Monthly Archives: September 2014

Why video lessons?

This year I’ve really gotten into using video lessons.  Not because I like to record myself or love playing with iMovie, but because of how it helps me maximize my teaching time with students.  I’ll be the first to admit…they are not very exciting (with more time and practice they could be) but rather they are straight up informative and instructional.

Here’s why they have become so important:  I only get one precious hour a day with the children. There is so much I want to do with them that the “must do” often prevents me from really stretching and growing.  Video lessons let me clone myself and be in two teaching situations at once.  I can have a small group watching a video while I work directly with another group. But the reason I’m making more and more of them has to do with what the students really need.  They need me for support and guidance.  They need feedback and suggestions.  They need to ask questions and get help.  I can’t be available to do that if I have to demonstrate and model so many things.  And so I am making videos that students can access for the how to.  That way I can be available for specific needs.

I also have another motive. I had kids and I know that when I tried to help them at home I got “but that is not how my teacher said to do it!”  Someday our children will figure out that we as parents somehow survived and figured out how to do things…we really are pretty smart after all!  But until then, parents can pull up one of my videos so the kids can watch it and get EXACTLY how I did tell them to do something. Hopefully it will save parents the trouble of being told they don’t know what they really knew anyway!

While I try to link my videos here on my blog, feel free to “subscribe” to me.  I’m not counting followers or anything!  I just hope that I can help support you and your child, and if it means I have to look or sound goofy on a video for the world to see, then I’ll do it.

Response to Reading part 2

While my 4th graders have more developed skills and most have had a year to become comfortable with response letters, my 3rd graders need a much different scaffold. They will be working from a “starter” list of responses that are not as intense.  I modeled how I used the prompt chart and wrote a very short response.

Responding is a skill that I will help develop all year.  Check out the growth that is possible: emma fall emma-spring

Let me shape and guide the content; parents can help at home by reinforcing conventions (capitalization and punctuation) as well as spelling of words from the text (character’s names, titles, etc.) and “no excuse to misspell words” (see my 2nd grade word wall )

Please do not stress about this!  Children can come to me for help Mondays-Wednesdays.  Waiting until the day before will result in a lesson learned about procrastinating (let them learn it if they need to!)

While most students prefer to handwrite their letters, I will accept typed letters if they wish.  (However I urge you to let them type…if they want it typed, then they need to learn this skill anyway and the best way to develop typing skills is through practice). Typing is not expected or mandated and will not enhance a student’s score.

Response to reading

At the heart of comprehension is response to reading.  We do this formally and informally; orally and written. While the “product” and “process” may vary, the essence is deep thinking. Talking about text is a great way to get minds in motion. Now we need to further develop the skill with response.  This is why my weekly homework is a response to reading “letter”.

I have many, many goals for my students and I will always, always, ALWAYS set a high bar.  But I will never expect a student to perform a task he or she does not have the needed skills to complete. Rather I will say “here is the end goal” so now what do I need to do to help a student reach it?  Scaffold…

I’ve set the bar high by giving my 4th graders challenging prompts for responding to text. Some will be easier than others; some will be better suited for specific texts. I always want to challenge a child.  I never want to overwhelm them. That is why I will help them take the steps they need from where they are.  We will keep in mind where we would like to go but will travel as fast or as slow as best suits their needs. If along the way we need to modify the journey, we will.

Here is the video footage I took as I modeled how to start with a piece of evidence (a quote) from the text and build a response paragraph around it: Here are my samples as well (writing a conclusion is being saved for another lesson):

Sample Intro Sample Paragraph 1 Sample Paragraph 2 Sample Paragraph 3

At this time this is geared to my 4th graders.  The scaffolds I construct will be different for 3rd graders.

Constitution Day!

September 17th is “Constitution Day” ( and what a great day to not only celebrate, but reinforce skills!

4th graders first got a great flowchart on the history of our Constitution and an article to summarize for their next short TaT, but practiced the always important skill of note taking as we gathered information from a PP presentation about our Constitution and our government. We practiced how to “fish for facts” as we collect info as we listen and then “illuminating insights” as we reflect upon our notes and collaborate with others to see what they may have caught that we didn’t! (This skill will serve them well for years to come…) Here are some of my “note taking basis” guides: Note taking basics

3rd graders examined the Preamble by circling unfamiliar words and highlighting those words that are “Capitalized” (which makes us wonder just why our Founding Fathers capitalized them?!). By using print and digital sources, we located definitions of words like “posterity”, “tranquility”, and “domestic”. It was a great exercise in sifting through multi-meaning words and other vocabulary basics. Examine the Preamble activity

Of course the best learning of all was the importance of this document!

Stepping it up

This week we got into stepping up expectations.  I had more than one conversation with groups about how “you are in the GREEN ROOM” to be challenged”. Yes I will guide and scaffold but the expectations will be higher than a typical classroom.  Third graders are starting to figure out that I am going to hold them accountable. Often that means “you did not follow directions, so let’s review” or “I will not give you the answer but will show you how to find it/figure it out on your own.” More than once this week, I explained to a student that my not telling them how to spell something or what something means is not my being lazy, but rather my helping them learn how to help themselves.  (And incidentally not be “lazy” themselves!)  When I had a groan or two, or even “do we have to?” I answered it with “I wouldn’t give you anything you couldn’t do or handle, so if you don’t want to accept my challenge, then maybe we need to evaluate whether or not this is the right learning environment for you.” My tasks and “work load” will be more intense, but the rewards of the independence, flexibility, and relaxed learning environment make it worthwhile!

The other piece to “accountability” is my drawing their attention to details such as punctuation, capitalization, and “no excuse” spelling errors.  When I taught 2nd grade, I was always firm (in a gentle way) with this type of accountability.  I believe that having students correct these types of minor errors is how habits are established.  So while it might seem “picky” for me to not give a point here or there for a detail, the fact is that habits will not be instilled without reminders and reinforcement.  Withholding a point in the scheme of life is really miniscule. But if I do and draw a student’s attention to it, then I’ve helped them start learning to help themselves.

With this comes the connection to the real world. Children can and should be taught that we have expectations placed upon us in the real world…without ever expecting rewards in return.  I mean seriously, when is the last time “mom or dad” was pulled over by a police officer and commended for stopping at a red light or driving the speed limit?  Sure I would love a bonus for showing up to work on time! In this way, I will prepare my students.  But it is about balance.  Celebrate growth and success, but keep reality in mind.

For the record, I will “call out” mistakes and errors; but I will do so in a very gentle, respectful way.  I am very aware of my lack of perfection and certainly expect students (and parents) to inform me when I make an error (admittedly I do so on purpose sometimes to keep kids on their toes and to help them see that mistakes are natural, normal, and necessary for growth).  I will never scold a student (as one of my 4th grade friends and I discussed this week :0) My goal is always to ensure a student knows I love them TOO MUCH to not expect them to be the best that they can be!


This is something I have wanted to do since last year!

4th graders are getting into their book club discussions; I’ve started trying to create podcasts so they can go back and listen again.  What a blast this has been!  I am SO impressed with the quality of the discourse! Unfortunately one of the groups recordings didn’t save (which is sad because they had some GREAT insights…)

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Our podcasts are at:

You don’t have to subscribe to listen…  I hope that students will enjoy listening to the discussion from groups they were not a part of!