Document Camera in Action

Today I used my document camera in front of the class for the first time and it was a huge success!  The kids loved it and were fascinated that I could now show items on the board in color.  It definitely takes some getting used to (I kept moving the paper in the wrong direction) and I need to rearrange my front tables so that I can use the camera easily.  I look forward to using it even more as the weeks go on!

New Sarah Desson Novel!

Congratulations to Sarah Desson, who just sold a new novel! I loved her last novel, Lock and Key, and I can’t wait to read the new one.

Penguin Young Readers Group, longtime publisher of bestselling YA author Sarah Dessen, has acquired Dessen’s latest novel, Along for the Ride. Regina Hayes, president and publisher of Viking Children’s Books, did the deal with Leigh Feldman of Darhansoff, Verrill, Feldman Literary Agents; Hayes will edit the novel as well. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. In Along for the Ride, which is scheduled to pub in June 2009, an 18-year-old high school graduate befriends a fellow insomniac, and together they explore their small town by night.

Dessen is the author of eight novels, most recently Lock and Key (April 2008). Her books have sold more than 1.5 million copies.

courtesy of Publisher’s Weekly.

I know there are a lot of Sarah Dessen fans out there who will be excited to hear this news.  If you don’t already know, be sure to check out her awesome blog!

The Debs by Susan McBride

A few weeks ago I received an ARC from Delacorte Books. Included with the ARC was a lipstick case from my favorite designer ever, Lilly Pulitzer! Now that might be a silly reason to move up the book on my TBR pile but it happened.

The Debs is the first in a new series chronicling the debutante season for four girls in Houston, Texas. The four girls are eagerly awaiting their invitations from The Glass Slipper Club- the elitist ‘club’ that chooses each year’s debs. The book alternated viewpoints between all four girls, three of whom are best friends and a fourth that is their archenemy. It’s typical high school drama multiplied by millions of dollars.

Laura Bell is a size 14 and feels the pressures of not being skinny enough. Yet she still attracts some of the hottest guys around. Mac is struggling with her mother’s death and her father’s recent marriage to a woman young enough to be her sister. While being a Deb isn’t her dream, it was her mother’s. Ginger is the tree-hugging liberal struggling to find herself. All three girls are best friends and can’t wait to go through the deb season together.

Then there is popular Jo-Lynn, whose sole goal is to ensure that Laura Bell does not debut.

The Debs introduced me to high society and debuts in the south, a custom I am not very familiar with. It was fun to be transported to this world where girls wait for invitations with bated breath, try on their grandmother’s debut dresses, and pray for the chance to debut like their mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmother’s did. It’s a fun story and I look forward to reading the remaining books. The story moved quickly and I think teens will get a kick out of it. It’s definitely different than life here in the northeast and I think teens in the south and outside the south will enjoy the story.

The second book “Love, Lies and Texas Dips” comes out in June 2009. I recommend this series for high school readers, due to some mature situations.

Differentiated Spelling

Over the last few weeks I have been working on a new spelling contract for my students. I firmly believe in differentiated spelling lists but I am tied to to my district’s spelling curriculum. It’s been an uphill battle as I try to come up with a compromise that I am happy with! I think I finally have it. This week I plan to give my students the Upper Level Inventory from Words Their Way: Word Study for Phonics, Vocabulary, and Spelling Instruction (4th Edition) and then level them into 2-3 groups.

Each week I will give our normal spelling pretest on Monday, using the district curriculum. However, in a change from the past, there will no longer a “Get 100 on the pretest and you have no spelling test on Friday” rule. Each student will grade their pretest. Then, each word that they spell incorrectly will go on their spelling list for the week. Once they write those words on their personal list, they will then choose from a leveled list until they have 20 spelling words for the week (20 most weeks, though more or less in certain weeks, according to the curriculum). The students will then complete a spelling contract that will be due on Friday. Friday morning, students will give each other their spelling tests in pairs

I think this will be manageable for me while still serving the students best. As I use a points system for grading (e.g. a spelling test would be a 20/20 instead of a 100), this will allow for even more differentiation. Should a student have more or less words than the rest of the class one week, it will not upset my grading system. This format will also allow me to follow the same schedule that we have always used for formal spelling. I do not have enough hours in the day to cover all the subjects necessary for language arts. I hate devoting a good chunk of time to whole-class spelling instruction on a daily basis. This allows me to focus on spelling on Monday and Friday while the students continue to work on it at home Tuesday through Thursday. That lets me concentrate on grammar Tuesday-Thursday.

If you are interested in my weekly spelling contract, check it out. One of my new additions is requiring a semantics map each week (an idea I gleaned from Emily Kissner’s Differentiated Spelling Program). The semantics map will cover our core curriculum standards for increased use of the dictionary and thesaurus, something most students need. At the same time, the contract gives them a choice of various other activities to choose from in order to fulfill all the weekly requirements. It’s a combination and compromise that I am happy with.

What about you? Do you use a differentiated spelling program in your classroom? How does it work?

Where I’m From poems

Read this document on Scribd: Where I’m From poems

I absolutely love beginning the year with “Where I’m From” poems, a lesson inspired by George Ella Lyons. It’s not an easy assignment by any means but my students always rise to the occasion, with some prodding by me. I love these poems because learn so much about my students when reading their poems. You see what is important to them, what their families are like, and what makes them happy. They are a clear window into their lives.

Where I’m From poem template -Check it out!

Read this document on Scribd: Where I’m From poems

Last year, I developed a template for my students to follow, which helped their poems become much deeper. On Friday we started the poems with this year’s class and so far I am extremely impressed. We should finish them up next week, and I can’t wait to hang them up for Back to School Night!

One week down!

We headed back to school this past Thursday. It’s always a humorous morning- the bell rings and students slowly begin to walk down our hallway. The silence is palpable. There are shy smiles, a few lost students, and a the static sound of nervousness fills the air. my team and I always laugh to ourselves, saying we should savor the moment, as they will never be this silent again!

The first two days back are always full of procedures, routines, and paperwork. Oh, the paperwork! But it is nice getting to spend those first few hours as a class, not worrying about switching classes or planning lessons, beyond building community and routines and procedures. My class seems wonderful this year. Within the first few hours they had begged to explore the classroom library, and who am I so say no?! We also began out first read-aloud, Flying Solo, and my homeroom seems to be enjoying it.  I love setting the tone those first few days, showing the students how important reading will be in our class.  But more importantly, it shows them how much fun we will have with reading.

On Friday afternoon, we did a quick class switch (my team is departmentalized).  My afternoon class only has 15 students!  15!  And I have 18 in the morning.  (I lose students in both classes to resource room/pull-out).  We switched for half of a normal period, giving me an hour with both classes.  We went over a brief outline of the year and then got started with our “Where I’m From” poems.  (more about that in a different post)

It is shaping up to be a great year.  The students are enthusiastic and I can’t wait to dive into the curriculum this week!  Off to write my first week’s lesson plans now.  :)

Percy Jackson News!

How did I miss this?  (Thanks, Jen!)  The title for the fifth Percy Jackson book has been revealed!

 

Percy Jackson and THE LAST OLYMPIAN will be published on May 9, 2009.  I am so excited!  There is no cover yet, but more information will be released over the coming weeks.  Percy was a huge favorite in my room last year,so I know there will be a lot of fans excited to hear this news.  Thanks, Rick!

Back to School!

My teacher bag is packed, my outfit is out on the railing, and my shoes have been picked out.  Before bed I will pack my lunch, double-check my bag, and print a few more items for tomorrow.  At 8:10am a new class of 6th graders will cross the threshold into my room, and I can not wait!

Good luck to everyone else starting this week!

Cinderella retold by Cynthia Rylant

“This is a story about darkness and light, about sorrow and joy, about something lost and something found. This is a story about Love. ” (page 1, Walt Disney’s Cinderella )

Cynthia Rylant is one of my favorite authors, and one I frequently rely on for great mentor texts. When I saw that she had retold Walt Disney’s Cinderella with illustration by Mary Blair, I knew I had to read it. The book does not disappoint.

This is the traditional, Disney version of Cinderella. However, Rylant has put her trademarks of beautiful language and deft storytelling on this edition. The story is gorgeous. Though you already know what happens, you can’t help but to keep turning the pages. And I noted so many spots that I can’t want to point out to my students. It is just a gorgeous book!

Mary Blair’s illustrations are also awe-inspiring. Blair was one of Walt Disney’s most brilliant conceptual designers, defining the look of classic Disney films like Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan. She spent 34 years working as an artist for Disney. Her illustrations are immediately call to mind the classic Disney films that she helped create. Each page is full of large brush strokes, gorgeous backgrounds, and complementary colors. There were many pages that I wish I could have as a print to hang in my home! (If you click on the link, you can search inside the book on Amazon. It’s not the same as viewing them in person, but you get a good feel for the mood the illustrations set).

This is a purchase I am very glad I made. In fact, I can imagine sharing this beautiful book with my own children someday. It’s just that wonderful and classic!

My new clipboard

I am a sucker for office supplies. But I also love pretty things. So tonight I sat down and made myself a new altered clipboard!

I used some scrapbook paper I had lying around, some modgepodge, and some Target dollar bin ribbon. I am pretty pleased with the way it came out!

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