February 13, 2014

Picture Prompt "Scoot" in Writing Workshop

I have a fun writing workshop lesson to share today!  We just wrapped up a never-ending persuasive/argument writing unit in my classroom, and since then, I've noticed my kids have been a little stuck when it comes to writing.  They are burned out and out of ideas!  To help them get their writing spark back, I've been doing some fun "Ideas" mini-lessons.  These are always my favorite kind--the ones that get the kids super excited about writing and that may lead to a published piece...or maybe not.  Last week I pulled out my file folder of writing pictures.  I gathered a bunch of magazine pictures last summer and laminated them.  Early on in the year, I modeled how to write from a picture, and it was a hit.  But they've been in the cabinet since September, so it was time to dust them off!
This time, though, we used them to play "Scoot."  You know, when you have the kids scoot from desk to desk and complete a short task at each one?  This time, I put a picture on each desk and had the kids scoot from desk to desk, completing a quick write at each one based on the picture.  (Word to the wise: If you do decide to use Scoot in your classroom, make sure you practice the scoot rotation at least 3 times before actually starting!!  Will save you a ton of headache...)  Anyways, once we'd practiced the rotation, I set a timer on the screen for a minute and we got started!
My kids completed 4 or 5 quick writes before we ran out of time.  They had a blast, and the next day, I had them choose one of the stories they'd started to continue writing about.  If my goal was to reignite our writing enthusiasm, I'd say this activity was a success!

February 12, 2014

What I'm Reading Wednesday Linky

Another week has passed, and I still haven't finished a book...  *hangs head in shame*  But it's WIRW, so I figured I'd post anyways in case anyone else has been reading something worth sharing!
Unfortunately, this week I've been reading way too much of this:
Must be report card time...
And not enough of this:
(Side note: I don't know why this book is taking me so long.  
I like it, but I just am not flying through it the way other people have said they did!)

Oh, and The Olympics have definitely been a little distracting too!!  I seriously will watch any Olympic event.  Even Biathlon, which is definitely the most bizarre sport ever.
I do have a new book to share--my students and I just started our newest read aloud, Double Dog Dare, and I can already tell it's going to be a winner.  Even just from reading the prologue, we were all completely hooked!  Looking forward to continuing it with my kids!
Source: goodreads.com
 Hopefully I'll finally be back with a book review next week!
What have you been reading this week?

February 11, 2014

Training Tuesday: Keeping Myself Accountable

Last Tuesday I shared that I am back on a legit training plan as of the start of February.  Between Christmas, a few colds, and the polar vortex, I really struggled to keep consistent with work it's in December and January. 
Capturing the sense of impending doom that comes before the frozen long run...
 But no more!  Last week I said screw it to excuses and got those workouts done!  Here are a few of the things I've been doing to hold myself accountable...

1.  Schedule It
I am so hooked on Google Calendar.  I swear, when I started using it back in the day, it changed my life.  Every weekend, I take a look at my training plan and my schedule in Google Calendar for the week and figure out where everything will fit in.  I typically stick to the same days for each workout each week, but if week's are busy or schedules are weird, I'm flexible.  Mapping out the week in advance is a huuuge help.
2. Keep Track
I love my training log, but lately I've been loving another simple way of keeping track of my workouts.  I have a note in my phone that I save as a "screen widget," and I check off each workout as I complete it.  Quick, easy, and helps me stay accountable.
3. Pack a Bag
...Preferably the night before, since God knows I don't need one more thing to get done in the morning!
4. Have a Buddy
This has been a huge thing keeping me running outside this winter.  Meeting friends for weekend runs makes it so much tougher to bail.  
5. Focus on the Goal
Whatever the reason you workout, keep it in the forefront of your mind to keep you going.  For me, it's all about my race goals.  It's easier to get myself into a freezing pool when I remember that I want to be able to swim  through the lakes in my tris without freaking out!
6. Straight Up Bribery
I totally bribed myself with watching Switched at Birth on Neflix and the promise of post-run Jimmy Johns to get myself through 7 treadmill miles on Sunday.  It sucked, but it was worth it. And it got me through the workout!
These tricks have definitely helped me get on track this past week--here's hoping I can keep this motivation up until Spring!  (Which at this rate may never come...seriously, the windchill was -23 this morning when I woke up...)
How have you been staying motivated this winter?

February 6, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Some Old Favorites

Last week one of my blog posts was featured in The Daily Cafe's tip of the week email!  I was pretty excited about it--The Sisters are basically celebrities IMHO, since reading the Daily 5 book my first year on the job transformed so much of my teaching.  The post was an oldie from 2011, and going back to reread it got me thinking about some of my other old favorite posts.  I decided to do a Throwback Thursday post to share some old favorites...

The post featured on The Daily Cafe--12 Tips for Surviving Your First Year Teaching...in which, during my second year on the job, I reflect all I learned since my first days in the classroom.  (I continue to work on these 12 things every day!)
My very first classroom...
Being My Best Self...in which, after feeling bogged down at school and just plain negative, I pledge to bring a positive attitude to school and "be my best self" every day.
All I'm Asking for is a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T...in which I share how I feel when I hear politicians and public teacher-bashing.  Oh and there's an awesome John Stewart clip in it. :)

Running: A Give and Take Relationship...in which I share all of things that I give up for running, but all of the many more important and wonderful things it has given me in return.
I Believe in Picture Books: Differences & Being Yourself...in which I share some of my favorite picture books.

10 Steps for an Organized Classroom...in which I geek out over storage bins and my label maker.

Link back to some of your favorite throwback posts in the comments!

February 5, 2014

What I'm Reading Wednesday: Our Current Read Aloud

I could profess my love for read aloud all day long...and fact, I basically did in this post from last year.  It has always been my favorite part of the school day, and I whole heartedly believe in its importance in helping kids establish a love of reading.  Sharing wonderful books together as a classroom community--what could be better?  I swear, I would spend an hour on read aloud if I could every day!  I am loving my class's current read aloud, and although we are not QUITE finished (sooo this post is kind of cheating...), we will most likely finish this week.  I'm excited to share it with you! (Check out a list of some of my favorite read alouds for intermediate grades here.)
A Mango Shaped Space by Wendy Mass
4/5 stars

If you haven't read anything by Wendy Mass yet, definitely add her to her list.  Her stories are captivating, and her characters are vivid.  Mango Shaped Space is a fascinating book--it's about a girl named Mia who has a condition called synesthesia.  Letters, words, numbers, and even sounds have color for her.  For example, when her cat purrs, Mia describes the orange spirals she sees in the air around him.  Crazy as it sounds, this is actually a real condition!  My students were fascinated by it, and I was too!  The book is the story of how Mia convinces her family that her "colors" are real, how she learns to deal with and truly accept her synesthesia as part of who she is, and how she navigates the crazy maze of middle school along the way.  There are some great themes in here about differences and acceptance and even loss and blame.  We had some terrific discussions while reading, and the kids ate this one up.  They have been begging my not to stop reading every day, especially as we come close to the end of the book!  One quick warning--there are a couple parts that mention some innocent kissing.  Totally no big deal, but my 3rd and 4th graders were VERY grossed out, so I had to do some censoring. ;)

What have been your favorite read alouds this year?  So far, I've only finished Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and Superfudge with my class.  Our schedule is making read aloud reeeally tricky to squeeze in.  I try to do it every day, but some days are only 5 minutes, so we haven't finished as many books as I'd like.  I'm torn between Out of My Mind and Double Dog Dare for my next one!

What have you been reading this week?

February 4, 2014

Training Tuesday: Back at It :)

This time last year I was in the last few weeks of training for the Disney Princess half marathon and hating my life for it.  I was stuck running circles around my neighborhood or on the treadmill because there was too much ice and snow on the trails.  Terrible!  I'm thanking my lucky stars that this year I don't have a winter race on the schedule.  It's nice being able to be a little more flexible with my training!  This week though I'm starting an organized training plan to get myself back on track.  Here's a sneak peek...
2014 goals along the top to remind me what I'm working for!
I am planning on running the Chi Town Half Marathon on April 6th, mostly because I need some running motivation...and partly because you get a half zip long sleeve race shirt...I'm a sucker for a good medal and a good shirt.  Unfortunately for me, this means my short and leisurely Saturday morning runs need to be beefed up a little bit!  Eep.  Never easy in the cold...especially in this Polar Vortex of a winter!
Thanks Kiley for the inspiration for rigging up my Kindle for some cycle reading!
Yup, that's a headband strapping my Kindle to my bike!
I'm also focusing on getting my body ready for tri training!  The Pleasant Prairie Olympic Tri in June will be my big race of 2014, and this runner needs to get swim and bike ready like whoa.  Tri Training officially starts for me in mid-March, but until then I'm trying to build stamina on my bike (indoors...obv.) and in the pool.

Here's what a week looks like for me right now...or at least my goal week! ;)  We all know that not all weeks go *quite* as planned, but hey, I'm trying!
  • Monday: Long swim
  • Tuesday: Medium bike + short run
  • Wednesday: Short swim + hot yoga
  • Thursday: Medium run
  • Friday: Rest :)
  • Saturday: Long Run
  • Sunday: Long Bike 
Hopefully not making the mistake of waiting until spring to get in the saddle and the pool like I did last year will make these tris go much more smoothly!

What are you training for right now?

What races are you most looking forward to this year?  I definitely have triathlons on the brain right now, but I'm still trying to pick out a marathon for fall.  I was planning on running Chicago again, but now that it's switched to the lottery system, I'm keeping my options open. :)  Any fall marathon suggestions?

February 3, 2014

Tips for Writing Constructive Report Card Comments

I have a feeling that the next several weeks are going FLY by between the state standardized tests looming on the horizon, Presidents Day, not to mention the school closings we've had for cold days...  I'm going to blink and suddenly report cards will be right around the corner!  I don't know about you, but I've always felt like the comments I write on my report cards are so much more important than the grades themselves.  I mean come on, it's third and fourth grade.  So much of my teaching and assessment comes from things that never get graded, like guided reading anecdotal notes and observations during math guided groups.  I feel like what I write about my students in the comments section gives parents far more valuable information about students' progress and goals.  Here are some rules of thumb I use when writing my comments:
  • Write comments up in a table in Word before copying and pasting into report cards.  I typically make a table with three columns, one for each trimester, so I can compare the comments side-by-side throughout the year.  Not only does this help me focus on students' progress rather than where they are at that particular moment, but it helps make sure I don't repeat myself too much--come on, we've all been there. :)  Plus, it makes it way easier to spell check and proofread!
In the past, I did one big comment for each student covering everything.  Now, we're required to do a separate comment for each subject area.  A little more complicated, but it works.
  • Sandwich any negative comments between two positive ones, even if the first is something as simple as, "I have enjoyed working with ____ this trimester!"  Also, any time I am discussing a negative or challenging behavior, I make sure to introduce it with a comment like, "As we have discussed," or "As I shared with you at conferences..."  This reminds paretns that you have spoken with them about this particular concern already, and that this is not a surprise.  (Of course, this only works if you HAVE discussed the concern with paretns already--sooo be sure to do that!  There should be no surprises on the report card.)
  • Speaking of no surprises, if a student is not doing so well grade wise, save yourself a lot of headache by calling or emailing parents in advance.  It's always so much easier to have those conversations in person or on the phone--report card grades leave so much room for interpretation without a personal explanation.  Better head that off in advance.
  • Give concrete information in comments.  For example, in reading, when a child is below grade level I might say, "___ is currently reading at a level M.  Grade level for this point in third grade is levels N/O.  ___ is able to answer questions from within the text and make simple inferences while reading.  We are working on reading with expression, using context clues to determine the meaning of tricky words, and making thoughtful inferences about the text."  Similarly, in math I may say something like,
    "This trimester _____ has demonstrated a good understanding of multiplication and division.  ___ is working on applying these skills to solve word problems and problems with multiple steps.  
  • Focus on the positive.  This may seem like a no-brainer, but when you need to write a comment about a negative behavior a student is working on, it's all in the wording!  For example, I might write something on a report card like, "____ does her best work when she focuses on instruction and follows directions the first time."  Much more constructive than, "___ needs to follow directions and listen to the teacher," right?  Another example would be, "___ is most successful when he comes to school prepared with his homework and materials."  
Sorry for the lack of pictures in this one!  Not much of a picture-worthy post.  Oh well :)
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