Percy Jackson and Greek Mythology

Right now, my two classes are completely obsessed with our read-aloud: The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1). I chose the first book in the Percy Jackson series as our final read aloud for the year because it is the perfect tie-in with my kids’ Greece unit in Social Studies.  I love the entire series, and was hoping my kids would enjoy the book (and get hooked on the series over the summer).  In no way was I prepared for complete and utter obsession that would result!

My students are BEGGING to have more read-aloud time everyday.  We stop and talk about the myths that Riordan alludes to and they are quickly becoming experts on Greek mythology.  It is a perfect example of using a read-aloud to teach the content areas.  My two classes have been reading the novel together and the other two classes on our team have not.  During the Greece unit, their social studies teacher has commented numerous times on my class’ enthusiasm and knowledge about the mythology, gods, and goddesses.  All of the knowledge has come from the conversations that spring from our read-aloud.  No direct instruction, just conversations!

The best part?  Many of my students purchased the first 3 books from Scholastic and told me that their plan for this summer is to read the next 3 books in the series.  That’s the best thing this reading teacher can hear.  :)

Environmental Issues in the Classroom

Everyone knows that Earth Day is coming up, but there are also a few other environmentally-related events going on this month.

-NATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION WEEK (April 13-19)

National Environmental Education Week promotes the understanding and protection of the environment by actively engaging students and teachers in a week of environmental learning and service before Earth Day. Register online to receive lesson plans, activities, and other resources.

-NATIONAL WILDLIFE WEEK (April 19-27)
Get outside and watch for wildlife with National Wildlife Federation’s Nature Quest Wildlife Watch! You can participate by simply downloading a “watch” list of wildlife for your state, taking a walk around your schoolyard or favorite outdoor spot, and noting how many animals and plants you can find. Afterwards, you can report your sightings online.

-EARTH DAY (April 22)

Participate in various Earth Day activities across the country. Be sure to sign up as an educator to get access to the lesson plans and ideas!

-NO CHILD LEFT INSIDE

The No Child Left Inside Coalition is an organization made up of more than 190 groups from across the United States. The membership includes environmental, educational, business, public health, outdoor recreation and conservation groups. The No Child Left Inside Coalition speaks for a large group of Americans who believe young people should receive a strong education about their natural world. I am a huge fan of this group. The group has presented the No Child Left Inside Act to Congress and the latest news is that a subcommittee of the House Education and Labor Committee will have a field hearing on the No Child Left Inside Act of 2007 – the first hearing on our legislation to date. The hearing will take place on Earth Day, from 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Md. As an educator, I see the effects of nature deficit disorder in my classroom on a daily basis. This is a phenomenal organization and they could use all the support they can get!

TCRWP Saturday Reunion

At 5:40am this morning, I was out the door and headed towards school, where I would drop off my car, meet up with some friends, and head to the train station. By 6:35am I was on a northbound train headed to Penn Station. By 8:00am I was inside Riverside Church on Riverside Dr. in NYC. After years of trying to attend, I was finally at Teacher’s College Saturday Reunion.

When my colleagues and I arrived, we picked up our schedules and began scanning the multitude of workshops being offered. Within moments I announced I would be eating my brown bag lunch on the run and attending all four sessions. My colleagues quickly agreed. How could I possibly choose to give up a session for something as silly as lunch?! As I read the descriptions of the many sessions being offered, I was circling possibilities left and right. How on earth would I ever decide which workshops to attend?

Eventually, I made my choices. In the meantime, we made our way to the main chapel to hear the keynote speaker. Tomie dePaolo (author of over 200 books, including Strega Nona), renowned and award-winning author/illustrator gave a rousing talk entitled “No Teacher Left Behind”. He was a brilliant speaker and had the packed church in stitches. He shared many tales of his childhood and the importance that reading and writing held in it. He is also a strong supporter of teachers. He told us that his personal book sales have decreased 50% since the inception of No Child Left Behind. He and his agent attribute this to the huge number of teachers and school districts which can no longer purchase and use his books because they must focus on “the test”. It was a staggering statistic and I would be very interested in hearing if other authors have experienced a similar drop in sales.

After dePaolo’s speech, I made my way to my first session. I was very excited to finally hear Mary Ehrenworth (om/gp/product/0325006881?ie=UTF8&tag=thereazon-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0325006881″>The Power of Grammar: Unconventional Approaches to the Conventions of Language) speak, as she heads the middle school aspects of the Project. She gave a great presentation on working with stronger readers, the ones who are usually left on their own in workshop. She shared some great picture books to use in small groups that allow students to stretch their thinking above and beyond the literal. I ended up with a great list of picture books and plan to order one immediately, for our Holocaust unit.

More importantly, Ehrenworth told the group that we can not expect our students to be readers if we are not readers ourselves. We must share books with them, carry books around, even tell them, “I’m sorry, I didn’t even get to finish planning my lesson last night- I was reading this phenomenal book!” You will teach them more with that non-lesson that you would with any mini-lesson. She also shared a great analogy, courtesy of Lester Laminack. Ask any middle schooler what they can’t wait to do, and invariably you will hear “drive”. We don’t teach them this desire- there are no minilessons, no group discussions, no direct instruction on why driving is great. Instead, their experiences with cars and in cars have made this a natural desire. We need to make reading just as natural a desire. They should want to read, they should desire to read. I can’t wait to share that analogy with some of my colleagues!

My next session with with the famous Lucy Calkins (The Art of Teaching Reading, The Art of Teaching Writing). Her session was standing room only and it was like being in the presence of a celebrity. While she didn’t teach as much as motivate, she was extremely inspiring. She shared some sample writing with us and I still managed to learn a lot.

The third session was one I was looking forward to because it focused on grammar. A project leader (whose name escapes me right now) took us through a typical week of grammar instruction in the middle school she coaches. It was a great marriage of direct instruction and inquiry, and a model I think my district would be satisfied with me pursuing. She also told us that we shouldn’t spend more time planning our grammar lessons that we actually spend teaching grammar. So if we teach 20 minutes of direct instruction grammar during word study, then don’t plan for 3 hours. I took lots of notes in that session and walked out with a booklist of books I must buy! Already I am planning to get Constance Weaver’s The Grammar Plan Book: A Guide to Smart Teaching and Don Killgallon’s Grammar for Middle School: A Sentence-Composing Approach–A Student Worktext. Has any used either of these? Or have a suggestion for where I could find them a little cheaper?

I was very excited for the last session. Georgia Heard shared her poetry unit of study with us and it was phenomenal! First of all, she was a lot younger than I expected (which surprised me, for some reason). It was so inspiring to hear her share her own experiences with poetry in the classroom. I also have a much better understanding of the doors to poetry that she discusses in Awakening the Heart: Exploring Poetry in Elementary and Middle School. I took copious notes in all the sessions, but especially hers, and can’t wait to go back and read them over to let them really sink in.

I swear, I was such a fangirl today. I could have stayed at TC all day, because I was finally in the presence of these men and women who have shaped so much of my teaching. They were practically celebrities to me. To hear my own beliefs and experiences in the classroom affirmed by the Project leaders and the other teachers attending the Reunion really strengthened my resolve to continue what I am doing. It was an invigorating, renewing, energizing day. I would go every month if they offered it! My next goal is to attend a summer institute at TC, as soon as I can afford it (our district doesn’t pay for it). If 5 hours taught me this much today, I can’t imagine what a week would do! I would just need a little more sleep. Getting up at 5am killed me today!!

Oh, and I finally experienced a document camera/ELMO for the first time today. How do I get one in my classroom?! It was amazing! I could already name a million ways I would use it in my classroom!!!

Reflecting on Reading Workshop

My school is on spring break this week and I am enjoying some much needed rest and relaxation. However, I am also using this week to do some reflecting and planning. Last night I ordered a few books that I want to use in planning our April Poetry Month and our upcoming Holocaust unit. But today I finally sat down and did some of the professional reading I have been putting off.

I read about half of Franki Sibberson and Karen Szymusiak’s Day-to-Day Assessment in the Reading Workshop: Making Informed Instructional Decisions in Grades 3-6 and can’t wait to read more! As Franki and Karen say in the beginning of the book, there is a dearth of professional literature related to reading and writing workshop in the intermediate grades. As a 6th grade teacher, I have a hard time finding appropriate professional reading. Books either focus on early readers or middle school readers. Perhaps if my 6th graders were in a middle school environment it would be easier, but we are in an intermediate school. In our district, 7th and 8th graders are in the middle school. Thus, I have been looking forward to reading this book. I had no idea how awesome it would be!

Franki and Karen have broken down their reading workshop into manageable chunks. I am thrilled that each chapter deals with a different routine in reading workshop, including how much time is spent on each one. Very few books get into the nitty gritty of a teacher’s routine and even fewer include as much real classroom anecdotal evidence. I’ve been reading, flagging, reading more, jotting ideas, and flagging more. I’ve already come up with a few new ideas to integrate into my workshop. Even better, I have a new perspective on my reading workshop. I’ve struggled with assessing my readers this year. While I know I have succeeded in creating a room full of passionate, habitual, and critical readers (Atwell) I also know I have not done the best I can in terms of assessment. I need that hard data to back up my choice to use reading workshop (it’s not used in the intermediate/upper grades in my district) and Franki and Karen’s book is full of authentic and realistic assessments that I can integrate into my workshop routines.

This type of reflection and reading energizes me.  I am brimming with new ideas for my classroom and can’t wait to implement some of them!  I am also planning to attend TCRWP Saturday Reunion this coming weekend, which will also be an inspiring bit of professional development.  I should be rested, relaxed, and re-energized when we get back to school next week!

I’m only about halfway through the book right now but I expect to finish it tomorrow. I expect I will re-read it over the summer when I am planning for next year. I can not recommend this book enough!

Quote of the Day

While handing in a grammar quiz this afternoon, one of my students (a reluctant boy reader) was walking to me desk with his quiz in one hand and his head buried in “The Giver”.

”Wow! I have never done this before…..walked and read a book at the same time. I have never wanted to walk and read at the same time!”

I wore the biggest smile for the rest of the day. This boy is a very reluctant reader, and when he does read the books are fairly low-level. ”The Giver” is not an easy book by any means and he is loving it! It was a proud moment.

Speaking of reluctant readers, Jen over at Jen Robinson’s Book Page has a great post up today about helping kids learn to enjoy reading. She gathered advice from teachers, librarians, parents, and authors all over the kidlitosphere and compiled it into a wonderful article. I strongly encourage you to head over to her blog and check it out!

How Today’s Students Learn

Watch this short video summarizing some of the most important characteristics of students today – how they learn, what they need to learn, their goals, hopes, dreams, what their lives will be like, and what kinds of changes they will experience in their lifetime. Created by Michael Wesch in collaboration with 200 students at Kansas State University.

While the video is aimed at college level professors, the statistics apply to almost all of our students. While my students don’t spend time on facebook in class, they do spend hours at home on Myspace (which they are not even old enough to be a part of) and AIM. I think many new teachers, and some older teachers, are seeing this and adjusting their teaching for it. But too many teachers are continuing to teach out students in archaic methods that don’t apply to their lives. I love telling my students that many of them will have careers in industries that don’t even exist yet. However, we must do our best to prepare them for this. Make technology a part of your daily classroom lessons!

A new year, a fresh start

As I sit here, getting ready to go back to school, I am getting ready for another beginning. My class wrapped up a few units before break and we even did our midway through the year reading and writing surveys. Tomorrow begins a clean slate, new units, and some new ideas I am planning on implementing.

-New seating chart: My kids have been begging to change seats and I have gone even one step farther…completely rearranging the seats. Instead of tables of 4/5, we will have two rows of 5/6 on each side of the room, with a walkway down the middle. This allows for cooperative groups, room for the kids to move around when we have book clubs/literature circles, and keeps that open space in the middle of the room that I love.

-New reading unit of study: I am not even close to having it all planned out yet, but we will be focusing on science-fiction/fantasy and using “The Giver” as our read-aloud. I plan to have literature circles up and running in a couple of weeks. If anyone out there has a unit of study for science-fiction/fantasy (any grade level!), I would love to see it!

-New writing unit of study: This year, our state standardized testing was pushed back to May. This allowed me a lot more freedom in planning my writing calendar of study, thus we will be starting persuasive writing tomorrow. This will overlap with our research paper unit (a Women’s History Month project I designed) and will allow me to teach essay, persuasive writing, and citing sources in one unit.

-More poetry in the classroom: I am officially instituting Poetry Friday in my classroom. Students will still be responsible for one poem each month, but I will be sharing poems each Friday. So far, I am using Opening a Door: Reading Poetry in the Middle School Classroom as a guide. I also desperately want to get my hands on a copy of Georgia Heard’s Awakening the Heart: Exploring Poetry in Elementary and Middle School but I am supposed to be on a no-buy for the month of January (only buying necessary items) and I can’t break that rule on the first day of January! Also, I want all this poetry to lead to more writing of poetry. I am involved in “Voices….From the Land” through my monarch organization and I really want it to be a success!

-New read-aloud: Both classes are almost finished with Tony Abbott’s “The Postcard”. While the class will be reading “The Giver” soon, I need a new, fun read-aloud. I want the read-aloud to be on the shorter side (maybe 125-150) pages. I may wait to see what wins the Newbery before deciding! However, I am more than open to suggestions. Any ideas?

Wow! I didn’t even realize all the “new” things we will be doing in 2008. It’s going to be a busy few months! What are you planning to do in the classroom this year?

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