Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Welcome to 3rd Grade Day 1

At the end of last school year I opted to move from 5th to 3rd grade. I had a myriad of reasons, chief among them teaching all subject areas (instead of just literacy). Plus, I wanted a new challenge. If you're really comfortable I think it might be time to step outside that zone. So that's what I've done.

Day one is in the book. I'm excited about this group of kids. I see lots of potential. The major instructional difference is the pacing. While the first day isn't a huge instructional day, it sets the tone of the rest of the year. You build community, setup routines, and start some baseline assessing. The assessing part happened informally, no reading assessments on day 1! Why?

Pacing! Putting away supplies took about an hour. Working on our introductory letter (Dear Mr. Hanson) took another 45-60 minutes with many not finished. A team challenge activity (Marshmallow Challenge)? Pushed to Wednesday! The pace, particularly at the start of the year, will be a little bit of an adjustment. But so far so good.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Issue Research Redux

Just before spring break my kids finished their Social Studies CBA. It is a big project involving research on a topic, and analyzing information. Many of the pieces of reading- news articles, websites- are above grade level, adding to the challenge.

The work that kids produced was really great. Having done this 3 years prior, this was probably the best of the years as far as overall work kids produced. Instead of basking in the glow of good work, I wondered why the work was better. What made year 4 that much better than year 3, etc.?

I was more intentional with the skills kids would need to use. Being able to write a thesis statement is important, and we modeled doing that. Making inferences from quotes- another challenging skill. Analyzing all of the possible solutions- kids previously were locked into their solution. Instead, they were asked to see all viewpoints- and we tackled modeling that as a whole group. Another part of the success is embedding news articles in our weekly work (er, bi-weekly maybe). I asked kids to pick sides on issues during the year as well as analyzing points of view. When they see the CBA in March it ends up being less of an ordeal.

I still think there is room for growth. We found lots of statistical information... But we struggled interpreting it. Things like car emissions or accidents texting while driving were inserted with the "as you can see..." sort of line that assumes you can read the graph. Next time we'll actually write about the meaning of the data. But for now- job well done.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Literacy and Worksheets

My kids are working on issue research. They research and unpack the many points of view that comprise an issue. One student is working on paper usage in the US. This is similar to a topic done last year that focused on paper use in schools.

The big "A-Ha" for me was literacy and worksheets don't really mesh. In fact, I'd argue that if you're making a ton of worksheets for your literacy time (in the intermediate classroom :) you're in fact wasting your time (and your kids' time). Kids need the opportunity to real have authentic conversations about books, and record their thoughts. Countless packets of "stuff"? No. You can teach concepts that they record in journals- or that go on charts in your room. But daily spelling practice? Grammar work? You can do those in other ways without the class set of copies.

Next time you're heading to the copier think: is there another way that gets this done and meets the needs of my kids? I bet you'll say yes.

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Workshop Model

I enjoy using twitter. I get my daily sports news, running stuff (because it is different than sports!), general news, and education information. In my feed came a link to a post about the workshop model. Now the title is whether Lucy Calkins is insane, which would seem to be pure hyperbole for the sake of readers. Alas, further reading shows the title to be closer to the author's point of view than one might hope.

I've used the workshop model for 3.5 years. I used it in my student teaching, and have used it in my practice in 5th grade. Workshop has been a part of my practice for both reading and writing, although admittedly it hasn't been the only method I've used. Some are huge workshop fans, and others are very much against the workshop and the Teacher's College. Me? I'm probably more pro-workshop than anti-workshop.

Like any model or program it has positives and negatives. Positives are that reading and writing are more authentic through use of the Calkins model than through the use of a basal program, or scripted writing program. The basal program will have students focus on a particular comprehension strategy (envisioning, inference, etc) by having students read an 8-12 page excerpt, stopping periodically to monitor comprehension. In the workshop model students read, and will either record information in a reading journal or in discussion with a reading buddy. For me, I use the workshop model with a novel study. They will get together in groups, and they have people to discuss the book with. Questions will come at the end of the week as students summarize, generate meaningful questions from reading, and talk back to the text.

Comparing the two, as I've used both, kids have been far more successful with novels in their hand. Instead of parts of books, and drilling away at a comprehension skill with 3-5 questions while reading, they are able to read larger chunks. They can process information at the end of a 25-45 minute block, walking away with a far different idea of what reading is. A basal program just didn't do that with my kids, as I found them bored and meeting the minimum of what was expected. The basal essentially generated a script for me to follow, essentially making me an implementer of materials. While Calkins has a narrative for her strategies, I've found that you have great flexibility in your ability to chose strategies your kids need, and base them off of read alouds or books you have in your room. I've done inferencing and character description using Wildwood and Prue. Kids loved it, and were able to take the same strategies and apply them to their own stories they were reading.

There is one main question I've had in relation to this. Are my kids coming to me at a higher starting point than there's (therefore presupposing a higher incoming skill set)? Between 85-95% of my students have met standard in my 3 years (depending on year), a modest increase over where they were in 4th grade. If their skill set is higher, are they better able to fit in a less structured model? Is there an issue of materials available? I pour a ton of money into my classroom library each year- novel study and just plain novels. If you don't have a ton of books, particularly those at the levels of your kids, you're screwed in workshop.

The irony is the posting about Calkins and workshop mentions the lack of data to support the program's use. Education has been laden with pendulum shifts. If it isn't use of data for instruction, it is how data doesn't support a program (evidence based). If we aren't railing against programs that are too scripted and limit teacher freedom, we are railing against the lack of guidance and structure. I see the limitations in the lack of explicit phonics instruction. I see where having some smaller texts for small groups might be helpful in supplementing what you already do (to meet needs of students through ongoing assessment). But is Lucy Calkins insane?  Doubtful. Idealist? Yes.

Friday, February 15, 2013

When it comes together

Our Explorer Biography wiki projects are coming along. We've gone over finding important information, researching, when to fact check, note taking, and paragraphing. Huge undertaking, but certainly worthwhile. The achievement I'm most proud of is working on citations.

Citations are the bane of my existence. I know kids need to do it. But our projects typically bog down, and citations get swept aside. This time I had them do it in the middle of the project. We used the OSLIS citation maker (I'll add a link later, the downfall of the mobile blogger app). I demoed it and then each had to do 1 as a ticket to recess. The result? Success! MLA format citations on their pages!

This will dovetail nicely into our social studies cba (curriculum based assessment). The cba is next- a chance I research an idea, evaluate points of view, and construct a plan of action. Very excited!

*note: unfortunately I can't share our wiki pages. They are on our internal site called haiku (google it, worth checking out). It keeps us in line with child privacy laws.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Thank You Internet

We're in the middle of Internet research. The project is to create a biographical wikiproject on an explorer. Kids need multiple sources, and need to take notes aimed at gaining a variety of pieces of information. The information will answer questions that they posed- things they would expect in a biography.

While researching our ship ran afoul.. How you ask? We found faulty research! It was brilliant, and even more perfect than I cod have planned. You see you uncovered a site that, on the surface, looks like a regular website. Kids had found it, printed stuff from it, and went along their merry way. Then someone actually read it. The exchange went like this:

-Student: Mr. Hanson, the text says Sir Francis Drake returned to his baking company. I don't get it.
-Me: huh? Baking company?
-Student: yeah, it says right here that he used a stolen recipe to start his baking company that still bakes cakes today (Re: Drake's cakes).
-me: hmm, let's go back and re-read. I'm not sure we are getting accurate info.

Of course this led us to re-read and uncover the errors in our poor researching. New Jersey, boardwalks, and stolen recipes on CD were all part of the rather interesting piece of historical fiction. But it brought out the need to do some fact checking. As I read this aloud to giggles and hoots, the message was clear. Go back over your work. Since? The quality of research, note taking, and work has improved. Hallelujah!

Monday, February 4, 2013

How to balance...

I struggle with blogging. I want to. I do. Blogging using the blogger app helps, but doesn't eliminate my one impediment. Time.

I don't have the time I used to. Trying to balance teaching, parenting, and running is a challenge. Three full time jobs really. So some things have been cut out, at least temporarily. Blogging is one of those things.

But I resolve to be consistent. Every Monday - with a promise that if I can do more I will. We just started a wiki project where we are building biographical pages for explorers that came to North America. I love the project based work because it hits a number of items and has built in value- kids want to work through it, and they want to work on the tech stuff. Win win.

I promise to do better. It is good for me to talk it out.