Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Big Picture for 2011-2012

After my amazing summer of Connecting and Collaborating, I've been thinking and rethinking my goals for this school year. I know these goals will grow and change, but here is what I am currently planning to focus on this year!

1) Thanks to Nicole (@ohionicole,) I've made the question "Why?" a huge part of my thinking for this year. Why am I doing what I'm doing? Why are the kids doing this? Why do they need to learn this? Why is this important? By keeping the "why" in mind, I hope to be more thoughtful and aware of what is going on in my classroom so that I can make positive changes.

2) Small group Math instruction has been on my mind for quite some time. I started playing around with the concept last year but never jumped in with both feet. I know the Sisters are coming out with their Math Daily 5 book sometime in the near future, but I want to start before then. Thanks once again to Twitter, I was able to connect with Kassia Wedekind (@kassiaowedekind) who has just written Math Exchanges. I'll be reading, reviewing, and reflecting on this book very, very soon! I know it will be extremely helpful in improving my math instruction.

3) Conferring with readers will play a much larger role in my reading instruction this year. With the help of an amazing group of educators this summer (#cyberPD,) I've realized just how powerful and integral those one-on-one conversations are for reading instruction. I'll use my Readers Workshop time to meet with individuals and keep my Daily 5 time for small groups.

4) Even though it is coming out of my own pocket for the most part, I am dedicated to participating in more professional learning conferences this year. So far, I'm signed up for a Debbie Miller workshop in October, the Sisters' Cafe workshop (again) in November, and NCTE11 in November. I have a few more ideas in mind, too!

5) I was nominated by my principal to be our school rep for the district Curriculum Committee. We'll meet monthly. I'm hopeful that this will be a great opportunity for my voice to be heard! Those who know me well know that I have a few opinions... :)

For years, I have found amazing inspiration through Garth Brooks' song The River. I am deeply moved by the phrase
"Choose to chance the rapids, and dare to dance the tide!"

That is (and hopefully always will be) my motto. I am not afraid to take a chance, go out in the water, and try something new! As a matter of fact, the link I provided is not even Garth... it's a new version by Scotty McCreery. :)

Off to explore the river...
~Komos :)

Friday, August 19, 2011

Ready or not...

Looking in from the hallway...
 Ready or not... here they come!  We will officially kick off the 2011-2012 school year on Monday. A day full of meetings, followed by our traditional "Open House" (Meet the Teacher) night. I have almost everything put away now (I'm a pile person, so some of my mess got shoved into my cabinets!)

First Impression

I have almost everything put away now (I'm a pile person, so some of my mess got shoved into my cabinets!) I love stepping out into the hallway and looking at what first impressions my new families will get when they arrive on Monday night.
Cozy Corner

I love that one of the first things that will catch their eye is the Cozy Corner. It's kiddy corner from the door and provides a great spot for growing readers to curl up with their Book Tubs each day. The lamp provides just enough light to add a glowing touch to the area!

"Front" of the room

On Open House night, families will see lots of information stored here. The bulletin board on the right currently houses my summer reading list but is ready to host the winners of our weekly vote as to our favorite read alouds! Below the board, Book Tubs are filled and anxiously awaiting the young readers' touch. They'll use these books until we gain some stamina and learn more about picking our own good fit books.

Built-in Teacher desk & Cabinets

Children will quickly learn that, while this area was supposed to be for me, it becomes yet another work space available to my budding readers and writers. You can't see it, but there is a "cave" under that comfy teacher chair. Always a favorite spot for first graders to squeeze into! The back corner is now home to my second "Listen to Reading" spot. It was always an underutilized space (a place to pile "stuff,") so this change will help!

Books, books, books!

This is a better glimpse of that Listening Spot, as well as a good place to see just a few of the baskets of books that are found in my classroom! At last count, I believe I had over 30 baskets around the room. Might be time for a few more!

Small Group Instruction

While I do use this space quite often to meet with small groups (for reading, writing, or math,) it is also a spot where groups of children can gather around for their own purpose. I'm also working on leaving that chair when I confer with students this year!

Calendar & Listen to Reading

Each day, my two "Hoppers" will update our calendar and weather before reporting it to the class. This is also a Listen to Reading spot. It's located in the Book Nook area.

Book Nook

Here is where most of our group time is spent! Fabulous conversations take place throughout the day. My CAMP (Cafe) board is located here as well, placed in the area where I know we can all see it and refer to it often.

Student Tables

Tables are pushed together to maximize sharing and collaborating! Students don't spend a whole lot of time here during the day, unless they choose to sit here. New spots are "assigned" daily, but as with many things, I'm searching for new ways to arrange seating!

Oh, how we love books!

As families leave my room, I'm hoping this will catch their eye. I've already overheard so many great discussions on favorite books and characters found here!

So, that's it. Camp Read-A-Lot is ready for 2011-2012. Now to work on those lesson plans...

~Komos :)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

My Summer of Connecting and Collaborating

Before school got out in June, I came up with a pile of professional resource books that were going to provide my summer professional development. Little did I know that would change quickly! By the end of June, I had created my own blog and was moved to take my summer learning in many different ways! I'd even go so far as to say most of my summer learning begins and ends on Twitter.

My Summer PD plan included that original stack of books, plus a few other items. Then, I "met" Cathy Mere and Jill Fisch on Twitter. Through our conversations, we found we all had Conferring: The Keystone of Reader's Workshop by Patrick Allen on our summer TBR pile. Alas, #cyberPD was born! Cathy and Jill asked me to join them in hosting an blog book chat centered around this book. Being the adventure gal that I am, I enthusiastically said yes before I even knew what a blog book chat was! You can see the results of our efforts on our Jog! So many great thinkers and educators joined us in the conversation. I thought deeper, reflected longer, and planned for how I would accomplish my goal of conferring with students about their reading.

Through connections on Twitter and #cyberPD, I "met" Nicole (@ohionicole.) Nicole teaches K in Ohio, and we are both thrilled to have made this connection! We have found that we really do think a lot alike, whether it's regarding teaching philosophy, classroom libraries, working with our teams, or remembering favorite read alouds with our kids.  While our teaching circumstances are different, I know we'll be learning a lot together this year.

The more I think about it, many/most of my summer learning, connecting, and collaborating took place through my PLN on Twitter! Here are a few of the things I accomplished this summer:
*After following #allwrite tweets, I signed up for a Debbie Miller conference, Cafe conference (again!,) and NCTE conference in Chicago.

*Facetime/Skype with Sarah (@soltauheller) ... my first video chat!

*Creating my own blog... x 3 !! (One for professional reflection, one for Daily5/Cafe, and one for my class!)

*#cyberPD co-host and participant

*co-moderator of #daily5 chat, along with Melody (@soingirl) and Mitch (@Mr_Mitch_Hughes)

*participated in weekly #1st chat (hosted by @CYarzy)

*Investigated tools like Evernote, planbook.com, SignUpGenius, Primary Wall

*Professional reading included Conferring, More Than Guided Reading, First Grade Readers, Preventing Misguided Reading, and Teaching With Intention

What I've decided is that, not only have I learned some very interesting tools and techniques, but I've also become much more reflective and connected this summer. It's going to make for a much more focused school year for me and for my first graders! I truly appreciate all of the connections I've made on Twitter and look forward to further conversations.

~Komos :)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


I. Love. Books. I have an extensive classroom library. I buy books constantly. My friends tell me I need therapy. Amazon loves me. So when Cathy (@CathyMere) and Mandy (@MandyRobek) suggested that I pick my 10 favorites, I thought, "Sure... no problem!" HA! Only 10? For real? It was way harder than I thought! But if I had to only survive with 10 books, here are my picks!

My number one pick is a surprising one. The Monster at the End of This Book But I stand by it! It is usually one of the first books I read to my class. Now you may be thinking... "Really? Sesame Street? How cheesy!" However, if you read the book the way it's intended to be read... complete with yelling, whispering, whining, and groveling... I can pretty much guarantee you will love this book! What really makes me love this book is how children fight over it after I've read it aloud and mimic the way I read it! And if your students love this one as much as mine do, you can always follow up with Another Monster at the End of This Book, starring Grover AND Elmo!

Chester is another favorite. You have to love the egocentric cat who gives Melanie Watt a run for her money! He's hilarious! This book inspires a lot of writing with my first graders. After I've read the three book series to them, I tend to see a lot of red colored pencils coming out for their own version of a Chester story!

Being a huge fan of the North Woods, I have to have One-Dog Canoe by Mary Casanova. In the spirit of The Mitten, all of these woodsy animals want to join in on this little girl's canoe ride. It provides a great story for predicting, reading along, rhyming, and learning about onomotopoeia. Truly a fun book!

In my 16 years of using this book, I have NEVER made it through without crying. The Rough Face Girl by Rafe Martin and David Shannon tells a Cinderella-type story about the Algonquin Indians. She is faced with hardships and cruelty, but she is the one who can see the Invisible Being. (Just writing that, I have the chills!!) It's a beautiful story with amazing illustrations. It fits nicely with comparing and contrasting, making text to text connections, and teaching about Native Americans.

Winter's Gift by Jane Monroe Donovan is another tear-jerker! The illustrations are gorgeous, and so is the message of this book...about always having hope. I love using this book for talking about the author's message, as well as for pointing out interesting words.

Another book I use to inspire young writers is Winter is the Warmest Season by Lauren Stringer. After the initial shock and discussion about how Winter is NOT the warmest season here in Illinois, Stringer convinces children that indeed, it is! Children love to write their own versions of this story. Last year, my first graders also enjoyed writing about how Summer is the coldest season!

Jingle Bells by Iza Trapani is a must-have for me as we celebrate our differences during the Holiday Season! While it doesn't cover every single country or celebration, it gives us a lot to talk about as we learn how our classmates celebrate with their families. Plus, it's a fun sing along!

Oh, how I love Straight to the Pole! Kevin O'Malley hooks the reader into following this little guy's journey to the Pole. It's a fantastic book for talking about voice and organization if you are doing the Six Traits. After the initial read, kids INSIST I go back and read it again so we can use our clues to see where the little boy is really going. This one is another book that students will read again and again on their own!

Who doesn't love a good monster book? I Need My Monster by Amanda Noll is a fresh take on the usual scared-of-monsters-under-my-bed story.  Kids loved to be creeped out by all of the monsters featured in the book! This is another one that fits well with teaching kids about voice and making connections.

Last, but definitely not least... Dogteam by Gary Paulsen. I am ... let's say... "passionate" about following the Iditarod and sled dog racing. I have friends who are involved in the sport, and I enjoy teaching my first graders about it. I found Dogteam after reading Gary's adult novel about the Iditarod, Winterdance, the Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod. (Incidentally, that is one of my favorite books!) Gary is a musher who has raced in the 1000 mile sled dog race, so he brings an authentic voice to his book. I use this book early in March when we follow along with the historic race, pick mushers to track, and get excited about the Last Great Race on Earth!

That's it! I did it!  My Top Ten, Must Have, Can't Teach Without #PB10for10! Thanks again to Cathy and Mandy for hosting this book-loving event!

-Komos :)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

It's about "More Than Guided Reading!"

Have you ever thought that there might be too much emphasis placed on Guided Reading? Are you doing Guided Reading just so you can say you're doing Guided Reading? Have you wondered if Guided Reading is the best way to read and teach every first grader? Ever tried to figure out how else you can get books into kids' hands? These are the kinds of things I've been thinking about for a few years now. The beginning of Cathy Mere's More Than Guided Reading book affirms many of the concerns I've been having! But her book doesn't stop there...

When I finished reading the book, I felt incredibly liberated and inspired. Liberated from feeling guilty that I no longer do guided reading the way I used to. Inspired to reach more readers by conferring with readers one-on-one and putting children in flexible small groups only as needed.

Cathy talks about how students learn to "talk the talk" of guided reading by decoding words and being able to figure out the main idea of text, but they weren't "walking the walk" and developing their own reading lives. She talks about how guided readING, not readERS, was the center of her reading instruction. I cannot even begin to tell you how many times I've thought that! I really, truly feel like this book was written just for me. It's exactly what I needed to push me in the direction I so desperately wanted to go!

When Cathy talks about how teachers are doing most of the work in Guided Reading (picking books, choosing the focus of the lesson, providing levels of support, asking the questions,) I really started thinking about my lessons. I was doing all of those things. My first graders have been doing well enough to pass through the levels, but I have been doing most of the work! Besides that, within that "leveled" group, I've got a very diverse group of six readers who all have different needs. Breaking away from what I've known to be as a "traditional guided reading group" (for the past 16 years) seems like a very logical step... but a step I've hesitated to take. Not. Any. More.

If you are using the Daily Five and/or CAFE in your classroom like I am, I found a lot of what Cathy said to affirm my reason for using this structure in my classroom. In order to become the readers I want them to be, students MUST be engaged in real reading opportunities every day. Providing a focus lesson, sessions of independent work time, and sharing time all fit with what I believe we need to do in our daily literacy routine.

Not only does Cathy provide reasons and research for looking beyond Guided Reading, but she also provides concrete examples and ideas. I went through two packs of Post-it flags (my favorite!) while reading the book!

In our current state of being all about data, data, data, I loved Cathy's practical approach to gathering and using assessment data. The first full paragraph on page 117 really made me ponder how I gather information about my students. I admire the way she truly weaves her assessment into her day... from informal conferences to read alouds to shared reading. She also reminded me of the value of sitting back, listening, and watching.

I've taken this next part directly from my notes that I typed into Evernote. :)
Page 142 THIS IS IT!!!!!!!!!! FAVORITE QUOTE!!!!!!!!!!! "If our schools looked beyond the pressure and short-term goals of testing and standards to encouraging life-long readers, our classrooms might look different yet still accomplish these goals. Reading makes readers." <----YESSSS!!!

I would highly recommend Cathy's book to anyone who works with young readers. That liberating, energizing feeling is going to help push me in new directions this year! Thank you, Cathy!