which I now cannot share with my students!  grrrr!)


After finishing Wonder, I couldn't sleep...so I started The Fault in Our Stars, thinking that would help me get ready for bed.  Boy, was that a mistake!  Every time I finished a chapter, I would think about putting down the IPad, and say to myself...just one more chapter!  Yup...needless to say, it was late at night early this morning by the time I finished the book.  It was worth it!  I laughed and I cried...I mean I really cried.  I'm not ready to post a literary analysis of this book, its themes...whatever!  Here's what I know:  I will re-read this book.  I will share this book.  I will laugh and cry with this book again.  This book made my life better, this world is a better place because of The Fault in Our Stars.  READ IT!
So...the moral of this story?  When amazing bloggers recommend books, I need to listen!  You all were right!  It's okay with me if you say, "I told you so" because...you did!

Happy Reading!


Monday, March 19, 2012

I did it!

Yup - I'm back again!  And this time I am so excited!  Why, you ask?

Maybe I solved the behavior problems in my classroom, magically and perfectly?  No!
Maybe I know my students aced the TEST and I celebrated with them...Nope again!
Maybe I won the lottery?  I wish!

Actually...I set up my own store on teachersnotebook.com!  WOO HOO!

Now, it isn't pretty yet, it isn't final, and I have so many more ideas to post and share...but I did it!  And really, when we are as stressed as we are, it is important to celebrate the small victories in life!

So, what will you find in my store?

Well I posted a great Book Clubs packet I created that guides my students (and me) through the process.  There is a place in there to store your thinking for each meeting, to record your thoughts after the meetings and to reflect on what you did well and what you need to work on.  There are also places for reader response questions...ALL IN ONE PLACE!  This way, it is hard for anyone (teacher or student)  to lose their work.  (Not that I ever lose anything!)  :)

What else is there you might ask?  Well I posted a SMARTboard lesson I use to guide students through the process of writing reader response letters.  It is all encompassing and really breaks down and models the process for students.  There is an exemplar response, a rubric, an outline and a suggestion sheet for response topics.

Best of All...THEY ARE FREE!  
Yup, that's right...FREE!   
(No, I am not crazy...I am just not ready to charge anyone for my stuff...not till I get some feedback and see how ya'll like it)  

So...be a pal and head over to my store and tell me how it is!  I really need some feedback, since I am just flying by the seat of my pants with this whole thing!  

In other news...my class is slowly coming back together as a team.  The weather was so beautiful today that we went outside and did some team building activities.  It was a great afternoon!  My student teacher starts full take-over in two weeks and then I will have tons of time to figure out this blogging thing, my store and...well...life in general!  (AS IF!)  

Until then...I appreciate all the support!

Happy Reading,


PS - I re-read Huger Games this weekend and am going to see the movie Friday night with a bunch of teachers from school!  WOO HOO!  I also started reading Wonder and am so absorbed in it!  Finally this weekend I finished Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver and am once again frustrated that I will have to wait a year for the sequel!  GRRR...  That was my week in reading!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Almost Done...

Here we are...halfway through the last week of testing!  Only two more math tests and a supplementary reading test left to go!  Woo Hoo!

As I have shared before I am really struggling with the behavior of my students lately.  Heck - who am I kidding!  This group has been a challenge since day one!  You know how you usually have the first week of school with everyone quiet and afraid to put even a toe out of line?  Yea - that didn't happen with this group.  Again - they are GREAT kids...so smart, empathetic, funny!  However, from day one we were working on controlling blurt outs, demonstrating self control and reacting with respect.

I'm a Responsive Classroom trained teacher and I try very hard to use this approach in my teaching - but it just wasn't working!  I felt lost, scared, frustrated...and basically...like a failure.  So last week, we started over...we went right back to the first day of school where we wrote Hopes and Dreams for the school year.  These are supposed to drive all of our work together and ours had fallen by the wayside.  Each of us (students, teachers, student-teacher) did some self reflection and came up with three new goals - one academic, one social and one behavioral.  We discussed these with a buddy and talked about why we made our choices and how they would be helpful.

My new goals are:

  1. Teach creative, meaningful and engaging lessons!
  2. Make time to interact with my students as people!
  3. Stop and Breath before reacting!
The point of this being that we all have something we can do to be better.  I know I contributed to the issues and I took ownership and made a plan to get better.  Each student did that and then we shared and reflected.  Each student wrote these up and decorated a sheet of paper with their new goals and we will put them up in the classroom after testing is over and I can uncover my classroom displays.  

I also made each student a laminated card they can take with them everywhere they go to remind themselves of their goals.  The specialist teachers have really appreciated these!  It gives them something concrete to latch on to when students are struggling with choices.  I also laminated a copy of these cards onto student desks as another reminder.  Again, everything the students did, I did too.  I have a card on my desk and I put my other card on a string around my neck.  When I need to stop and breath - I look at the card.  

Today we sat down and reflected on how we were doing with our new goals.  It was pretty hit or miss...and they knew that.  Following the RC approach, we used our Hopes and Dreams to write a new classroom constitution.  We brainstormed all the things we could do (from a positive stance) to help ourselves achieve our goals.  We then simplified and compiled these into four overall classroom expectations.  My student teacher wrote these up into a new classroom constitution, which we all signed.  

Our new classroom constitution says:

We, the students of room 48, in order to form a more perfect classroom, establish the following expectations:
  1. Follow directions the first time.
  2. Demonstrate self-control.
  3. Be respectful to all people.
  4. Do your best at all times.
(I'm having technical difficulties and for some reason my camera won't let me get the picture of my new constitution on the computer!  AHHH!  My student teacher did a beautiful job with it!  I wish I could share!)

If you want more info on Responsive Classroom just click the words!
(look at what I learned how to do - a link!)

Additionally, I am reading Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov.  It is a great teacher resource that provides concrete strategies you can use in your class the next day!  I paid specific attention to chapter 6 - which is on "Setting and Maintaining High Behavioral Expectations".  It was a well needed refresher.  The first technique it discusses is 100% - this may sound obvious...but the strategy states 
"There's one acceptable percentage of students following a direction: 100 percent.  Less, and your authority is subject to interpretation, situation, and motivation."  (Lemov, p. 168).

Now, I know this sounds pretty hard-core, but as Lemov explains, your directions are not arbitrary, they are to help all students succeed and they need to be followed.  In the two days since I finished the chapter, my management has gotten back on track and so has the student behavior.  Whew!  Is there a light at the end of this tunnel?!?!

After we live with our new class constitution for a week I will pass out a survey with descriptors for each element of our classroom constitution.  Students will fill out the survey and then I will calculate some percentages and we will use our math knowledge to look for patterns and reflect.

It feels like after drowning in behaviors for the last few weeks, I finally have a plan to get us all back on track.  If I can just make it through March (testing, parent conferences and report cards) I know we will be great!

Thanks for listing to my troubles and my plan!  Ideas and suggestions are more than welcome here...I am always willing to learn!

Happy Teaching!

Monday, March 5, 2012


What a difference an afternoon makes...my post this morning was excited about all of my reading.  This afternoon I am feeling a little down in the dumps.  

My class is giving me a run for my money and I feel like I am out of strategies.  I've asked my administrators to observe me and give feedback, to help me make a plan, and they were great.  I've talked with my kids and we re-wrote our hopes and goals for the rest of the year, made a plan and we will re-do our class constitution.  Yet, directly after this class meeting we had to re-do a transition three times to meet sixth grade expectations.  Oh well...as Scarlet said...Tomorrow is another day

PS - I am so excited to join this linky!  I feel like all of you in blog-land may help me rediscover everything I love about teaching and learning.  I need more positive, energetic and excited people in my life...Thanks!

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I am so excited!  I think I may have figured this out!  WOO HOO!  This week I read some really great books and am starting some new ones too.

Last night I finished Torment by Lauren Kate, the second book in the Fallen series.  I finished Fallen on Saturday - so it must have been a great book if I finished book 2 in a day!  I reminded me quite a bit of Twilight in theme and character.  Luce has some strong similarities to Bella and I am looking forward to suggesting this book to some of the Twi-hards in my class.

I also finished Impulse by Ellen Hopkins.  This was a huge book, written in free-verse poetry about three teenagers who had all attempted to commit suicide.  It was dark, raw and honest.  While I was totally enthralled, I won't be suggesting this to my sixth graders - too dark and scary.

Today I started reading two books for my historical fiction book clubs in class.  I am reading (and loving!) Soldier X by Don Wulffson.  This is about a soldier from Germany in WW2, who gets injured and hides himself as a Russian soldier behind enemy lines.  The author creates the most vivid pictures of the war, without being gory or gross.  In the first 50 pages I was enthralled, surprised and saddened.  I can't wait to discuss this book with my students - I know they will love it!

The second book I am leading in book clubs is War Horse by Michael Morpurgo.  This book is pretty well known - having been re-created into a Tony nominated musical and an Oscar nominated movie.  It is told from the point of view of the horse, Joey, as he travels through WW1.  There are so many characters who move through Joey's life.  So far I am really enjoying it - although I am not finding myself as captivated with Joey's voice as some of my former students were when they read it last year.


As an adult independent reader I am reading Robyn Carr's new book, Hidden Summit.  I love her romance novels - the perfect combination of romance, intrigue, kindness and humor.  I was so excited when my mom bought it and lent it to me!
In other news - we survived our first test this morning and no one cried, threw up or quit.  I guess that qualifies as a success.  All 50 of my students are participating in historical fiction book clubs - which is always an adventure.  In addition to the books mentioned above we are reading:

  • Yellow Star - Jennifer Roy (MY FAVORITE!!!)
  • A Boy at War - Harry Mazar
  • Code Talker - Joseph Bruchac 
  • Saving Zasha - Randi Barrow
  • Milkweed - Jerry Spinelli
  • Private Peaceful - Michael Morpurgo
  • Number the Stars - Louis Lowrey
  • The Watsons Go to Birmingham 1963 - Christopher Paul Curtis
Happy Reading!


Saturday, March 3, 2012

Duh, Duh, Duh....Testing Begins...

Yup, that's right.  Standardized testing begins on Monday with an Editing and Revising test.  Over the last 8 years of my teaching career I have slowly fallen into that pattern of teaching to the test.  Yes, I admit it, I do teach to the test.  I swore up and down as a pre-service and beginning teacher that I would never teach to the test; that only (insert negative adjective here) teachers did that.  It has always been my belief that if I was teaching quality, motivating, engaging and meaningful lessons to my students, they would of course succeed on the test.  However, as the years have gone on, I have seen that my students need to be actively prepared for the assessment.

Basically - here's the gist of it.  The test isn't really an authentic assessment of what I teach my students or of the amazing learning and growth the accomplish over the course of the year.  Since the test doesn't accurately assess them, it's not fair for me to let them be blindsided by the questions.  Therefore, I have to teach to the test for a short period of time.

And...I HATE it!  There is nothing enjoyable about teaching students how to respond to an open-ended reading question.  There is nothing authentic in that experience.  As a passionate, adult reader I never answer questions like that in writing.  I don't follow a response format. However, it must be done on the test.  I do my best to make the learning fun, but as we get closer and closer to those tests, the pressure builds and I feel the weight of it on my shoulders, almost like Harry Potter seeing the Death Eaters or the black shadows that haunt Luce in Fallen by Lauren Kate.

I've decided two things:

1.  I can't get rid of them...so I can only do my best to help my students beat them.  How do I do that?  I use a ton of resources written by the amazing...Nancy Boyles!  Check them out...they are really clear, concise and easy to implement in the classroom.

2.  I have to motivate my kids and bring a sense of fun to the whole thing.  To that end I made my students little bags of peppermints with tags on them that say, "You were "mint" to succeed, so do your best on this test!" I am hoping these will help ease the tension and bring a smile to my kiddo's faces on Monday.

How do you prepare your kids for the standardized tests that plague our schools?  Any great resources or strategies?  I would love to hear them!

Happy Testing - Jenny

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Oh What A Day!

It was quite a day!  My student teacher has taken over the majority of the day, so I just taught a CMT review session and then watched her work...she was great.  

Of course...then we had the incident that lead to this little injury.

Oh well...what can you do, right?  He's a great kid and he has plenty of intelligence so a little cut won't hurt him too badly!  Right?!  Here's hoping we can avoid any more injuries and make it through CMTs unscathed!

Mid-Week Madness

Crazy!  We've been back from February Break for 2.5 days (we had an early dismissal day yesterday) and I am already feeling stressed about the upcoming Connecticut Mastery Testing.  Isn't it funny how fast all that stress comes right back to you?

I dragged my (fabulous) student teacher out to the Dollar Tree yesterday in search of new book bins for our library and found the cutest bins!  I am going to try and upload a picture.  They didn't have enough for my entire library...I mean, I have almost 2000 books, so I need a LOT of bins.  Did you know you can order from Dollar Tree online?  You can buy entire crates of a product (still only $1!)  and have them shipped to the store nearest you.  I didn't find the same bins, but I did find some that were similar and I think I may order them.  I think this discovery might be bad for my wallet!

In other news, I finished Day-To-Day Assessment in the Reading Workshop and was so glad I re-read it.  There were so many fabulous ideas that I had forgotten about from five years ago when I first read the book.  Right away Monday morning I started creating assessment webs for each of my students.  I will post a copy here.  Now that these are finished I feel so much more prepared for conferences at the end of this month!
(sorry...I can't figure out how to rotate it yet...I'm pretty proud I figured out how to upload at all!)

 I also really love how the authors create "preview-packets" for books they are going to read-aloud to the class.  These packs include the front cover of the book, the back blurb, any reviews or quotes that are included in the book, reviews from places like amazon.com or Horn Book, and the first few pages of the book.  What a great way to get students to actively preview a book!  I can't wait to try this when we start our next read-aloud!

My student teacher is getting ready to start our next round of Book Clubs - this time focused on Historical Fiction.  Maybe I will suggest to her that each group should start with a preview packet, before they read their first chunk.  Maybe she could also include some background information on each time-period so that the students had a starting point with the genre.  Ooooohhhh!  Ideas are just flowing out of my finger tips this morning!

I feel like maybe this blogging thing might really help me figure it out a lot about my teaching and I am so excited to share my thinking with you all!

Once our next round of book clubs start up I will post about how I structure those...this really is a huge component of reading instruction in 6th grade!

PS - Any suggestions about blog design?  If I wanted to get a really cute blog designed for me...who should I check out?  Thanks!