Prospecting For Treasure

Always prospecting for the next treasure of an idea.


I finished reading the book, Focus:  Elevating the Essentials to Radically Improve Student Learning, by Mike Schmoker. It was given to each of the teachers in my building, by our principal for summer reading.

Schmoker advocates Simplicity, Clarity and Priority.  By this he means we need to simplify our curriculum by cutting the number of standards down, selecting only the most important, and then teaching them thoroughly, using recognized good consistent teaching.  I don’t agree with everything he has to say, but there are definitely some things I will take from this book.  I talked about it in my last post, and shared my plans for writing about the books we are reading here.

Please visit my other blog, Day In the Classroom, and read my review.

July 26, 2011 Posted by | Reading | , | 1 Comment

A New Look and New Goals

As you can see, I’ve changed the look of my blog.  I thought it was time to give it a little facelift.  Over the past year, I haven’t added much to this blog.  I’ve been thinking about ways to better use it.  For a long time, I’ve also been thinking about sharing some of the books and more of the writing projects I use with kids.  I plan to do that here.

There are about four weeks before my new school year begins.  So far it’s been a great summer, although the past week has been way too hot!  That always serves to get me in the mood longing for fall and going back to school.

This summer I’ve been working on a few school projects, and doing some summer reading.  Before we left for vacation, my principal gave everyone a copy of the book, Focus, Elevating the Essentials To Radically Improve Student Learning by Mike Schmoker.  I’m going to write a little more about this book after I complete my reading.  Already I can tell you that it is going to have an impact on my reading instruction in the coming year.  Schmoker says that students need to spend their time reading and responding to that reading in writing, not reading a basal and completing worksheets.

After a year of following my school districts list of “Non-Negotiables” I had already decided to return to more time spent reading and discussing good books.  You can read about the “Non-Negotiables” here.  I want my kids to grow in their reading skills, but I also want them to love reading.  That only happens when you introduce them to the magic of a good book.  Fortunately, after the year of the “Non-Negotiables” our district is going to give us a little more flexibility in the coming school year.

Over the years I have written many study guides to aid me in discussing a book with my students.  I have to decided to give this blog a little face lift and share some of our reading work here.  As we work on a book or project, I plan to share what we did here.   I will add books and discussion questions and writing ideas, as I develop them.

My other blog is called Day In the Classroom, think of this one as Day At the Reading Table.

July 19, 2011 Posted by | Education, Reading, Uncategorized | | 1 Comment

Puzzle Parties and Other Classroom Celebrations

This was my student teacher’s last week before he moves to a different grade level in a different school district.  I wanted to give the kids an opportunity to have a going away party for him, but my district and school are pretty strict when it comes to time allocation.  We are permitted just two real parties each year, a fall party and a Valentine party.  For this reason, I always look for an academic connection so I can justify time spent.  I believe if you put the word party after any word or phrase, it gets the kids interested.

Puzzle Parties

On Thursday we threw a Puzzle Party.  With the prevalence of video games these days, many kids have little experience putting together an old-fashioned jigsaw puzzle.  Putting together a puzzle involves many thinking and problem solving strategies, so before we began, we discussed some of these.  The kids who sometimes work puzzles with parents or grandparents help to teach the others about finding the straight edged and corner pieces to assemble the frame.  They know about categorizing and sorting pieces according to color and details.  They teach the others about using the picture details on the box as a reference to guide them in constructing the puzzle.  We review the geometry terms; slide, flip and turn, and talk about how this applies to puzzle solving. These are important problem solving skills that adults often take for granted, but we learn them through experience.

We used 100 piece jigsaw puzzles, and students worked in groups of three or four  to put them together.  it turned out that a couple of the puzzles I bought were I Spy puzzles, so the kids could play a game with it once it was put together.  We  worked on either desks or the floor, wherever people were most comfortable.  Our wonderful student teacher, Mr. Lillie, brought the kids juice boxes and cookies, so it really did turn into a party.

Improve Fluency With a Poetry Cafe
Before our Puzzle Party, we had a  poetry reading.  I like to use poetry to build fluency.  I have collected many poetry books over the years, and the kids enjoy reading them.  This time students partnered up and selected a poem to practice and then present to the class.  The kids like doing this, and it builds important fluency skills in reading.  On Thursday we just did a quick reading of  poetry, which in itself is a celebration of their reading.  Sometimes we get fancy and have a Poetry Cafe.

During the week before the cafe, students read, select and practice poems  they want to share with the class.  They can also write their own.  Students may read by themselves or with partners.  We push desks together to form tables, and I picked up plastic tablecloths from the dollar store to create the cafe atmosphere.  Juice boxes help with this too. 

We applaud the readers by snapping our fingers beatnik style, and praising them,  “Cool Man!!!”  One time I even borrowed bongo drums from the music teacher, but you do not have to get this silly.  It’s fun and educational, however you decide to do it.

Reading Parties

Occasionally I throw a Reading Party for the class.  This may not seem very exciting, since we’re reading all day, but the kids enjoy them.  For a reading party, the kids can bring a blanket or throw and pillows.  We push all the desks back to make room on the floor.  They can bring anything from home that they want to read, as long as it is school appropriate and they have their parent’s permission.  There isn’t a whole lot of reading that gets done, but sports and entertainment magazines, along with books  like  Guinness Book of World Records and even comic books are acceptable.   The kids have fun looking at them together.  Sometimes I either provide a snack or allow the kids to bring a snack from home.   

These are just some of the ways that I try to celebrate the learning we are doing, and reward our class for hard work.  What kind of classroom celebrations have you tried with your class?  I’m always prospecting for new ideas.

March 7, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Learning With Storybird and Edmodo

I have a really good student teacher, who is now teaching most of the day.  During the next two weeks, he will be teaching full time, and then he moves on to a different grade level, in a different school,  in a different town.  It occurred to me earlier this week, as he was teaching a social studies lesson, and I was working with a small group in the hall, that having two people in the classroom, is just about the only way to accomplish all the interventions, small group support, and individual attention that a teacher needs to provide each day.  While he has been teaching, I have been able to make up work with students who have been absent, run small groups to share writing, and meet more frequently with students who need the extra support.  It also gives me extra time to just connect and have fun with kids.

This extra time meant I was able to explore the website Storybird with a group of students.  Storybird is a digital story telling website.  The website is very easy to use.  The first time we visited the website we spent time just reading other people’s published “Storybirds.”  The next time we got together we looked at the tutorial, and then we plunged right in.  My students are collaborating, and their first task was to agree on a picture to use for their first page.  As soon as they made that choice, they were provided with a large selection of other artwork by that same artist.  From there on, it was simple.  Just drag the picture you  want to use onto the page.  Then write about it.

I do have one caution.  When you go to the Storybird Homepage it says “Start a Storybird Now”.  Be sure to log in or register first.  Don’t make the mistake I did, and just begin the story.  We saved our work, but because we were not logged in, we lost it.  Fortunately, the kids had such a good time, that they have forgiven me for that one.

Students carry on a book discussion using Edmodo.

I have another group working on Edmodo.  This group is made up of some very strong readers, some of whom are at least 2 years above grade level.  Edmodo is a closed social networking site, that looks similar to Facebook.  In fact, when we returned from our winter break in early January, I discovered that some of the kids had been on it over vacation, and were using it like Facebook.  Students access the website with a unique code, which keeps the discussion private.  Edmodo is a very cool website and the kids love getting on there.  We have been using it to discuss a book we are reading. When we started the book, I was able to introduce them to the author and build background knowledge by providing them with links to websites.  There is a component for making assignments and grading, as well as conducting a poll.  I think it would be an even better platform for reading and discussing non-fiction topics. 

We started out strong with some thoughtful discussions, and students soon figured out that they could shape our conversation  by posing their own questions and thoughts for discussion.  We have had several talks about courtesy to one another, and the importance of staying focused on our reading discussion.  The problem that I have been having is that one or two students are being very thoughtful in their comments, while others are being silly with comments like “Yeah, what she said.”  “Me too!”  or “Ditto”.  This week my student teacher and I told them, if they weren’t going to use Edmodo responsibly, we would go back to paper and pencil.  It has improved some, but I am looking for ideas on how to use this great website, and keep our time productive. 

Please tell me what has worked for you.  How have you used Edmodo?  What other websites do you recommend for small group work?

February 14, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 4 Comments

Engaging Book Reports

Our Biography Presidential Posters were due this week.  I teach at a traditional school, where we assign homework on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday nights.  I have been looking for ways to have that homework be a way of practicing important skills, instead of just completing worksheets.  Part of our homework, most nights, is to read for 20 minutes.  I started out having the kids write a summary of what they read, each homework night, but that became tedious very quickly, and I want them to love reading, not learn to hate it.  I also need for them to have some accountability.  In the past,  I have had them complete the usual book report forms, but this year I was looking for something different to do.

Can you tell what book each cereal represents?

During the month of December, my students read fiction, and created a Cereal Box Book Report. Students were to invent a cereal based on a fictional book that they had read during the month.  They were to think of a name and shape for the cereal,  that was somehow connected to the book they had read.  We covered real cereal boxes with paper, and each side of the box was to follow a specific guideline:

  • Front:  the name of the cereal and picture to go with it.
  • Back:  A game based on the story, which must include information from the story.
  • Right Side:  Ingredients—the characters and story setting.  (Some of the kids got confused on this one and just listed food ingredients.)
  • Left Side:  A  summary of the book, including the main conflict and resolution.
  • Top:  The title and author of the book, and the student’s name.

The last step was for students to plan and present a commercial for their cereal to the class.  I was very pleased with the results.  We had 100% completion of this project, and the kids seemed enthusiastic.

I didn’t come up with this idea myself.  It came from the book 24 Ready-to-Go Genre Book Reports by Susan Ludwig (published by Scholastic).  I like the fact that the instructions for each project are well laid out, with a teacher page that describes the project, and reproducible student directions that take the kids step by step through the project.  Each project also has an evaluation rubric, which can be used by the student or the teacher. 

By Susan Ludwig

During the month of January, we read biographies.  Students were to “nominate” the person they read about for president.  Then they made a presidential poster to describe the person’s qualities and background. The posters included:

  • Character traits that made this person a good leader.
  • Background:  information about the person’s family, education, home, etc.
  • Jobs and accomplishments
  • A drawing or photograph of the person

Each student then presented their poster to the class, by telling us about the person they had read about.  Some even gave little campaign speeches or brought props.  There are lots of other ideas in this book that I haven’t tried yet, but I’m sure I will in the future. 

This month we are working on a social studies project instead.  We are writing state reports.  Each person is reading a non-fiction book about one of the states in either the northeast or southern regions of the United States.  This is a shorter project and I am using a form from a different source.  When that is complete,  I think we will do something less formal for the end of February and during March.

I saw this idea in the Really Good Stuff catalog.  A pocket chart for kids’  book recommendations.    If you haven’t checked out, you should.  They really do have a lot of really good stuff.  Mmmmm…..that advertisement gives me an idea.  I’ll let you know where we go with this one.

What have you tried in the way of alternative book reports?  How do you keep the kids reading and keep the interest up?  I’d like to know.

February 7, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | 2 Comments