Thursday, August 29, 2013

Open House!!

I had so much fun between 11-12noon today! I met most of my students and their families (all but 6 I think). One just moved here from Paris! I can't wait to show him Anne's blog so he can show me on the map where he lived. On all their desks I placed a sheet of paper where I snagged the twitter page and I asked them to write a tweet - something they are doing now, did over the summer, or plan to do this weekend. ALL their writing was so purposeful!! Since twitter asks you to write about what is happening right now, one student was very literal and wrote "I am writing this and then going to see my sister's classroom". Others wrote about places they went this summer or things they will do this weekend. A few wrote how excited they are about being in 4th grade!!

So far, only one parent has asked to follow us. I hope more do. Maybe I should sent home a "gift" for following us?? Something cheap but an incentive to get others to follow us. Maybe a feather with a thank you! I could look at Michaels.

I am thinking that my Teacher Research question will be "What happens when a 4th grade teacher using twitter in the classroom?" I can do more research about ways to use it. I can survey the kids. I am really excited about this use of technology. It dawned on me that it is a great way to spend time reading. It is a great structure to ensure that the writer is being concise and can summarize and share just the big ideas. So fun!!

After just one hour with my class, I know I am going to have a blast this year as a 4th grade teacher!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Room 121

I spent all yesterday afternoon and then most of today (until the custodians said I had to leave at 7:30pm) getting my 4th grade classroom looking organized and inviting. Open House is Thursday at 11am. A few more hours tomorrow after county meetings and I'll be ready to invite my 28 students into the room and then our adventure begins!!

I got approval to have a classroom twitter account. We can be followed @MsD4thgrade.
My goal is to post a tweet a day, a summary of something that happened.
And I just taught myself (using the Help button on Twitter) how to post a photo to twitter.
So easy!

I added pictures of the smartest educators I know (Lucy, Carl, Kathleen, Jen, Ellin, and Annie) with a wise saying within their speak bubble. They hang above the smartboard watching over us, reminding me to teach well!

I foresee exciting things happening this school year in Room 121!!

Saturday, August 24, 2013


It was optional for me to come to the New Teacher Orientation because I am not a new teacher and I am not new to the district. But I am new to this school so I am so glad I came. I got to hear the vision of the Principal. He really cares a lot - about ensuring that teachers have the resources they need, about providing a clean, happy place where kids learn and about the environment. The gardens at this school ROCK!! It is truly a campus and is so beautiful!! There are many outside spaces that I will be taking my students to go OUT to read and write outside!!

I still haven't set up my room yet...
Again, I walked in and then walked out.... Again, I was distracted by teaching the last writing class and I also had to present to a group of teachers about Teacher Research, another hat I wear in the county. I am lucky to be in a county that supports professional development by encouraging you to be a teacher researcher. The county pays me hourly to be the county voice of Teacher Research! So off I went to another school to explain the process to a group of teachers who just won a grant for iPads in the classroom so they plan to spend the year reflecting on What happens when iPads are used in a science class? Half way there, I realized my phone was back in the Writing Classroom. Ugh. My phone is a phone, but also my GPS, my watch, my timers, and the only way for my family to reach me. I felt so unconnected - a bit naked! So, instead of using the few hours I had after my meetings to get busy in my room, I retrieved my phone and ordered pizza for the Friday Night dinner!

However, I awoke and started to map out a room arrangement. I am lucky to be in a room that is HUGH!! And a whole wall of bright windows with the Peace Garden outside the window!! I decided on Monday I will take the rocking chair and another chair we don't use at home anymore to my classroom. I already took 2 rugs that we don't use anymore. I think these pieces will help the room feel homey!! Monday morning I plan to arrive at 7am and get busy. Finally!! The focus has arrived!

I also awoke thinking about how to use twitter in the classroom. I have two ideas. I googled and found lots of cool things being done with twitter in classrooms. The most inspiring was a Canadian 1st grade classroom.

Mrs. Cassidy is doing amazing things. They used twitter as Shared Reading! All the kids have their own blog! I just peeked at a few and am blown away by all they are producing! They make videos and sent class tweets and they are 1st graders!! I am following her now on twitter and think I can learn lots from her.

I also think I will invite those people who have taken my writing class to my personal twitter account. I think I could daily post my writing teaching point and then an image, like the anchor chart I used or student writing or my conference notes or a video of a conference. This could be a really powerful way to improve my teaching of teachers!! I'm excited. I am so glad I am going to be a 4th grade teacher this school year!!!!

Thursday, August 22, 2013


Tomorrow at 8am I will be welcomed by my new administration and my mentor! That gives me just 15 hours. Then I begin another school year, another year of teaching. I actually was at my school all week this week. I was teaching a writing class to a group of teachers at my new school. I was teaching right across the hall from my new classroom. Yet, I was so focused (distracted) by the class, that I did NOTHING to set up the new room. I only taught from 12-3pm so I could have taken some time and got started. I think part of me feels a little numb by this new move to classroom teacher. Another part of me is probably overconfident in my teaching ability. Lots of teachers have been in to get their room set up. I feel strongly that I am NOT going to decorate without my students helping. It is OUR room and together we need to co-construct the spaces. I guess I do need to plan out the spaces and even plan out the first week of lessons I want to do for reading and writing workshop. And I want to take the idea that I am standing on the shoulders of the greats at TCRWP so I plan to hang up quotes to remind me of why I am teaching the way I am teaching.
  • Writing can change the world - Lucy Calkins; I want to share her video during week 1 and do a writing on-demand the first day.
  • You need to celebrate writing! - Lea Mercantani (my first small group instructor!); I want to publish I AM poems the first week! Then get busy on writing personal narratives.
  • We need to use technology to produce! - Cornelius Miner; I want to send a tweet a day and maybe post the "trending" topics we are covering. This will be a way to connect to our families. I also want the kids to publish on a class blog.
  • Talking it out shows you understand. - Ellin Keene; I want to give all a reading partner and a writing partner and time to turn and talk!
  • How's it going? - Carl; I'll start all my conferences this way and not leave for the day unless all my conference notes are completed.
  • When writing nonfiction/informational writing, it needs to be grounded in what we know. Then we research to fill in the holes - Colleen Cruz; I will follow Colleen's structure for teaching nonfiction writing unit!
  • Students need to be taught the complexities of a text level - Jen Serravallo; I will push myself to know the nuances of each level and teach into the skills needed to move them the next level.
  • As a reader, you need to build a reading life - Kathleen Tolan; I will ensure that ALL are growing as readers.
I feel better now thinking that I am not teaching 4th grade alone. I have a huge team to rely on for help and this team is SO smart!!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Back to the classroom

August 13, 2013               
Today, I sat in what will be my 4th grade classroom for the 2013-14 school year today. The last time I was a classroom teacher, it was June, 2003. I left to be a leader of literacy and I have acted as the Reading Teacher for the past 10 years in three different schools – two years in the school I am now returning to, six in a school I still love and I am very proud of all I did to grow the staff as literacy teachers, and then two at a school up the road that is aiming to teach using the reading and writing workshop model.

Why back to the classroom? 
Because I finally understand how reading and writing are to be taught in ES and I want to be a workshop teacher, or at least try to be. For the past five summers, I have spent at least one whole week at Teachers College attending their Summer Institutes. First, Mary Erhenhart, and Leah Mercantani, led by Lucy Calkins taught me how to write and then how to teach students how to write. I began my first Writers Notebook. That next school year, I practiced what I knew from the week and then from reading, reading, reading all the Units of Study for Teaching Writing books. I returned 2 more summers to learn more about how to teach writing - how to teach other units besides personal narrative small moments and how to conference well. Then I tackled learning Reading Workshop. I see reading as harder because it is not visible, like writing. But Kathleen Tolan and Maggie are great teachers and reading workshop now makes sense to me. I returned one more time this summer for Writing because the Project published new grade-specific writing kits. I purchased my own kit for 4th grade. Last week in NY, I learned so much about using this kit and also about giving explicit feedback. I can't wait to use this new writing knowledge!

Why leave being a Reading Teacher?
As a Reading Teacher, my job was to support all teachers, K-6 and this became overwhelming. It seems too much to juggle. So now, selfishly, I want to just juggle one grade and see if, day-in and day-out, I CAN teach using the reading and writing workshop structure. I also came back to this school so the Reading Teacher, who is my friend, can use my classroom as a model - a labsite - to teach other teachers how to teach reading and writing workshop. I am excited to be a part of a labsite setup! Right in front of the kids, we will also teach teachers through demonstrations and then will give them time to practice in my room. Excited times ahead.

Today I unpacked LOTS of boxes of books that I leveled as I packed them up in June. As I removed them from the boxes, I laid them in leveled piles on the floor. At a glance, it looks more like I should be teaching 5th grade, not 4th. I have many more T-W books. But that's OK. I will just utilize the unlimited checkout policy at Arlington Public library and get the books that 4th graders want and need. And the T-Z books can remain in the boxes. It seems that I need to beef up levels M-S but that will be fun to explore and gather.

I read for the first time, Jen Seravallo's book Conferring with Readers this weekend and it is the perfect refresher of what I need to be doing in Reading Workshop. Then today I made a document to share with my old school (and with my new teammates!) that outlines the lessons in Building a Reading Life by Kathleen Tolan. I am getting excited about Reading Workshop. I am nervous about notetaking and record keeping but I will just work at it. Since I know these kids are mine, I will be motivated to keep strong notes. And since teachers will be coming in to watch and learn with me, I will be pushed to be a strong model.

Looking back, as a classroom teacher before, I was great at reading-aloud to my students and I always did all I could to engage them in reading and in authors. Yet, I did not explicitly teach them reading lessons. ALL in the room read the stories in the basal and answered questions. I did not know to encourage talking about books. I did not know to level a library and assess to know what kind of reader each student was. I did not know how to explicitly teach how to read each genre. And I did not have to give state standardized tests. As I was leaving the classroom, No Child Left Behind began and the world of testing started. What a different world now.

As I sat in my new classroom today, I felt confident. I know so much more about how to teach reading and writing workshop. My goal is to help a group of 4th graders become independent readers who will come to understand that they read to know how to live their life. And they write because they have stories that only they can tell. They can put their thoughts and ideas into words and actually change their world. I feel quite honored that I get to facilitate such work this year!!

I also realize that I need to be diplomatic as a team member. Today a colleague shared an electronic reading log using Google Docs and I loved seeing it. I am very interested in using technology in RW and WW whenever I can. Yet, as he described how and when the kids used it and how the teachers checked it, it clearly seemed like it was an assignment and not a tool to help a student be a stronger reader. I see the power in reading logs. Just as a runner records his times and studies it to see patterns and to plan his next workout, a reading log helps a student make visible the volume of his reading and the kind of reading he is doing. This data can help to set his next goal and be a tool to grow him as a reader. I believe in reading logs. I've kept one this past year and as I studied it, I set new goals and I grew as a reader. I am not using a log just as an assignment. I foresee many team discussions in my future with me asking WHY would we do it like that? I just need to remember that once, I was that teacher who didn't know any better. Now, thanks to TCRWP, I know SOOOOO much. And I am committed to using what I know. But I need to balance that by being a good teammate.

I also need to balance using technology. This school provides me the opportunity to have a laptop for each student in my room all-day, every day. The kids I will teach are 9 and 10 years old. They were born in 2003/2004 and their world is computers. I want to embrace that but always in a purposeful way!