Monday, January 30, 2012

Mother Goose Monday

Because it seemed like my first graders were coming to school with very little background knowledge of traditional nursery rhymes, I implemented "Mother Goose Mondays." Each Monday, we highlight one nursery rhyme to add to our poetry/song binders. Then, throughout the year, we also go back and revisit the ones we've already added. I've been doing this with my classes for the past four years or so... and it's always a favorite activity!

Nursery rhymes tend to be rich with vocabulary, full of material for phonemic awareness lessons, and are the basis for so many other stories and poems. I could go on and on as to the benefits of sharing nursery rhymes with children!

My favorite teacher resource book for nursery rhymes is probably this one, Mother Goose Brain Boost: Using Music and Movement to Teach Cognitive Skills by Steven Traugh and Susan Traugh. There is a CD to go along with it, and it contains a song and/or movement activity for each nursery rhyme. I haven't used a lot of the paper activities that are in the resource book, other than the actual copy of the nursery rhyme, but there are tons of ideas given!

My first graders get SO excited when we get to play along with the CD! It allows us to get up, move, be silly, and learn. Just this morning, we added Hickory Dickory Dock to our poetry/song binders. There were cheers and spontaneous clapping when I started the song on the CD!

In a time when we are so driven by numbers and data and fidelity, I think it is crucial to continue to bring JOY into our classrooms! This is just one small way in which I do just that.

~Komos :) 

Friday, January 27, 2012

Let's Read S'More!!

Our S'More Reading Bulletin Board
Each week, my first graders vote on our favorite read aloud. This has been a growing bulletin board as the year has progressed! We enjoy looking back and seeing which books we loved. It's a great way to look back and see our class reading journey, too! These books are then kept in our "favorites" basket for a while for all to enjoy!

We were really excited to add a chapter book to our board today. It's always fun to vote on Friday and see what makes it on the board!

I credit Cathy Mere (@CathyMere) for this idea! I decided to try it after reading her book More Than Guided Reading.

How do you keep track of "favorites" in your classroom?

~Komos :)

Friday, January 20, 2012

Last Great Race on Earth

Me and 4-time Iditarod champ
Lance Mackey!!!!

A few years ago, I was chatting with two of my podmates and they suggested that we teach our first graders about the Iditarod. In typical Komos fashion, I jumped on board... and then asked what it was. :)   I will tell you that, in general, I've moved away from "themes" in my classroom and focus more on strategies using a variety of topics. I teach "nonfiction studies" which help children learn to use nonfiction books and occasionally, a "theme" or topic will emerge through that study.

For those who don't know, the Iditarod is a 1,000 mile sled dog race through the wilderness in Alaska. It is based on the original "race" in 1925 to bring medicine to children in Nome who were dying from diphtheria. Because of the blizzard conditions at the time, the only way to get the medicine across Alaska was by dog team. The Iditarod race celebrates the history of that original Serum Run.

Because of that conversation with Baughman and McCoy, I have become obsessed passionate about the sport of mushing! I follow many, many races each year including the Iditarod. As I write this, I have already followed training season and many races that have already taken place this season in Alaska! I have had the good fortune of meeting a bunch of mushers and camping with them up in Michigan. What passionate, down-to-earth, dog-loving people! I just can't get enough. I am an Alaska/mushing junkie!

Prior to the race, we take a week or two to in our first grade classroom to learn about Alaska. Understanding life in Alaska helps children understand the extreme conditions of the race! One of my first graders' favorite books every year is always Recess at 20 Below by Cindy Lou Aillaud. We also read nonfiction books that talk about the land, animals, and weather in Alaska. This is also a fantastic way to focus on map skills!

During the race, each child picks a musher to follow. Because I tend to read a lot and follow the mushing events, I first pick 25 or so mushers who I think can be contenders in the race. I might also choose mushers who have a "special story." For example, Rachel Scdoris is a blind musher who we followed one year. Pat Moon was a musher from Chicago, close to our hometown. I also make sure my kids always follow my friends who are racing (Lance Mackey, Ryan Redington, Hugh Neff, DeeDee Jonrowe.) Children then draw musher names out of a hat to decide who they'll track. We track each of their musher's progress throughout the race until they finish the race in Nome. I have also subscribed to the Iditarod Insider so that we can watch videos from the race and follow the GPS trackers. Every year, I have parents complimenting me on how much the whole family has enjoyed this experience!

The Iditarod doesn't take place until early March, but I am writing this in hopes of sharing some resources so that you might consider teaching your students about this "Last Great Race on Earth!" I will post more information as the race draws near but wanted to give you time to gather materials.

Here are some "must haves!"

*Access to official Iditarod website; subscription to Insider is a plus!
*Giant wall map where kids can track their musher's progress (maybe on IWB?)

Books to share with kids!
*There are quite a few books about sled dogs and mushing, but these are a few of my favorites.*
Dogteam by Gary Paulsen
Recess at 20 Below by Cindy Lou Aillaud
Miki's Challenge: One Sled Dog's Story by Jackie Winkowski
Sled Dogs Run by Jonathan London
Wiggle-Waggle Woof! Counting Sled Dogs in Alaska by Cherie B. Stihler
The Incredible Life of Balto by Meghan McCarthy

Books for your information and entertainment!
Winterdance by Gary Paulsen
The Lance Mackey Story by Lance Mackey
The Cruelest Miles by Gay Salisbury

If you have questions, ideas, or want to know more, I'd love to hear it! I'll be posting more thoughts and ideas as the race draws near. Happy Trails!
~Komos :)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

All but 3...

As is required at the end of each quarter, I completed running records on all 22 of my first graders in the past two days. I was astounded by what I discovered!

All but 3.. yes, All. But. 3. of my little friends have already met or exceeded our grade level benchmark/reading level for first grade! Our exit level benchmark is F&P is I/J.  I have 19 out of 22 students who are reading at levels J, L, N, and R! Even more importantly, I can see their reading lives unfolding before my eyes.

(Background: My kids ranged from levels A-M in September, with the majority being in levels C-E.)

I no longer believe this "level" is the foundation of my reading instruction, but I have made some HUGE changes this year and was hoping this would happen. I have been reflecting on what I've done this year... or more importantly, what we've done. Here are the things I believe have helped us get here:
*sharing amazing books with children through read alouds
*sharing my reading life with my first graders
*discussions about books (whole group, small group, partners, individually)
*conferring with individuals
*time to read independently EVERY day
*CHOICE about what they read

It goes without saying (but I'll say it anyway) that my professional reflections, my blog and my Twitter friends have helped me become much more intentional and thoughtful about what I'm doing and why. I intend to continue to stand on the shoulders of the literacy experts, too!

Here is what really gets me... I have not met with a single guided reading group since September. Almost 5 months. Instead, I've focused my time on conferring with individuals. When I mentioned this to a colleague today, she was taken aback. She couldn't believe that I had abandoned guided reading! She had lots of questions about what I was doing and why I think it's better than the traditional guided reading we have done for years. I did some explaining, but I think it would be more powerful coming from others!

Please help me by commenting and explaining your rationale! If you are conferring with individuals, why are you doing it? Why do you feel it benefits your readers more than the traditional guided reading format?

~Komos :)

Monday, January 9, 2012

Living in "the cloud!"

I've been told that I'm a dreamer, but lately, I really feel like I am living "in the cloud!" We hear a lot these days about saving work, music, and more to "cloud" types of storage spaces. Now, I'm not even sure exactly what that means... but I have made some changes this year that have helped me tremendously. All of these tech tools are web-based and have apps that I can access as well. Because they are housed this way, I can access them easily from any device! Fabulous!

I switched from keeping a paper log of my lesson plans to using Planbook. I. Simply. Love. It. I love that I can access it from my home computer, school computer, iPad, cell phone... any time! If I think of something I've forgotten, I can log on and quickly enter it in. I was able to set up each of my "subject" areas as well as "specials" classes. From there, I can then enter specific lessons, ideas, mentor texts, and more. I can even link to standards or create a printable PDF of my plans. I was a little worried at first because it looked as though the only schedule option was to have a Monday-Friday type of schedule. After a little more investigating, I was able to enter our A-E schedule. The best part about this comes when we have a day off of school and our schedule then changes. Simply enter the day(s) off and Planbook shifts the schedule for me! So easy!!

I have blogged a little bit about how I'm using this site/app to help me with my reading conferences. More and more, I'm finding how much better this has been than my old paper binder method! It's fantastic to have my notes at my fingertips any time I need it. I'm still learning how to use it to its full potential, but I love it so far! When I confer with a student, I take notes directly in the Evernote app on my Droid phone. I still keep a paper calendar to schedule conferences, but all of my notes appear in Evernote. Handy to have it with me any time I need it!

Booksource's Classroom Organizer
This is the newest tool I've "discovered!" My Twitter friends at Booksource have been advertising this tool for a while, but I only recently started looking at it. This offers a website and an app for logging in your classroom library. Not only can I manage my enormous library, but there is an option for having a check-out system if I so choose! I love that there is a barcode scanner attached to it so I can grab a book, scan it, and BOOM! It's saved to my library! Because I have a ginormous classroom library, right now I am just using the Classroom Organizer to keep track of my read aloud books. I am so excited to get more of my books scanned in! I actually just sent an email to them about some suggestions I have and heard right back. Now THAT is good customer service! :)

What new tools have you discovered this year?
~Komos :)

Monday, January 2, 2012

One Little Word challenge

Thanks to Mandy and Katherine for posting their one little word challenges! I would've missed this one if I hadn't seen their thoughtful posts. The idea originally comes from the Two Writing Teachers blog.

I've thought about my word for a while now... and I think I have to go with my initial word.


I do love my "why" philosophy for this school year but have to add "stand" to help focus myself.

*Stand up for what I believe in.
*Stand strong when faced with tough challenges.
*Stand firm when asked to do things I don't believe to be best practice.
*Stand proudly as a member of the #nerdybookclub.
*Stand alone when necessary.
*Stand up for my students and what I believe to be best for them.
*Stand next to my first graders as they discover who they are as readers.
*Stand my ground as a believer in authentic learning experiences for children.
*Stand true to who I am.
*Stand up when trying new things, new ideas, and new learning.
*Stand back when I need to.

What would you choose as your one little word?
~Komos :)