Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Important Book

Our comprehension strategy for the past few weeks has been topic, main idea, and details. Typically I have read non-fiction books and then discussed topic, main idea and details by making an anchor chart with the class. After several rounds of this the kids kind of understood T, MI and D ... but I didn't think it was a deep enough understanding.

So this year another first grade teacher introduced me to The Important Book by Margaret Wise Brown. This book was PERFECT and after a week of working with it, my class has a much better understanding of why we need to understand T, MI and D when reading and writing.

Here's what I did:

Day 1: We read The Important Book. I found this website that talks about The Important Book in the framework of the 6-Trait Writing philosophy. The Important Book works for T, MI, and D because it uses a specific, repetitive framework on each page, so it is easy to point out the pattern and then show students how they can write like Margaret Wise Brown.  On Monday, I read the book, pointing out the patterned language on each page and then we looked at this poster together:
On the first day this chart was blank. I just copied "The important thing about _______ is ___________." Then I laminated it so we could use it all week.

Day 2: We re-read some of our favorite pages in The Important Book and reviewed how the most important part of the book is the main idea and the author gets to decide what that is! Then the author gives us details about the topic, but reminds us that despite those details there is one thing that is the MOST important thing about the topic. Together I showed the class a bag of candy and we filled in the important poster using candy as our topic. Students talked with their carpet partners about the most important thing about candy and then some other things that could be used as details. Then we came back together and filled in the poster as a class (see above picture).  After filling in the poster together, each child went back to their seats and illustrated one detail about candy. I typed up the important page we wrote together on the carpet and then I laminated their writing and  put the pages together to make a class book, "The Important Book about Candy."

Day 3: I read their class book to them. They love listening to books they make themselves, even though some of the pages had the same ideas! After reviewing topic, main idea, and details as presented in The Important Book, I told the students they would each be writing a page of an important book, but instead of candy, these pages would be about themselves. I modeled how my page may look:

The most important thing about Mrs. Z is that she is a teacher. It is true she has blonde hair. She has a dog. She also loves to run. But the most important thing about Mrs. Z is that she is a teacher.

After brainstorming with their carpet partner, each child went back to their seat and filled out this pre-writing page from the 6-Trait website.

Day 4: After continuing to conference with students about their pre-writing from yesterday, students re-wrote their important book page on writing paper. Most of my conferences were about showing students how to pick out the most important thing about themselves and then writing REALLY great details. We are still working on the final draft and once I compile the book this coming week I will share pictures!

I loved teaching topic, main idea and details this week and I will definitely use this mini-unit again next year!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Favorite Things that Worked This Week

One of my purposes for writing this blog is to keep a running record of things that worked in my room and things that I need to keep thinking about. This week I capitalized on Valentine's Day and made heart Elkonian boxes to use in my guided reading groups. We started with the hearts in the boxes and then pushed them up into the hearts for each sound. I used clip art from DJ Inkers and found the heart vase fillers in the dollar spot at Target. It was amazing how much my first graders wanted to get their little fingers on those purple hearts! I told them if they were not listening and following the directions then they would get the regular chips instead of the hearts ... needless to say they sat right up in their seats and started their warm up read!

The second successful project for this week actually came from one of my fellow first grade teachers. Although our district uses the HM math series, our grade level regularly consults Teaching Student Centered Mathematics (K-3) by John Van De Walle. We are currently working on money in small math groups, but we are always trying to find ways to provide our students with a strong number sense foundation. This week we introduced these cards and then later moved them into a math station.

At first the cards looked daunting and I was even a little skeptical about using them, but the thinking was that if we strengthen our students' mixed skip counting skills then it would be easier to count a mixed group of coins (dimes, nickels, pennies). Van de Walle points out how abstract counting money is and that it is hard for students to make sense of why each coin is worth an arbitrary amount.

The front of the card looks like this. I taught my class that when you see a 10 you count by tens and then when the numbers switch you have to count on by ones. The last number you say is the answer. So for this card you would count "10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74."

Then they flip the card over to check the answer. I also put out a game board with these cards so when the students get the right answer they move their piece up one spot on the gameboard.

Not only did the students get it, but they thought it was challenging and thus when they got the answer right they were hooked. I am not sure how effective this game will be in helping students count money because we have not assessed counting with mixed coins yet, but I am hoping to see a difference!

Friday, February 11, 2011

What a week!

This week was exhausting.  It didn't help that it was the first full week of school we have had in a few weeks. Needless to say, I am very happy it is Friday.

As I was leaving school today, I took a picture of the Virginia quilt my class made for the district Social Studies fair. Each first grade teacher made one and we have them hanging up in our first grade hall. They look great and really seem to have helped the students recognize the shape of their state and understand that our city is in our state. Plus, it was great to do a project with the class and watch their reaction when it was all put together.

We used scrapbook paper and a stencil to make the Virginia cut out.
 Then we wrote the title, "Virginia." We added a compass rose and a map legend before gluing all the quilt squares together on fadeless.

 It was great to take the time to do this project and watch the students work together! 

Sunday, February 6, 2011

I wrote this post a few weeks ago during a snow day and finally downloaded the pictures to go with it. So here it is:

Jan. 2011:
Today was a surprise snow day and my quality time alone in my classroom was very productive. One of my biggest accomplishments was cleaning out and reorganizing the classroom library. I had been noticing that my students were reading less and less in the classroom library during literacy work stations, and spending more time playing. So on our day off I switched all the old books out for new books from my classroom library stash. I learned my first year that fewer is better when it comes to the amount of books in the classroom library. You don't have to put out every book you have. So it seemed perfect timing to re-do the classroom library in January. I changed the book baskets and made new labels and just put them on over the old labels:
  • Famous People
  • Animals
  • Transportation
  • Characters We Love
  • Authors We Have Read
  • Chapter Books
Then I kept the Science, Math, Social Studies bins and of course their reading bags, organized by reading group. I tried to pick high interest topics and a variety of reading levels within each topic. I also have blue, red and green leveled books. In addition to their reading bags, students can read from their appropriate reading level bin. It is a small classroom library but it is easy to manage and keep organized. I also have a "Book Hospital" basket for books that get ripped (seems to happen a lot this year) or for when students forget where a book belongs. That way students can manage their library themselves.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Have You Filled Your Bucket Today?

Despite my many attempts at teaching my class about being kind, polite and respectful, I still feel we  need some more practice in these areas.  I have done lessons on tattling and have several positive behavior systems in place (color chart, paper clip chain, school- wide token economy), but we need something else to provide concrete scaffolding to help the students be reflective and change their behavior.

I had used class meetings in a previous school district I worked in, and even did some research during my student teaching on the effectiveness of class meetings ( I saw positive results) I have decided to beef up my morning meeting and include more character education. I explained instead of morning message on Fridays, we would have a class meeting where we spend time playing a short "team bonding" game, talking about 2 problems we noticed from the week and then brainstorming solutions to those problems, and last highlighting the positive parts of our week. I read Have You Filled a Bucket Today: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids  by Carol McCloud.

This was a "new to teaching" find for me, but now I have read about a lot of schools that use this as their school-wide behavior management system.

I had tried the day before to start up a "kindness pebble jar"...every time I caught a student being kind, I would add a pebble to the jar, but I needed a good read aloud to anchor the idea. Then another first grade teacher shared this book with me. I read it today and the kids loved it. We had a great morning and earned 10 kindness pebbles for our class bucket. I heard kids saying "You are filling up my bucket" and asking me if my bucket was filled. (They couldn't believe teachers have buckets.)
(PS: This book has major implications for adults and teachers too!) 

Below is the bucket box and the little buckets I found at Target. I think I will use the star bucket first as our class bucket. I just grabbed a few more in case I needed one bucket for each table or something else in the future. The box is for students to put in bucket dipper or bucket filler examples for us to talk about at our weekly class meeting on Friday. I am hoping instead of tattling, students will try to write or draw about their concern and put it in the bucket box, especially during literacy work stations when I am busy with guided reading groups.