Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Creating a Classroom Constitution

I think most teachers would agree that it is incredibly important to establish class rules early on the first day of school. The first step I always took was to read one or more books about why we need rules. My favorite is The Awful Aardvarks Go to School by Reeve Lindbergh. It is a bit over the top, which I love, and always elicited laughter. 

Here are some other books that would work just as well.

 After I read the book, it was time to discuss why we need rules. Then I introduced my Standards for Success. Here are the ones I used.

Standards for Classroom Success
Be prepared.
Participate actively.
Show a positive attitude.
Treat others politely and with respect.
Follow classroom and school procedures.

 I found that students always said they agreed with the rules, but time proved that they didn’t always understand what they really meant. So I developed the idea of writing a Class Constitution to insure student buy-in.

After introducing the standards, I divided the class into 5 groups and gave each group a sheet of chart paper with one of the standards written at the top. I then instructed the groups to work together to decide what the rule meant exactly – what it looks like, what is observable, what are the attributes. I also talked about how it is better to be positive and tell what to do instead of what not to do. Then I had them decide on a group recorder and turned them loose.

I monitored the groups to see when most were finished. Then I posted the charts in the room and we did a gallery walk. Each group had 2-3 minutes to read the work of each other group.

After we completed our gallery walk, we worked together as a class to select the most important points to be bullet points for the classroom constitution. I found that there was always some overlap and duplication, so we combined some ideas and crossed off duplicates. I tried to be sure we were specific enough so that there could be no question about what each bullet point meant.

The next day, I read We the Kids by David Catrow to the students. It is a kid-friendly explanation of the Preamble to the Constitution. Through shared writing, we negotiated our own Preamble.

After school that day, I typed up the constitution and preamble and took it to a copy shop to have it enlarged poster size. I know that many schools now have poster machines available on campus – lucky you! I brought the poster with me to school the next day, and we had a signing ceremony. I liked to show students a copy of the Declaration of Independence first and talk about adding their John Hancock to the document. I always signed it, too.

Then, throughout the year, when students broke the rules, it was easy to point to the Constitution and say, “Your signature says that you agreed to these rules.”

When we had new students join the class, their class mentor (a student I assigned to be a helper to the student the first few days) would share the Class Constitution and help the new student add his/her signature to the document.

Here is the actual document from one of my classes about 8 years ago. I dug through my old files and found it. Please notice the “fancy document” font I used. LOL You can see that I left lots of space at the bottom for the signatures. I also used the students' language as much as possible. After all, this is a shared effort.

I liked to revisit the Classroom Constitution throughout the year, especially after any long breaks from school. It is fun to read one of the books I shared above and ask the students which bullet point is being violated in the story.

If you try this, I’d love to hear all about it!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Writing Prompts to Start the School Year

I love to teach writing. But few of my students ever came to me loving to write. I knew that I had to ease them into the idea of process writing and spending more than ten minutes on one piece of writing.

What we know from research is that personal narrative is the easiest form of writing for our students. Kids have grown up with narrative, so the idea of story is easy for them to grasp. We also write best about what we know from our own lives. So I start the year every year with personal narrative, a story about our own lives.

After we set up our writer’s notebooks, I did a series of reading-writing connections: read alouds using books that spark a writing prompt that will appeal to almost every student.  Each day we read a different book and did some writing. These are the books I used, but there are others that have the same themes. Feel free to substitute books that you have in your library.

After I read each book, I modeled for the kids by thinking aloud. I told them a story that fits the prompt, then invited them to write. At the same time, I am writing. It is incredibly important for our students to see us writing and sharing our writing. I monitor the time and when it looks as if most students are finished, we share. Sharing can happen in several ways. You can invite students to share with the whole class; students can do a pair-share with the person next to them; or you can group 3-4 students to share with each other.

All kids have gotten in trouble sometime in their lives. I model for the kids by thinking aloud about the time my mom dressed my sister and me in brand new clothes so that we could meet family who had never seen us. While she was getting herself ready, we found some red paint in the garage and painted ourselves (and our new clothes!) Then I invite students to write about a time they got in trouble. This is one of the prompts that leads to some great writing.

Birthdays are memorable for kids. They’ve all encountered a good one or a bad one. I tell them about the year my sister got to invite her whole class to the Officer’s Club for a big celebration. That same year, I had the kids who lived down the street over for cake on the picnic table out back. The prompt I offer is for students to write about a memorable birthday. They know from my example that memorable can mean good or bad!

This book lends itself to two prompts. Students can write about a time they were brave or a time they encouraged another person. As usual, I share a story. Sometimes I write about how I was brave when I rode my first roller coaster. Sometimes I talk about encouraging a student. I also tell students they can write about a time someone encouraged them.

Most of us have had a time when we were happy about spending time with family. I often share about the Easter at my grandparents when somewhere around 20 cousins got together for an egg hunt. I then ask students to write about a special time with their family.

This book is about Booker T. Washington learning to read and the lengths he went to in order to achieve that goal. I tell about getting my teaching degree or my master’s degree. Sometimes I tell about buying my first home or getting my first dog. Then I invite students to write about something they want now or wanted in the past more than anything else.

After we have completed these pieces of writing, I ask students to choose their favorite to take through the writing process. In this way. I am honoring the idea of choice that is so important in writing workshop, but also meeting requirements of curriculum that says students must be able to write a personal narrative on the state test later in the year. When we reflect on our writing at the end of the year, many students say these pieces were their favorites.

I hope this gives you an idea of how you can use picture books to prompt writing. Feel free to share any books you use to spark student writing.

I know how easy it is to lose track of ideas you read in a blog, so I have compiled this information into a freebie and posted it here in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. You can also click on the cover and it will take you to the product.

If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at krazytownblog at or leave a comment. I’ll get back to you as quickly as possible! 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Vegas, Baby!

I'm linking up with A Burst of First to tell about my trip to Vegas.

When Teachers Pay Teachers announced their first ever conference, I hesitated for a long time about going. Vegas isn't cheap, y'all, and in the scheme of things, I am a baby blogger and seller. But I bit the bullet and decided to go.

I knew that a few of the bloggers I had met at local meetups would be there, and so would many of the folks I've "talked" with on-line. I was excited to possibly meet those bloggers I've followed and admired for many years.

Can I just say that I am so happy I took the leap and went? It was so inspiring to hear Paul Edelman, the founder of TpT tell the story of how the company came to be. I cried when Deanna Jump shared her journey. I learned so much in the sessions I attended and came home with a HUGE to do list. I talked to many of the bloggers I have loved for years and they were gracious and kind. I made new friends and came home full of excitement to share my ideas with all of you.

I arrived Wednesday afternoon and checked in. The Venetian Hotel is beautiful! This is the ceiling in the lobby.

The first event I attended was the Teacher Blogger Meetup. There was somewhere around 550 people in that room  overwhelming! I was able to speak to some of the people I "knew" already and met a few new ones, too! 

The next day I walked over the Mirage to pick up my ticket for the Cirque du Soleil LOVE show Thursday night. While there, I celebrated my geekiness by playing a Star Trek slot machine. I boldly went where most people go and donated a few dollars.

I returned to the Venetian in time to have lunch with this lovely bunch of women. I met Angela Watson of The Cornerstone for Teachers last summer in San Antonio. It was great to see her again and meet some new to me people.

That evening a bunch of us met up and went to the show. It was wonderful. If you like the Beatles at all, I highly recommend it!

 The next day was the conference itself. I attended sessions on copyright, blogging, marketing, and product creation. Every presenter was fabulous and I was amazed at their willingness to share what worked to make them so successful. In this day and age of fierce competition, it is so nice to be affiliated with people who are generous and kind.

I want to say a special thank you to Kimberly Geswein of KG Fonts. I got to have lunch with her and her husband (among others) the day of the conference. She gave away a license to use all of her fonts, and I was the winner! Talk about hitting the jackpot!

After the conference was a happy hour. I visited the photo booth with my new friend Kristen from Chalk and Apples. I had a lot of fun being goofy!

By then, I was pooped. But there was still one more event - a meet up sponsored by Ramona Recommends. I'm afraid I wasn't good company. Sorry friends. No photos from that.

I have some great blog posts in the works and I'm determined to keep up a consistent blogging schedule. Talk to you soon!

Monday, June 30, 2014

July Currently

I love linking up every month with Farley for her Currently. Here's mine:

  • Every weeknight at 10:30 is Perry Mason time. Love these old reruns.
  • I went to a beautiful wedding in Corpus Christi Saturday. The daughter of one of my dear friends got married in the Texas State Aquarium. It was such a unique setting and we had a blast.
  • We needed that wedding to take our minds off some bad news we received. A friend was killed in a motorcycle accident Friday. 
  • I need to lose weight but I don't want to work at it. Surely I am not the only one.
  • I am excited to go to the first Teachers Pay Teachers conference. I am having trouble deciding what to wear!
  • We always grill for the fourth and hang out here at home.
Go visit Farley and check out the other posts in the linky. If you join, don't forget the rule of three!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Notice and Note Book Study Part 8

Welcome back for part 8 of the Notice and Note online book study. I am so excited to be hosting!

Today we are looking at the following:

Our Generalizable Language
The authors point out that it is important for teachers to make signpost lessons explicit by using the generalizable 
language when doing a think aloud with students. They give us the generalizable language they use on p. 85 - what a great "cheat sheet" for teachers!

They also point out that it isn't important to use the same specific names for signposts that the authors use. We should use the label that works for us and our students. What is important is to notice the signpost and think about the anchor question.

Explaining the Sign Posts
The authors give some great tips to consider when we begin explaining the signposts to our students.

  • Decide upon an order for teaching the signposts. They recommend starting with Contrasts and Contradictions, Aha Moments and Tough Questions. These seem to occur more frequently and are more easily identifiable. Next they recommend Words of the Wiser, especially as it relates to theme. Then move to Again and Again and Memory Moments.
  • Set aside time to teach each signpost lesson. These are not mini-lessons, so be prepared to spend 30-40 minutes on each.
  • Teach each signpost lesson with a text that illustrates the targeted signpost. The authors provide suggested texts to use in the mentor lessons in the book and give tips to consider when selecting our own texts. It is very important to choose something that can be read aloud in 10-15 minutes.
  • Recognize that the model text you want to use might be one that is not at a student's independent reading level. That's ok as long as the students can deal with the content.
  • Use a gradual release model. Demonstrate first, then turn part of the task over to the students, and finally, have them do it on their own.
  • Think about the generalizable language you will use. It is important to plan what you will say. Create an anchor chart for the signpost as you teach and hang it on the wall for students to refer to.
  • Experiment. Try a different approach to teaching the signposts.
One reason I love this book so much is that the authors give us all the tools we need to teach our kids. I know that the first time that I teach a new concept, I tend to script my lessons. That is something I would need to do here as well.

I am also so excited to have another way to approach theme with students. This has always seemed a difficult concept for my third and fourth graders to grasp.

What are you thinking?

" "

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Signed, Epstein's Mom

I've been absent for a while. Here's my excuse:

This is my sister and her two grandchildren. Aren't they cute? They are here visiting, so I've been very busy coloring, swimming, watching movies, and talking. Lorraine will be in first grade next year and Peyton will be a Kindergartener. Such a fan age!

I'll be back on Thursday to host section 8 of the Notice and Note book study.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Notice and Note Book Study Part 5

Welcome back for part 5 of the Notice and Note online book study. Today we are looking at the following:

How do I Judge the Complexity of a Text?
My school district recently moved to requiring teachers to level our classroom libraries according to Lexile levels. We were to use those levels to instruct students after testing the kiddos to find their Lexile. I understand matching books to readers, but I had a problem with this idea. The Lexile does not take into consideration the content of the material. The books Monster and Speak deal with very mature issues, yet have Lexile levels of 670 and 690. Those levels are suggested for approximately grades 3-5. If I recommended them for my fourth grade students, parents would be very upset with me and rightly so.

I think it is important for teachers to read the texts we are using with students first to be sure it truly matches what we plan to use it for. We cannot rely simply on a leveling system to make those decisions. It makes me sad when I hear teachers say they don't like to read. If we aren't readers, how can we model a love of reading for students?

Are We Creating Life-Long Learners?
It seems to me that we are not creating life-long learners these days. Instead, we are creating test takers. I tried to fight that trend while I was teaching. I wanted my students to love learning, to be readers, writers, and thinkers. Those are skills that transfer over to real life. But the focus on passing high-stakes tests has killed the love of learning for many teachers and kids. I wish I knew how to make that better.

Go visit Meg at The Teacher Studio and Tammy at Teaching FSL to link up and read more thoughts on these questions!