Saturday, June 13, 2015

Writing Portfolio Celebration!

My school has writing portfolios. Each year, favorite narrative, nonfiction and opinion writing pieces are placed in a brown, accordion folder. These folders are first added to in Kindergarten are then added to again and again, year after year through 5th grade.

As a 5th grade writing teacher, it was such a treat to give out these Writing Portfolios to the 5th graders for their final addition and final reflection. For many, they have been at my school since Kindergarten and they received a quite full, accordion folder! First, I gave them 20 minutes just to look back and enjoy all their pieces. Here's a video showing their pure joy of seeing all that they had written over the past 6 years:  

Then to celebrate, I asked them to pick ONE piece. Together we listened as they completed these sentences: I picked a piece of writing that I wrote in ______ grade.
I picked it because ___________.

What an amazing class period!!

I will admit that keeping writing portfolios is a big task for a school of 700 students. It is time-consuming to keep these portfolios and costly to purchase. Class time is needed to pick and get the pieces into the folders. Then time, as well as physical space, is needed to store them over the summer. Then more time to redistribute them to the next year's teacher as a new school year begins. Plus, time to make new ones for new students to the school.

However, after seeing my 5th graders interacting with them as they end their time at my school, it is DEFINITELY time and money well-spent!!

Does your school keep writing portfolios? If not, think about starting. Sure, it is one more thing to spend time and funds on but I am convinced. It is worth the time!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

New Fav Day - Independent Writing Publishing Party!

I know Colleen Cruz has a new writing book out and I highly recommend that you get it and read it: The Unstoppable Writing Teacher

However, be sure to also read Independent Writing by Colleen Cruz
I did and then used it as my guide for a final, quarter-long homework assignment for my 5th grade writers.

This was my handout I created using Colleen as my guide:

After students told me the genre they wanted to write in, I made posters in the room, listing all their names and adding old anchor charts used earlier in the school year related to that genre. I teach four groups of 5th graders and now we all knew who else in the 5th grade was writing in the same genre as us and we had TIPS right in front of us to remind us of how to write well in this genre.

When it was time to pick a mentor, I conferred with those who were having trouble and offered suggestions. I made sure to bring in newspapers, comics, and cookbooks from home, as these were genres kids were also choosing.

Then I got out of the way!!

I allowed for Fridays to be class days to work on this project and was available for a conference but I did just get out of the way!!

Then June 1st came and projects were turned in. Some needed help to print their amazing work. so I helped. Some needed extra time on the 1st and 2nd during lunch to finish, so I gave it.

Then on Wednesday, June 3rd, we had the MOST amazing Independent Writing Publishing Party!!!!!

I teach 78 fifth graders so I sorted all 78 projects by genre into these groups:

I arranged the room to be table clusters without chairs and then added some chairs along the back wall only.

When classes arrived, we gathered on the carpet and I told them: "This room is filled with amazing writing work written by the entire 5th grade class. You have the class period to wander the room, that thanks to your writing has been transformed into more of a bookstore, just like Politics and Prose (our local Independent Bookstore)! Just like Politics and Prose, the writing is displayed by genre. Please feel free to read as many of the pieces as possible. If you pick up a piece of writing, you can go find a chair and sit and read. Then be sure to return it to the same place for others to find and enjoy. Try to get to every section of our bookstore today!"

Then for the next 40 minutes, we just READ!!!

I really felt like I got to spend four class periods at a bookstore. But instead of reading published authors, I was reading 5th graders writing in a genre they chose and passionately spent time writing! Wednesday, June 3rd is now my new favorite day as the Janney 5th grade writing teacher!!

Special thanks to Colleen Cruz and her book, Independent Writing. I followed your suggestions and the students chose a genre to write in and SOARED!!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Almost June 1st...15 more days of school

I did write my end of year LETTER to the students!
I did start report card comments.
I did start report card grades.
I did make a reflection sheet for students to use as they look back on ALL their writing this year.

And I had the students write a HAIKU about our school, Janney and then made them a Collection of Haiku booklet!! While the students worked independently on their independent project on Friday, I worked on ensuring ALL haiku poems were written and after school, I headed to the xerox machine to make 90 books!! I look forward to distributing them to the students on Monday. I am proud of this LAST published writing of our year!

Here are a few of the poems:

A Student Blossoms

I blossom like a

Flower planted in Janney's

Nurturing soil

- Sasha Code

Picture Day

Is my hair okay?

Is there spinach in my teeth?

SNAP! Oh well, too late

- Maija Lindy

Janney's Animals

Blue eggs in a tree

I've seen the chickens pecking

Strolled past the bee's comb

- Sydney Janssen

First Days

The first day of school

I'm feeling kind of nervous

New friends await me

- Ellie Bijeau

I trip and fall - pain

A stranger helps me up - thanks

I like Janney kids

-Matias Facchinato-Sitja

New sprouts were planted,

Now, they are large. They've grown.

We have grown as well.

- Oscar Ertman

It's so beautiful

A symphony of color

the Janney garden

-Hugo Filmer

Teachers, numerous

Experiences, millions

Friends, uncountable

-       Annie McLean

Bright-eyed and eager

Ready to explore the world

Thanks to Janney School

-Maya Landweber

Saturday, May 23, 2015

PARCC test is over...boring week as a teacher

At my school, I must proctor the giving of the PARCC test in a 4th grade classroom, while the 4th grade writing teacher gives the test to my homeroom students.

So on Monday, I went to my classroom and wrote the agenda on the board for my 5th graders, left out a handful of possible picture book read-alouds and the Monday activity the class was to work on.

Then I went to the 4th grade classroom and began setting out the computers and went to the office to receive my testing tickets and seal code. Once the students arrived, I got to WATCH them take their ELA PARCC test for 75 minutes. BORING.

Then the class went to specials and lunch and in the afternoon, I watch/guided them to do the independent assignment left for them. I ended the day on Monday, feeling exhausted and thankful I am not a substitute teacher every day. Too BORING. Also, very frustrating to not really know the kids, who they work well with, who distracts them. Obviously I discovered information about the kids quickly, but all very tiring.

Tuesday and Wednesday...more of the same with the students taking the 2-day Math PARCC.

Then on Thursday I returned to my 5th graders. Yet, it felt like it did after retrieving my own children after they spent a weekend with grandma. I called it deprogramming. All those behaviors grandma allowed, I didn't and I remember wondering if it was worth it to take time away from them. Thursday felt like a day of reminding the 5th graders how to act kindly and respectfully because time with another teacher seemed to change them into students who didn't remember any of our classroom community rules. Thursday was also a day for the 5th graders to pilot the Science PARCC test...90 minutes of watching them...BLAH...

Friday wasn't even a back to normal day. The morning was Science Fair share and a session with the counselor to practice opening a middle school lock. The afternoon was time for those that still hadn't opened that lock to open it and then their Human Growth and Development talk with the nurse (Girls) and PE teacher (boys). So a day of really just herding my students and no teaching. It was a double special day which meant a double planning day with my writing team. We took our meeting across the street to include lunch and had a great time reflecting on the year and thinking about the next year.

Now it is Memorial Day Weekend and 19 more days of school.
4 weeks.

We will finish up our Poetry Unit.
We will share our Independent Writing Projects.
We will go on a 3-day, 2-night camping trip (I wish I was more excited about this...)
We will prepare for the Promotion.

This weekend, I will begin to draft the final report card comments.
This weekend, I will write questions to guide our writing reflection.
This weekend, I will write the students a final letter of thanks for a great year.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

It's May....Finally fitting in a Poetry Unit of Study

Our Memoir unit ended the last Friday in April. The final On-Demands needed to be completed before PARCC. A week of science writing to support the 5th grade Science Fair occurred last week. Next week is the PARCC. Then in June, the 5th grade takes a 3-day camping trip. As I was planning for what to teach in May and June, Poetry seemed the best answer with all the interruptions. My workshop plan became to treat each day as a chance to immerse the students in a poet's writing, then time for them to draft. After PARCC, I'll provide time for them to choose at least one poem to revise, edit and publish. So far, fitting in poetry in this busy May/June time has worked out beautifully.

I didn't grow up loving poetry. In fact, thanks to high school, I only have bad memories associated with poetry, specifically related to The Wasteland by T.S. Eliot and The Red Wheelbarrel by William Carlos Williams. It wasn't until I read Love That Dog by Sharon Creech that finally I came to enjoy poetry. Its character, Jack, helped me to just enjoy the sound and look of poems and not feel stupid when I didn't get a poems meaning.

Now I enjoy teaching poetry to my students and sharing ways that have worked for me with colleagues. In fact a week ago Friday I presented to a group of teachers at our DC3 Share Conference. To prepare for that presentation, I gathered all the resources I have used over the years. I wrote about this HERE back in Dec, 2011 when teaching another group of colleagues.

At that time, J. Patrick Lewis was just named our National Children's Poet Laureate and knowing the job is for two years, I realized I hadn't kept up and I did not know who the current National Children's Poet Laureate was. I quickly googled and discovered Kenn Nesbitt. WOW! His website is FILLED with great resources. In fact, on Thursday, I just opened his Haiku Lesson Plan on the smartboard, read it to the class and then they spent 15 minutes writing amazing haiku poems! This website is now added to my growing list of great poetry sites.

Another great poetry unit addition is Chris Lehman. He now has a total of 6 videos  - 3 from last April and 3 more from this April. He runs a Poetry Workshop that is recorded and archived.
2014 Sessions found here
2015 Sessions found here

A final additional resource I discovered were the many additions to the ReadWriteThink website.
I knew about the shape poems - click here
Now they also have:

I also discovered a that poet, Helen Frost, had written a new picture book poem called:
I love ALL Helen's books written in verse. I think of her as a genius novel-prose writer!
Helen's website
We plan to have our 5th grades perform this poem, Sweep Up the Sun during our Promotion ceremony! I recommend read it and viewing the amazing photography by Rick Lieder as well.

I'm so glad I keep looking for resources to teach many great many great poems!

Saturday, May 2, 2015

It's May - time for EOY On-Demands

During the first week of school, I had my 5th graders do On-Demands across three school days. That is what TCRWP call it when you give students one class period to write in one class period showing all they know about a genre. One day was narrative, then essay, and finally informational.

Tuesday, I had the students write an informational on-demand.
I showed them this slide:
I placed the 5th grade information writing checklist out on tables for students to reference (from Pathways book by Lucy Calkins that we used this year).

As they wrote, I took these notes:
* When I offered my IEP students the choice of paper and pencil OR computer, all picked computer
* More reluctant writers wrote a How To...I wonder if I modeled enough for them how to more away from How To to now write All About.
* All 79 students were told on Monday they could bring in an article to reference as they wrote and 5 did.
* My most struggling writer who was new to our school and writing workshop spent 5 minutes orally practicing what he could write about. He picked Kinds of Bikes and then he spent 40 minutes writing a whole page, using headings and only one trip to the bathroom. Hurrah!! I gave him a high-five as he handed it in and told him how proud I was of his writing. (Back in September, he wrote 1 sentence).
* I noticed lots chose to write an All About a sport they know or an animal they have written about before or about the AMerican History topic they wrote about back in March.

I worry that these writers keep writing about the same nonfiction topic and aren't able to transfer their informational writing to a new topic.
 - maybe I don't model writing informational writing enough
 - maybe I don't encourage them to write about a NEW topic
    - we allow CHOICe but if they always choose the SAME topic, are they growing??
 - Maybe I need to read and write more informational writing myself. I'll admit, it is NOT my favorite. OR it is just not what I have practiced.

I WILL work on this so I can be a better teacher of informational writing!!!
My students are working on an independent writing project...I am going to do an independent project too and it WILL be an informational piece. I'll head to the library TODAY to get books to read and act as mentor text so I can write an informational piece!!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Memoir Publishing Party - SUCCESS!!

I won't deny that it was wonderful to have Spring Break last week and that it was a little hard to return to school after a week off.

Well, not quite a week. I actually spent the first weekend completing grades and report card comments. I clocked the time again and it was only 10 additional hours from the 20 spent last Advisory. How did I cut the time in half? From the start of Advisory 3, I ONLY kept electronic notes! It was much easier to cut and paste since I recorded my observations/comments all quarter long electronically in a spreadsheet. Technology can cause me to work smarter and not harder!

Once back on Monday, I did an editing revision lesson based on seeing Mary Ehrenworth at TCRWP October, 2014 Saturday Reunion give a workshop on punctuation.

I used her slide:
Then I asked a student if I could use a part of his hockey writing and he agreed:

The take-away for the kids after our discussion of these 2 slides was that when we edit, we make sure to use punctuation and capital letters. But, now as 5th graders, we can step it up and try out different kinds of punctuation (like Mary did) and also try out different ways to vary our sentences to create a pace (like the 5th grader did).

We spent Tuesday finishing our annotations and printing another copy to hold and read from for the Publishing Party and then one annotated in the hallway.

Wednesday was Earth Day so we had only 30 minute periods due to our Walking Fieldtrip to pick up trash at the park in the neighborhood. I tried something new. I asked the students to reflect on their memoir and to specifically think about what they know they really worked on in structure, development AND conventions. Prior goal-settings, I had them pick ONE skill from any of the three areas and place their name ONCE on the classboard. This time I gave them 3 strips to write their name on and pick the 3 areas they were proud of for working on in this piece.
(The 1st period class is green, 2nd - blue, 3rd - red and 4th - orange. I am purple!)

I collected their memoirs and realized I needed to publish these as a class collection. They had worked so hard to combine all they knew about narrative writing and essay writing and had written amazing memoirs. I stayed Wednesday late and after the faculty meeting, I got the copiers going! After making a cover, I ran 30 copies of each for my four classes. The collections were btwn 30-40 pages each so I bought a stapler that can staple 60 pages and by Thursday night, I had a memoir book to distribute to each 5th grader at the publishing party.
I took this picture to show that thanks to Lucy's book, Shaping Text
four new memoir collections exist!!

On Thursday, we practiced for Friday by reading it aloud with a partner. Our partner was to listen and ensure that we used expression and used a loud enough voice. Then the listener practiced asking questions using the questioning cards. I modeled this first by reading my memoir with LOTS of expression and answering the questions from the comment cards politely.
I also asked who thought they would have a parent or grandparent come. I spent Thursday night (after stapling was done) making groups. I wanted to group the kids into 6 groups - 4 in the classroom spend out and then 2 groups in the hallway so we would be spread out and could hear the reader. And I wanted to ensure parents would be with each group. I prepared this handout for the parents because I wanted them to share a memory during the Publishing Party, too.
Friday was my favorite celebration yet!! WHY?
* I loved that there was time for each kid to read their meaningful memoir aloud.
* I love that so many parents/grandparents came (even my sister and mom came!)
* I love that the adults shared meaningful memories with their table group with many writing 6-word memoirs!
* I loved hearing students and parents say so many specific comments about how a writer crafted their memoir.
* I loved all the smiles each student reader had after they finished reading and sat and listened to their table group talk about their writing.
* I loved that the table groups started to sound a bit like a book club discussion...and the "book" was something written by one of my powerful!!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

I'm on SPRING BREAK...finally!

I changed school systems this year. For the past 20 years, my spring break was always the week before or after Easter. This year, it is now - a full week beyond what was a late Easter. So I am feeling ready. I do think that as a teacher, you get used to pushing through, knowing a break is in site. Sadly, my first day of break,, yesterday, I awoke at 5:30am and went to Starbucks with my computer and spent 5 hours completing the 3rd Advisory report card comments. They are due the Monday we return from break and I was determined to enjoy my break and not spend it doing school work. So now comments are done! Grades are inputted into the online computer program! The week back is planned with time to edit our memoirs and a Publishing Party on that first Friday back. And then plans to teach Poetry! So, yes, on this Sunday, I AM feeling like I am FINALLY on Spring Break.

Looking back on the week, I LOVE teaching memoir!! I am using the 5th grade Shaping Texts book in Lucy's new Units of Study for Teaching Writing. On the resource disk is a great 3-column checklist showing the skills for narrative, essay and memoir. I personally used the memoir checklist to figure out how to write my memoir.
I read the under STRUCTURE how the lead should go and then wrote my lead. I then looked under DEVELOPMENT and read how my evidence of my idea can be a micro-story. Then I wrote my micro-story. Then I looked under STRUCTURE to see how the conclusion could go and wrote my conclusion. And I showed my students in a mini-lesson each day how I did these 3 steps and then they got busy typing with their checklist nearby.

When I attended the TCRWP Saturday Reunion, I heard Shana Frazin give a a workshop and modeled a revision inquiry lesson. So I channeled her on Thursday and led my class through the lesson just as she did during the workshop. (Click HERE and scroll to #4 to read about Shana's workshop) My kids gave responses just as expected. At the beginning, revision was generally described - "fixing it up", "making the story better" . At the end, they were specific - "adding reasons, dialogue", "adding inner thinking, slower pace, description, dialogue, actions and reasons". I loved how, through inquiry, we defined revision and then got busy revising!

We had started this unit by reading and annotating memoirs. That got me thinking that now we have written a memoir - why not annotate it?! So I had the early finishers on Friday begin to tape their memoir to colored construction paper and use markers to annotate it. They enjoyed this colorful step and I plan to hang them in the hall for others to see.

Their memoirs are really brilliant! These 5th graders, who have been in writing workshop since Kindergarten really are amazing writers. And then really can look back on their long life of 11 years and notice a pattern and a lesson learned. And they can write strong micro-stories as evidence of their big idea. So fun! I decided on Friday that I will compile these stories into a class book and spend the time to make the xerox copies. The kids will enjoy getting this as a gift. I am not sure if I can get the copies made for the Friday Publishing Party but I am going to do it. They deserve to be a part of a book of memoirs!

A final lesson I shared related to the TITLE. I am familiar with the webiste - 6 Word Memoir
I suggested that the students think about a title and push themselves to say it in 6 words, maybe try on a few titles and pick one. Here's Rachel doing this...which title do you like best?!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

It"s April!

What a week!!

Monday we took a break from Memoir because we got letters from our Pen Pals in France! I let the classes have the class period to read their letter and start to write back. The letters we got had photos and drawing included so I made it homework that the students would also draw or get a photo from home and add a caption. Monday's engagement in writing and creativity shown through words and pictures is strong evidence of how important authentic writing is. Because a student in France was going to read this letter and we had a letter asking us questions to respond to, my writers on Monday were so engaged and wrote long and strong and took time to spell correctly. Monday was a fun writing day!

Tuesday we took a break from Memoir writing because it was the last day of March and we were celebrating that I wrote every day in March as part of the TwoWritingTeacher's March Writing Challenge. More about that celebration is posted HERE.

Wednesday we got back to Memoir. I LOVE TCRWP!! The 5th grade Units for teaching writing workshop kit disk had a document that listed the checklist for narrative, essay and memoir in one grid across three columns! I took this and pasted the narrative and essay columns with skills listed to construction paper. I then cut up the memoir skills and placed them in an envelop. When classes arrived on Wed, I gave each table the construction poster and an envelop. Then took turns reading the skills for memoir writing and together decided where the skills went - under structure, development or conventions. I liked that all took see again how memoir is a combination of narrative and essay since the skill cards they were reading showed this. Then they spent the remainder of class rereading entries to see patterns across stories so they could pick their memoir idea and the storied they could tell as evidence of this idea. I love the MEMOIR CHECKLIST!!

Thursday, I modeled how I decided to write my lead. Since I honestly wasn't sure but I now had on my checklist what a lead is in memoir, I decided to look at the 6 mentor texts we had read. I typed up all 6 leads. During the mini-lesson, I read them and asked, did this author write a lead based on our checklist (I gave each student a checklist that just had the memoir skills on it)? Each time we could see how that author was stating an idea and was talking about their life and some were foreshadowing the story to come. Then I shared my lead and a plan of where I'd go next and my co-teacher's lead and a plan of where she'd go next.

Then I sent the writers off to write their lead and plan in their notebooks. Once it was there, they could go get a computer and start typing fast and furiously. As Thursday ended, most had their lead typed. Many had 2 paragraphs typed. All agreed to live with their memoir plan over the long weekend (no writing class on Friday due to half-day and no class on Monday as no school). On Tuesday, I plan to remind them of the process - writing a lead and then developing the stories as evidence for the idea. I plan to show them how I have drafted out my memoir. Then tell them to get busy typing!! That draft needs to get into the computer so the fun time of revision can occur!!

The plan is to revise next week - then have Spring Break - then have time to edit - then publish on Friday, April 24th. I got the idea to invite parents and grandparents and have them bring a memory with them, too. On the flier announcing the Memoir Publishing Party, I added:
Visitors are encouraged to complete this sentence to share:
“Looking back, I remember ___ and I realize now that _____.”
OR share a 6-word memoir (
I am loving this memoir unit!!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

March 29 - Still enjoying Memoir Unit

On Monday, the students shared their posters. When not sharing, the students took notes. They thought more about: What is memoir? What could memoir be? What is memoir NOT? and we charted this information.

Through this inquiry process, the 5th graders understand that memoir is both personal narrative and essay based on their past and the ideas related to that past memory or memories. They know it could include other genres like poetry, but doesn't have to. They know it is NOT fiction.

We then spent time on Tue-Thur generating MORE stories and ideas in our notebook after I shared and my co-partner shared the stories we have written (many from our Slice of Life work during the March Writing Challenge by TwoWritingTeachers!) As my co-teacher and I reflected Friday morning, we felt that they could use some guidance to get more into their notebook before having them choose and begin to draft. We realized that many were drafting long stories each day and not generating LOTS of story/idea to get more into the notebook in order to interpret for patterns and possible memoir drafts.

So, I decided to spend the whole class guiding the groups through QUICK WRITES.

1.Think of a person you spend time with and a memory you have spending time with that person.
I showed these sentence stems and told them to write:
Once I was with _____. I remember ____. I felt ____.

After about 4 minutes, I told them to draw a line.
2. Now think of a place you spend time. It can be a place in the neighborhood, a place you get to by car, train or airport. I showed these sentence stems and told them to write:
Once I went to _____. I remember _____. I felt____.

After 4 minutes, I told them to draw a line.
3. Now think about your life of 10-11 years. Most of those years has been spent in school.
Think JUST about Pre-K or K and your memories from that time.
Once I was in Pre-K / K at _____. I remember ____. I felt ______.

After 4 minutes, I told them to draw a line.
4. Now think about 1st, 2nd, 3rd grade....

After 4 minutes, a line was drawn.
5. Now think about 4th grade. Today at our school, the 4th grade is celebrating Heritage Day.
Maybe think about how you celebrated that last year OR any 4th grade memory.
Once in 4th grade _____. I remember ______. I felt _____.

6. After 4 minutes, 5th grade memory.

After 4 minutes, think about something you do outside of school.
7. Think about doing something outside of school that was challenging or made you feel shy.
Once I _____. I remember feeling challenged / shy when ______.

NOW you have 7 Quick writes! Let's try one more entry.
8. Think of an idea you have. Something you really believe and feel passionately about.
I feel that schools should teach writing as a class because it is such an important skill.
Those 3rd graders during Jamboree on Tuesday believe cancer needs to be cured. So much so that they are raising money for cancer research and they are raising awareness by shaving their own heads. What do you believe. If you need an IDEA, look at the chart we made during our Essay Unit about topics we have ideas about.

Pick an idea. Write: I believe that _______.
Now keep writing about your idea. As you write, I will say some elaboration prompts. Use the prompts to grow your idea.
In other words _____.  An example ______. I realize ______. To add on _____. Some people think ___ (the opposite of your idea) but I think _____. In conclusion ____.

We had 5 minutes to reflect before the end of class.
What do you think of your writing work today?
"This is the most I've ever written in a day."
"I see that sometimes, I wrote about a similar idea as I wrote stories."
"It was fast which was hard, but it got me to write lots."

I am grateful for my co-teacher who suggested this idea to guide all to write more FAST.

Next week - we PICK a topic to write our memoir about and draft it and begin revising it.
We also need a checklist to guide us. At the TCRWP Sat Reunion, I got some ideas for using checklists. I can't wait to try it out during this memoir unit!!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

March 21 - PARCC over and Memoir Unit begun

It really is unsettling to go to work but go to a different classroom to guide a different group of kids through a half-day of instruction and a half-day of testing. But I did it 2 more times for the Math PARCC. Then on Wed, I returned to being a 5th grade writing teacher!

I launched the Memoir Unit, using he brilliant ideas of Lucy Calkins and Alexandra Marron from their book Shaping Texts: From Essay and Narrative to Memoir. In Session 1, they suggest not telling what memoir is but instead, reading a memoir and noticing what is happening. "Today I am going to teach you that when you start a big writing project, it helps to read over work that is the sort of thing you plan to make."

So that is what we did on Wednesday. I gave out copies of Eleven by Sandra Cisneros and an organizer with 4 columns - 1) What this memoir is about 2) What writing structures are seen in the memoir 3) Evidence of each structure 4) The lesson or big idea of the memoir. I read it aloud, pausing to think aloud about the way she was writing this piece. "This first part sounds more like her ideas about birthdays and your age" and "Now this middle part is a story, a sad story about that red sweater" and "Again she is back to thinking big ideas about our age and how we are not just one age but all the ages before also." One wise student in my second period class said, "I think that last part sounds like a poem." And when I reread read it aloud, he was right. It sounded very much like poetry!

I told the class I still wasn't going to tell them what memoir was yet. For homework, I asked them to ask those at home what they think it is. See if they have read a memoir before. Keep thinking about Eleven and that tomorrow, they would read another memoir in small groups.

So over Thursday and Friday, I gave five groups of four students each in each of my four classes, a copy of a memoir. I used: Last Kiss by Ralph Fletcher, Car Trip by Jon Scieszka, All-Ball by Mary Pope Osbourne, Scouts Honor by Avi and a memoir from last Wed's Food section of the Washington Post about a guy with Leukemia who has friends that send him food while he has medical treatments. The first 2 stories were short so I purposefully gave them to the tables with kids who struggle more in reading. I also went to the public library and checked out 30 picture book memoirs. I knew groups would finish at different times so I had these available to read as groups finished their tasks.

The tasks were: read the story alone and fill in the information about memoir on the organizer. Then when all in the group are done, talk about it. Then make a chart to teach this memoir to the class. I reminded the groups that they are the only ones in the room that read this memoir so they need to first tell what it is about, show HOW the author structured the memoir, annotate the story on the chart with evidence of essay / story elements and then at the bottom of the chart state a lesson or big idea learned. I took our work form Wed and made a chart of Eleven to help them see what they needed to produce.

Then they got to work!! It was very quiet at first with all the reading. I went from table to table checking in, defining words, clarifying parts. Once all were done reading, they started discussing what it was about and the structures. Again, I circulated and guided them to think about structures. I also pointed out to some groups to be sure to teach ___, as their memoir is the only one like that. For example, Jon Sciezka's was the only humorous one so I reminded them to point that out when they taught the class. I asked Ralph Fletcher's group about the jellyfish part and why that was there. When they explained, he was comparing, I reminded that group to be sure they teach that to the class as that is a craft move in memoir we might want to try when we write out memoir. As class ended on Thursday, all had finished reading and were discussing and the two shorter story groups were beginning to make their charts. Friday, they arrived and got right back to work! ALL finished and most had time to read a picture book, too.

On Monday, I plan to have each group share information about their memoir using their chart. Then all in the room will have read Eleven and another memoir, listened to info about 4 more memoirs and may have read another picture book. Then as a class, we will co-construct the definition of memoir. With so many mentor texts of memoir fresh in our mind, I feel we will confidently write and try some memoir craft moves we learned about. Then on Tuesday, we will begin generating memoir ideas in our writers notebook! So far, I am enjoying this Memoir Unit!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

March 14 - Half-way through March PARCC testing

I got 2 days this week to review for the PARCC and then the ELA was taken over 3 days - Wed through Friday. MOnday I used to explain the Independent Project the kids would work on each half-day when they were not testing. I did this because they would be staying in their homeroom with a 4th grade teacher as a proctor and their teacher. I would be in 4th grade and not be with my 5th graders to answer any questions.

This use of class time went well. I gave an overview of each of the 3 projects (describe your future, create a new country, or tell all about our school to those moving to Mars who want to build a school there). After each overview, I had the kids do a quick write related to the topic. It was a relaxing way to write but relax and work our creative brain.

On Tuesday I gave final tips for taking the test. Reminders about using the PARCC passages as their word wall so they spell correctly and a reminder about how long they have and what each day's task would be. Then as a fun way to practice, I had them watch the end of the Broadway Musical - Shrek where they are singing "I'm A Believer", I gave them a prompt and the lyrics to the song and for 15 minutes after enjoying the song (the kids had just finished performing this play as the school musical!), they read the prompt and wrote about the theme of the song!

I think this fun, relaxing exercise was a great last activity! When we still had 10 minutes, we enjoyed another scene from the DVD. Then I sent each class off and told them I'd see them in a week when testing was over.

Then Wed - Fri, I administered a test either in the morning or afternoon and monitored a group of 25 4th graders doing independent projects in a 4th grade classroom. I'll do the same on Monday and Tuesday as the Math PARCC is taken.

Then I get my 5th grade life back on Wed, March 18th. I plan to start a Memoir Unit!! Looking forward to memoir, Poetry in April and allowing them a chance to complete their own independent writing project...we are in the home stretch!!

Friday, March 6, 2015

Friday, March - It's like a Sat because yesterday and today are snow days!

I changed school districts this year, from Fairfax County to the District of Columbia. Many things are different but the one that stands out right now is reaction to the snow. In Fairfax, a district that included MANY miles, closes school due to a little snow and even for very low temperatures. They simply cannot get the kids to school by bus when winter weather is added to the equation.

DC is another story. My school doesn't have buses. Being an urban school district, many teachers and students use public transportation. The temperatures in the city usually aren't as low as outlying suburbs. So what if it is snowing? We still have places to go and stuff to accomplish.  The most I have enjoyed (yes, I'll admit, I enjoy an unexpected break from my job due to winter weather) is a 2-hour delay.

The snow came at a perfect time for me. I completed my final PARCC Writing about Reading lesson. I have tips to share and an explanation of the Independent Project the kids will work on when NOT completing a PARCC test but I still have Monday and Tuesday. So for me, this was a perfect break.

And how did I spend yesterday? I organized all the students' Writing about Reading papers, I made a spreadsheet to add their grade and comment. I LOVED time to do this! My goal is to type a comment that can be used on the report card NOW so at report card time, I can simply cut and paste and NOT spend every waking weekend hour making all the comments. SO feel good about the system I set up yesterday.

Looking back....
Monday was a 2-hr delay due to the ice storm over the weekend. It was the day to let them try the Research Writing PARCC question. It was the day to let the kids watch the video with headphones. With shorter classes and my Smartboard not working, it didn't go as seamless as I would have liked. But all got a chance to try out this question on the computer. Monday night I made them a homework Scavenger Hunt assignment. I listed all the tools and told them to spend time getting used to these tools.

Then Tuesday and Wed, I gave them 20 minutes each day to work on the Literary Essay PARCC prompt. As we ended each class on Wed, I felt they were ready for this test!! I'm excited for them to show off all they know about reading and writing. I think I prepared them well.

Would I do this same kind of prep next year? DEFINITELY!
I loved using a story they knew (ISH by Peter Reynolds) and writing a story from a different point of view.
I loved spending time talking about HOW TO READ A PROMPT. I think I'd do this FIRST next time.
I loved having them plan and orally share a GROUP Literary Essay using 2 easy stories - Goldilocks and Little Red Riding Hood. Then I loved seeing them transfer this work to do it independently using ISH and The Dot.

I could have spent more time on the RESEARCH ESSAY but we had just finished the NF writing unit. I think next year I will ask them to prepare a PROMPT...find 2 articles and a video to watch related to a topic (maybe a a group activity) Then THESE can be practice questions for us.

I have to say that I like helping the kids prep for a writing test. I honestly wish it wasn't timed but I'm glad they get assessed in writing!

And I'm glad I get snow days!!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Last day of February

This week...
Monday we had off for Parent/Teacher Conferences which we opted to hold after school and have Monday off!

Tuesday - we celebrated by attending the 4th graders' Nonfiction Writing Publishing Party and walked them down to see our Nonfiction American History display.

It is one thing for the 4th grade writing teacher or me to tell a student that we like their introduction. It is another thing for a 5th grader to share that they really liked a 4th grader's introduction. "I read introductions that were really interesting and it hooked me and made me want to read on." It felt very powerful having our 4th and 5th grade writers to spend time together on Monday. Tiime was spend reading a 4th grader's article by a 5th grader and time was spend viewing a 5th grader's Museum display by a 4th grader. Then both groups spent time reflecting together.

The 4th grade teacher's final question was: 5th graders, what advice can you give to the 4th graders with regards to revising and editing. Hands shot up. Again, tips were shared that I have taught to writers in mini-lessons but how powerful for a kid to be telling another kid. I think the tips are heard more when it comes from another kid! I am so glad we took a day to celebrate and grow together!

Wed - Thur - Fri: PARCC Prep / Writing about Reading
I made a worksheet, one side showing 3 story prompts and the other side showing 4 essay prompts. I modeled how to use the highlighter on the PARCC computer test and asked the kids to take their worksheet and read and highlight. After this independent work, they talked at their tables about what they highlighted. Then as a class, we charted TIPS on HOW TO READ A WRITING PROMPT

I do think one class to focus on this important skill was worthwhile. (Thank you Mary for suggesting we do this at our Tuesday Planning Meeting!) The kids "get" that they will be asked to either write a story or an essay. They "get" that the prompt needs to be read and then reread and that highlighting can help.

Thur / Fri: I wrote a Literacy Prompt asking for an essay to be written that identifies the theme of the story Little Red Riding Hood and Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
You read Little Red Riding Hood by Leanne Guenther and The Story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears by DLTK. Identify a theme in each story. Write an essay that explains how the theme of the story is shown through the characters in each story. Include specific details from each story to support the essay.

 I placed the kids into groups of 4 and gave them a poster to chart themes and add post-its of text evidence. On Friday, I gave them a template of an essay divided into introduction, story #1, story #2, and conclusion. I gave them 15 more minutes to work as a group. Then each group ORALLY shared their group planned essay. 

Again, I do think this was a good way to have the kids "practice" for the PARCC literary section of the test. When we ended the class, reflecting on the process. They said they felt they could now do this. They liked seeing how I used the prompt to make the intro and conclusion. They could write a theme and back it up with text evidence. I'm kind of excited about them doing this work on an assessment.

Next week - we will try the RESEARCH PROMPT online using the released PARCC assessment (Monday) and try a LITERACY PROMPT independently and not with a group (Tue/Wed). Thur and Friday I want to focus on planning and spelling. And I'll try to throw in some fun read-aloud!

Then March 10-17, they take the PARCC!! I do value this time spent on a skill they need to know how to do in their applications, job applications, book club discussions.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

2/20. Snow and Testing

Monday was a holiday - President 's Day.
Tuesday was a snow day.
Wednesday was a regular teaching day.
I did an overview of the PARCC test for each class and planned a narrative practice prompt for the kids to do the next day.
Thursday and Friday I had to teach in 4th grade to administer the district unit test to 4th graders like I will in March for the PARCC.
Now it is Saturday morning and I'm blogging on my kindle because I left school yesterday without my computer because  I wasn't in my room following my  normal routine...I can't focus...

So much comes at us fast as a teacher. So much to juggle. I see I need to let go and let the kids help more. But I am human and struggle to juggle so much. Am I just older and  not able to keep up? Or is too much asks  of us?

Oh well. I'll keep pondering. I'll just enjoy a computer-free weekend. I'll let  it go and celebrate that on Tuesday I get  to teach 5th grade in my room. (not Monday  because we voted to hold conferences after school so I have off Monday and get to conference from 4-7pm on Tuesday)

So much to juggle...

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Publishing Party! And Staffing News :(

What a week...

MONDAY - we realized that in just 2 days we would have guest arriving for our Publishing Party on Wed and we were not sure if we were ready. BUT we got to work and if we had finished, we started helping others and started helping to prepare the Museum Space.

TUESDAY -  we worked during class, during lunch, after school...As I left Tuesday at 8pm, the Museum was HUNG!! (thank you Mary and Gabrielle for helping!).

WEDNESDAY - SO many parents came!!! The students guided their guests first to their American History Museum exhibit and then around the room and hallway to the other areas of the museum. It was so peaceful, just like at a real museum. People strolling, stopping to view and read and learn.

Once we viewed, we all came back together and I asked, "What did you learn?" and hands shot up to share facts they learned. Then I read this quote:

As American poet and novelist, Robert Penn Warren (!905-1989) says:
"History cannot give us a program for the future, 
but it can give us a fuller understanding of ourselves, and of our common humanity, 
so that we can better face the future."
and I asked if they saw anything today that will help them to better face the future. Again, brave responses shared. We also asked about the process. How did it feel on Monday and Tuesday and then today. So many reflected that they did not think they would finish but then once they focused and got help from a friend to tape info onto their poster, they were able to finish.

What did I learn?
I love the workshop model for so many reasons! This Informational Writing Unit reminded me that writing is hard and is a process that all go through at their own pace. But then in the end, ALL can write to teach. I loved making an authentic museum! I loved transforming the room/hallway into a museum. I loved seeing how everyone helped everyone! I barely slept or ate Mon-Wed but I got so much energy from seeing the kids work so hard to be ready for a Publishing Party!

THURSDAY - My Principal called a mandatory after-school meeting and announced that she will be leaving at the end of this school year. She has the opportunity to open a new Middle School in the Brookland area of D.C. She is a brilliant visionary and is the perfect pick for this job. When asked about the AP and Instructional Coaches, they said they hope to follow her there as well. WOW....what news. I'm still processing...

FRIDAY - a professional development day so no kids to teach and a chance to learn some new tricks about writing and reading. And the chance to go out to lunch and grab a beer after work. ALL needed after such a busy week!

Now, a 3-day weekend! Happy President's Day!  (55 days until Spring Break!)