Teaching with Intention by Debbie Miller

I just finished a fantastic professional book and it’s really inspired me to get moving on my plans for this year. (Well, that and the fact that school starts in 2 weeks!). Debbie Miller’s Teaching with Intention: Defining Beliefs, Aligning Practice, Taking Action, K-5 is a must-read for ALL teachers.

This easy read will motivate you to reflect deeply on your teaching practices. More than once I found myself nodding and saying, “Yes!” while reading this book. The workshops that Debbie observes and writes about are the workshops we all want for our classrooms. Instead of basals and scripted programs, Debbie walks us through figuring out our own core beliefs and how to make sure they guide our teaching and interaction with students. The first chapter is called “Picture Perfect: How Does Your Ideal Classroom Look, Sound, and Feel”. Debbie shares with us that by determining our vision of what we want for our kids/classroom at the en of the school year we can set up a classroom that allows that to happen from the beginning. She stresses that the right environment is critical to student learning and achievement.

She continues on with ideas for aligning (best) practices, assessment, and setting up lessons that are in line with our beliefs. And all of this is done in a small, easy to read book! Also, a color insert of classroom pictures is included, and I am still drooling over those rooms! Needless to say, my ideas for classroom decor this year have changed since finishing this book. Definitely get your hands on this before school starts (or even if it already has!) You will not regret it. In fact, I can imagine rereading this every summer just to get recharged and energized for the coming school year

Swap

We have a bunch of people already signed up-some teachers, some not.  But we would love to have you, too!  Comment here, here, or email me!

Teacher Swap?

Just tossing an idea out there, trying to gauge some interest-

In my frequent blog reading, I have noticed a lot of swaps being mentioned. After a little bit of digging, I found out that a swap is when a group of bloggers/readers are paired up and send each other packages according to a theme. For example, there are New Mom swaps, Paper swaps, Pet swaps, and so much more. They are similar to random acts of kindness, or RAOKs, which are also popping up all over blogs and message boards. I LOVE this idea.

Would anyone be interested in a Teacher/Kidlitosphere swap? I am thinking the theme could be “Back to School”, though you wouldn’t have to be a teacher to participate! If you are interested, I will pair people up using the random number generator. You can send me your name and address and I will forward it to the person who has you. It will be a great way to promote blogs (yours or the ones you read)! Plus, who doesn’t like getting surprises in the mail?

For the actual swap, the theme word will be SCHOOL. You choose items to send to your partner based on this word. They can be teacher items, book related items, writing related items, or just plain fun ones! Here is an example:

S- Something to write with. You favorite type of pen/pencil to write with.

C- Crayons to brighten your life.

H- Happy things. I would totally send a copy of a favorite book here!

O- Organization. Something to keep you organized.

O- One thing I couldn’t live/teach without

L- Lazy days. Something that helps you relax, or calms you down during stressful times!

OK, in the act of typing this I have decided I want to host one!

Rules:
Sign up by: August 21st
Partners given by: August 23rd (I hope!)
Send out items by: September 20th

Budget: $20 (not including shipping)

To Sign up: e-mail me at thereadingzone@gmail.com with your name, mailing address and blog address. You do not have to be a blogger to join in the fun….Lurkers this is your chance to come out and play!!

I will list randomly selected partners on my blog by first name or nickname with links to their blogs…don’t worry if you don’t have a blog you can use e-mail to get to know each other.
I will send each person an e-mail with their partner’s e-mail. You guys can then exchange address info.

Theme: Back to school. Think along the lines of being a teacher, or starting a new year (us teachers always see September as the “real” New Years!). You can also think along the lines of passing along the love of reading/writing.

Details: You send your partner 6 items (somewhat school/reading/writing/teaching) in the theme which will represent the letters “S-C-H-O-O-L” (see above for example).
Your items can be store bought, handmade, secondhand, whatever…Be Creative!
Most importantly have fun!!!
Any questions please e-mail me at thereadingzone@gmail.com
Have Fun!!! Happy Fall!!

*ETA:  Once you receive your package, you can blog about it and the sender!  Hopefully, we all meet someone new in the blogosphere, plus get our names out there on new blogs!

$15 Free for Teachers

While reading the latest issue of Instructor, I happened to glance at an ad for GoldStarRegistry.com.  What is Gold Star Registry?  It is an online registry system, just for teachers!  So imagine registering for a bridal or baby shower, except this is for your school.  It’s a bit like Donors Choose, though the product catalog seems a bit smaller.  Lots of bulletin board borders, resource books, files, etc.

I promise there is a reason for this seemingly random post.  Instructor has a promo code for Gold Star Registry- register and get $15.00 to spend on your registry items.  I just made a simple registry and ordered $12.77 worth of nametags (monarchs!) and borders (more monarchs!!).  They didn’t ask for my credit card number or anything.  It seems great to me!

If you are interested, use Promo Code 240170 when you register.

Carnival of Education

Be sure to check out the latest issue of The Carnival of Education over at JoanneJacobs.  It’s the perfect way to get back into the school mode.  :)

Possible Read-alouds

I recently began thinking about what I will read aloud to my 6th graders this year. While I don’t stick to any prescribed list (including my own) I do like getting some ideas before the school year starts. My lists change as new books are published and as I get to know my class and their needs. But here are the books I am already considering:

Flying Solo by Ralph Fletcher- I love starting the year with this book. I usually only read it with my homeroom, during the week before we begin switching classes. It’s a great book about a class that has to work together when their school forgets to call a substitute for their teacher. The characters and situations are very realistic and it is a great community-building story. We talk about expectations, behavior, routines and procedures, and respect while reading it.

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt (review)- Like FLYING SOLO, this book is also a definite. I will read this aloud, though I might wait until later in the year. It’s a gorgeous story, but I think I have to get my students to love reading before I can get them to understand THE UNDERNEATH. This is a non-negotiable, though. I will be reading it aloud!

The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1) by Rick Riordan- I love ending the year with this action-packed tale. My students are learning about Ancient Greece in Social Studies at the same time, so we are able to do a lot of cross-curricular activities. Plus, most of them end up running out and buying the next books in the series, so it is a great way to start off summer reading.

Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer (review)- I love this book. And the edge-of-your-seat events really pull kids into the story. I am not sure if this makes a better read-aloud or literature circle book. But I will definitely use it in some way. And it is a survival novel, which I love to use as our first theme.  Hmmm.

Leepike Ridge by N.D. Wilson (review) or Peak by Roland Smith (review) – I like to start the year with a survival or environmental themed book. LEEPIKE RIDGE is a great adventure/survival story. As is PEAK. I love them both, for different reasons. But I can’t decide which one to use!

The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry (review)- I am considering doing an author study of Lois Lowry this year in Reading Workshop. THE GIVER is one of our district reading requirements (and one of my favorites) and I would love to begin with THE WILLOUGHBYS, discuss NUMBER THE STARS (which is read in 4th grade) and other Lowry works, and then go into THE GIVER. Does anyone have any suggestions?

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt (review)- Another favorite. This is a great character book, and it appeals to middle schoolers because it does such a great job describing middle school life. I really want to share this with the entire class.

Drums, Girls, And Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick (review)- Most likely a non-negotiable. We read this aloud while preparing our Hope Chests for the Center for Children with Cancer and Blood Disorders. It’s too perfect not to share as class, especially during that time.

Wow, that’s a lot of books!  Especially when I know that even more books will be added to the list when I begin reading the Fall publications.  Eep!  But I love the looks of this list so far, so it is going to be a great year!

Reading letters/essays

On a recent post about my reading workshop, Jenna asked how I handle letter essays in my class:

I just finished The Reading Zone Recently. I”m curious to hear how you handle the reading letters. I have such a hard time keeping up with the grading. How do you do the reading letters with your class?
Jenna

Now, keep in mind that I have anywhere from 35-50 students for language arts each day. When I read The Reading Zone: HOW TO HELP KIDS BECOME SKILLED, PASSIONATE, HABITUAL, CRITICAL READERS
I knew that I wanted to begin using letter essays in my class.  However, I also knew that I could not handle responding to almost 50 letters on a weekly basis (without losing my sanity).  So I modified the assignment for my classes.

At the beginning of the year I introduced the letter essays by letting my students know that we would be working towards writing them independently.  However, I did not begin assigning them until closer to December.  My students do not come from a workshop background, so I had a lot of work to do before they would be capable of producing the type of letter essay I was looking for.  We spent a few months really digging into talking about reading and then writing about reading.  I shared examples of letters I wrote and examples from Atwell.  Together, my students and I developed a list of sentence prompts to help with their thinking/talking about reading.  I typed the list up and it was placed in their binders.  Finally, I began assigning the letter essays.

I divided each class into 4 groups.  In my morning class, Group 1 was due the first Tuesday of the month.  Group 2 was due on the second Tuesday.  Group 3 on the third Thursday, etc.  My afternoon class was divided the same way, except their letters were due on Thursday.  This allowed me to collect between 5-7 letters on Tuesday, respond to them, and return them before getting the next class’ letters.    It was overwhelming at times, and I admit I often fell behind.  But each student always received a letter back from me, with a response to their thinking, my thoughts on the book, and sometimes a recommendation.  The kids loved it.  And their letter essays only got better as the year progresse.

In order to keep them accountable, I assessed each letter essay out of a 4-point rubric.  The rubric was very simple- 0 meant no letter essay was handed in, 1 meant there was no thinking (just summary) and it didn’t follow the directions (at least 3 paragraphs), 2 was a good effort but not quite there, 3 was almost there, and 4 was perfection.  I do my grades on a point system, and the letter-essay grade worked out to be about 20 points/marking period.  Just enough to make the students accountable.

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