Thursday, August 15, 2013

A Post About the Last 24 Hours or My "Summer Self"

Well.  Here we are.  I am finally allowed in my classroom today!  This summer the building that I work at was completely renovated.  If it could be fixed or replaced, it was.  It has really come down to the wire, as today is truly the first day we have been allowed in the building to work, and some teachers won't be allowed in their rooms while finishing touches are put in place.  My students arrive on Tuesday.  Oh, there has been research at home about new lesson plans, new materials to use in the classroom, learning from my "tweeps" on Twitter, and the always present professional read.  There is always something to accomplish as an educator. However, not being able to work in the classroom as caused some anxiety about the physical arrangement of the classroom being ready. I'm ready to teach my students, I realize we are so lucky that the project isn't delayed so much that it affecting where we start school, or when we start school. Meetings were cleared off our calendar for us.  Our school community has really rallied to help us get ready.  It truly is an exciting time.

With the anxiety I'm feeling this morning of unpacking my classroom in 3 working days (we all know I'll be living there this weekend too), I was reflecting on what I was given this summer.  I was able to focus on my family, whom I adore.  My "summer self" was attentive, relaxed, and more apt to say "yes" to another 1/2 hour at the pool.   And when I realized I couldn't arrange my classroom early (on my time), we did this:

The Analyzer was thrilled to be on the field of our minor league team getting autographs.  What a great promotion.
And this:
Our State Fair is a great place for families.  My kids loved "Li'l Hands on the Farm."

And this:
More than once, we 'met' new arrivals in the barns at the fair.  "Torpedo" is in the trucker hat.
These pictures remind me that no matter what comes my way this year, I can be "my summer self" all year long.  While working hard, and educating my students, I can stop and notice how lovely things are, I can see that we do have time to get things done, and that saying "yes" makes people smile.  

What strategies do you have to hold on to your "summer self"?  

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Kendra's 10 for 10

Picture Books We Cannot Live Without:  My 10 for 10

What a post to type.  My classroom library, both mentor texts I use for modeling and sharing, and the classroom library for the children, are being housed in my basement right now.  As our school is being renovated,  I boxed up my most prized possessions, my books, and brought them home.  It’s resulted in some interesting conversations with repairmen this summer.  (“Yes, I need that many books in my classroom”)

It’s also resulted in a renewed love of my collection.  In full disclosure, we also have a large collection of picture books at home for my own children.  (“Yes, I need that many books for my sons.”)  

My sons, who I’ll call the Analyzer and the Torpedo, helped me create this list.  Mr., the husband, also contributed.  Here are my 10 picture books we cannot live without:

10.  I Wanna Iguana
When I read this book to my students, many of them begin to realize that they can have a voice as a writer.  And that writing can have a purpose.  Up until this point, they can  talk a good game, but they really make the connection when Alex is writing to his mother to pursuade her to let him keep an iguana.  
9.    Art and Max
I love giving my students time to express themselves artistically in the classroom setting.  After we read Art and Max, the music goes on, and the watercolors come out.  It’s amazing what I learn about students from this activity.  
8.  National Geographic: Ultimate Weird But True
The Analyzer, my oldest son insisted that this be on the list.  He wasn’t sure it was a picture book.  He loves gathering facts, and sharing them with people.  We are fans of the National Geographic Series.  
7.  City Dog, Country Frog
The connection that the dog and frog have in this story gets me everytime.  The illustrations are amazing.  And the story just sticks with me.  I’m smiling as I think about it.  
6. Go Dog Go
A classic for sure.  Mr. shared how this is a book that he remembers growing up with, and to watch him be insistent on sharing it with our boys was lovely.  Were there times when they were toddlers I was reciting this in my sleep?  Yes.  But what joy when the boys would pick up the book, or the first time they pointed out the word “dog.”  
5.  Hooray for Fly Guy
The Torpedo, my youngest son, loves reading in a different way than I do.  I’ve learned that about him this summer.  Instead of devouring a mound of books each day, he will read a book many, many times until he was finished with it.  What I love about him, is after he’s loved it, it’s in his repertoire for good.  
4.  A Big Guy Took My Ball
Mo Willems hasn’t disappointed me yet.  I can’t wait to share his latest Elephant and Piggie book with the students.  
3.  Fix that Truck--Lego City.  
Torpedo chose this one.  Due to his younger age, he’s really into trucks, wheels, and Legos.  The teacher in me used to cringe at ‘series’ books like this.  But as I transitioned into motherhood, I realized that if they have a love of books, it’s my job to get out of the way and honor that.  Easier said than done.  But he will pick up any book that has a “Lego dude” on the front of it.  And he declared that Fix that Truck was the best one.  
2.  The Duckling Gets a Cookie?!?
Again, with the Mo Willems.  When the Analyzer was asked to share  what he loved about this book, the Pigeon came up.  The pigeon is tried and true funny!  
1.  Ruby’s Wish
Run out right now and get this book!  It’s based on the true story of a girl growing up in China who desperately wants to attend college.  Courage, a strong young girl, and college all in the same book.  Just like City Dog, Country Frog, I’m smiling as I type this.  


Annie's 10 for 10: Picture Books That Make Us Laugh (A LOT)

I am so excited to participate in August 10 for 10 for the first time.  Gosh, choosing just ten picture books was a challenge!  I've enjoyed reading everyone's post the last two years and discovered lots of new picture books!  Thanks to Cathy Mere of Reflect and Refine & Mandy Robek of Enjoy and Embrace Learning for organizing this event!

Books purchased my classroom typically had a specific purpose -- mentor texts for writing, read alouds for comprehension instruction, nonfiction books to support social studies and science content.  We frequently read for fun, but I would usually stumble upon funny books or share books from my go-to authors who really seem to understand kids’ sense of humor.  Laughing around a book helps to create enthusiastic, voracious readers.  Now, as Little C and Big B’s mom, humor is a must.  Reading together at night is a highlight of our day, and laughing together makes it even better.  

These funny books are ones that have made my students and/or my own children laugh a lot.  Here we go:

Mortimer by Robert Munsch is the first book I read aloud to my first class of students.  It is the book I would start every year with.  Everyone is bound to start singing along with Mortimer and laughing as he drives his mother, father, seventeen brothers & sisters, and two policemen crazy by refusing to stop singing and go to asleep. 
I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen is one of my all-time favorite books to read aloud.  (Thanks, Twitter!)  A lot has been written in the blogosphere about this one, so I'll just say that I love watching students' reactions at the end of the book.  Lots of laughter followed by requests to reread!
Can You Make A Scary Face? by Jan Thomas is a hilarious, interactive book.  My kids and I stand up, sit down, make scary faces, and do whatever the bossy ladybug tells us, all while cracking up. 
We Are In A Book! by Mo Willems begs to be read aloud (literally).  Gerald and Piggie discover they are inside a book and interact with their readers to have some fun.  I've loved Elephant and Piggie for many years, so it was hard to choose one.  Big B, Little C, and I read/reread a book from the series everyday this summer, but this is the one that makes us laugh the most.   Let's Go for a Drive! was a very close second.  I think the bananas put We Are In A Book! over the edge.

Z is for Moose by Kelly L. Bingham and Paul O. Zelinsky is a fun twist on an alphabet book.  I like how it makes my kids laugh and think.  Moose's antics are quite hysterical!  In fact, when I asked Big B about funny books, this was on the top of his list.  Kid-approved! 
Dinosaur vs. Bedtime by Bob Shea perfectly captures the kid-bedtime challenge.  We enjoy reading and roaring along with this book again and again. 

Cousin Irv from Mars by Bruce Eric Kaplan makes me laugh out loud.  When Teddy's distant cousin from Mars first arrives, he is irritated, but eventually they become good friends and he doesn't want him to leave.  A hilarious story!  I discovered this story at on our recent family vacation to Minneapolis.  We found this terrific bookstore, Red Balloon Bookshop. (Check it out if you're in the Twin Cities!)  The book's unusual style caught my attention, and I'm so glad it did.  As my husband was purchasing our finds, one of their book experts commented to him how funny Cousin Irv is, immediately followed by another expert who came out from the back and said the exact same thing.  We agree!   

Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems starts out like the three bears version, but all bets are off as the dinosaurs plot to eat Goldilocks.  (I won't ruin the ending!)  Lots of funny details to be found! Mo' love for Mo Willems!

Scaredy Squirrel Goes Camping by Melanie Watt is as entertaining as the other books about this very nervous squirrel.  You can't help but smile as Scaredy Squirrel, despite his fears of skunks and zippers, braves the nearby campground. 
Chicken Butt! by Erica S. Perl brings the classic joke to life.  Just plain fun.



Friday, August 9, 2013

Where should I sit?

Well, it is August, I have had my first “back to school dream” (read nightmare) and I find myself thinking more and more about my classroom.  After teaching for more than a decade most of the logistics are figured out.  I have my routines, my go to first day activities and d├ęcor all under control.  When I think back to what I pictured my classroom to be in college and then compare it to my current reality, I feel like I am getting closer and closer to that idealistic picture.  I am an Early Childhood teacher at my core.  I love watching children discover learning and earned my degree right in the middle of the constructivist, whole child push in Early Childhood Education.  My vision for my ideal room is an open space, where children buzz about working and learning together.  Over the years, I have made many steps to make that vision my reality.  As I grow in in my experience I have been able to take those steps that in the beginning of my career seemed so far away.

Environment:  Gone are my days of over the top bulletin boards-complete with twinkle lights and 3-D dragons popping off the wall!  I still work to make the room visually pleasing, but have come to understand the importance of having student’s learning anchored to the items in my room. My walls begin as blank frames, ready to be filled with student’s work and other evidence of our learning.
 Spring of last year, my colleagues and I took the ginormous step of not having assigned seats. Allowing first graders choose where to work and letting them to move around throughout the day was a big change and release of control.  We made work stations: standing tables, sitting tables, group spaces, individual spaces and spaces for the students to work while lying on the floor, a student could even sit at the teacher’s desk (I don’t have time to sit there anyway). I loved it, they loved it!  It felt calm and relaxed.  The students were learning to verbalize what they needed to be successful in their work habits and were more productive than ever.  When we made the jump last year, I knew my students.  It was safe; I knew what lessons would need to be taught to make it successful for everyone.  Beginning the year without assigned seats is scary, but I am not turning back.   It will bit bumpy at first, as I get to know a whole new class of children.  I know I will have to get past my control issues, but I have seen what it can be and I am hooked.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

New Year, New Goals

This summer's TBR stack
For the past eleven years, when the countdown to summer begins in May, two key purchases are made -- a brand-new spiral notebook and a pile of TBR professional literature.  deep breaths...and I'm excited and nervous at the same time.  Once the year gets rolling, I will be collaborating with teachers to establish student-centered goals and supporting teachers in building their understanding of the Common Core, along with our district's new reading materials.  My "me" goals are to:
I begin the summer with learning goals in mind and, as the summer stretches on, the goals morph into plans for implementing my summer learning with a new group of students.  Last summer, my learning focused on preparing for a new position as an instructional coach.  My district adopted a two-year coaching pilot project, placing three full-time coaches in selected buildings.  The year was filled with more personal and professional learning than I could have ever imagined.  I'm proud of the work I did side-by-side with both my fellow coaches and teaching colleagues.  But the question at the forefront for me is "What can I do better next year?"  August has arrived, and my summer learning notebook is filled with ideas.  The 2013-2014 school year begins a week from today...
  • Continue to build relationships.  Relationships are central to my coaching work.  Nothing happens without them.  Period. 
  • Incorporate technology into professional development.  Within the classroom, I believe it's important to embed technology into learning experiences grounded in best practice.  Similarly, I think there are exciting possibilities to embed technology into teachers' school-based professional development while staying true to effective PD practices. Stay tuned...
  • Read more middle-grade novels.  Between having two young children at home and teaching second grade for many years, this part of my reading life hasn't been as much of a focus as I would like.  I've read some of the books with lots of blog/Twitter buzz like The One and Only Ivan and Wonder, but I would like to refocus on this area. 
Best wishes on the start of your new school year!


Hopes and Dreams for 2013

Every time I sit down to write this post, my heart begins to beat faster.  I had the opportunity to attend a conference on Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) a couple of weeks ago.  When I consider my hopes and dreams for the year, I think about my obligation as an educator to give all the students an education I would want for my own children.  That is quite a charge.  Yet, with that charge, I get renewed, and I love thinking about the dreams for the year.  So here they are:
  1.      Inquiry based learning:  After reading a bit of Comprehension and Collaboration Inquiry Circles in Action, by Stephanie Harvey and Harvey Daniels; I hope to begin by implementing this in my Science/Social Studies block, with the vision to have it fully implemented in my classroom by next year.
  2.       Authentic use of technology.  This year as I teach my first twenty days, instead of teaching technology use as an “add on”, we can embed the use of technology in our learning from the beginning. 
  3.       With these two goals, the idea of classroom arrangement began to take more of a front seat as well.  A traditional set up in the classroom isn’t going to work with these goals.  More thoughts on this later. 

What is on your mind as you begin this year?  What are you hoping to accomplish or focus on? 


Joining the Conversation

Truth be told, we've each been pondering the idea of starting a blog for a while.  We are all avid blog readers.  The discovery of Google Reader was life-altering. (There was a brief moment of panic when Google first announced it was going away. But we found Feedly and Flipboard.  Crisis averted.)  After years of lurking on blogs and Twitter, a conversation began on a train at the zoo with our seven children riding with us.  We have had so many terrific conversations based off of something that we read on a blog.  The three of us decided that it was time to join the fun and give writing a try, thus our blog was born.  We're excited to reflect, share, and learn together. 

Annie, Jillian & Kendra