Monthly Archives: September 2016

Introducing “Greenie Book Bits”

One of the learning options I’m allowing students to unlock is the recording of podcast episodes where they do a short “Book Bit” or get to talk about a text they have read. This involves writing a script and then working on “playing their vocal instrument”:


After writing and practicing their script, students can record their work! Carter helped me figure out some details and recorded a fun first podcast episode for us! 

Ella Enchanted/novel expectations (4th grade)

Ella Enchanted/novel expectations:

Required is the reading of the assigned chapters each week at home.

From there I have given the students options on the level of effort they are willing to put forth.  (I had them all set a goal for the level they want to work to). I did this for several reasons:

  1. I want the children to want to put forth extra effort with the additional options.
  2. The required components in class are challenging as is.
  3. Students who choose to do just the minimum (read at home; do the work in class) will start to discover that the work will be “easier” if they put more effort into it on their own.
  4. By helping the children start to discover that when they put more in, they get more out, I’m hoping to instill a habit or mindset for the future (that is if they invest more than what is required with an assignment, they will reap greater rewards; I see this as a life skill too).

Here’s an explanation of a weekly discussion guide (which students receive a paper copy of; also available in the Google Classroom):

  • Required from home is “level 1” (read the chapters).
  • Level 2 is required but can be done at home or in class.  
  • The other levels are for the children to strive to. Ideally I hope each child starts to set a goal for level 3 or 4 as they start to see how the extra effort will help them improve, grow, and make the in class required work “easier”.

Parent Guide to the "discussion guide".pngFridays in class will then work like this:

  • Students come in and have 10 minutes to complete the pre-discussion activity (level 2) form if they have not already.
  • Students will be put into random groups for discussion. The discussion guide will drive their conversations. Discussions are recorded so it becomes evident who put thought into the guide and who didn’t. Prepared students emerge as leaders.
  • After 20 minutes of discussion, students get Chromebooks and complete an “exit ticket” or response question.

“Exit Tickets”: These are essay questions to be completed in class focusing on one aspect of the assigned reading. I have told the children that they only get 20 minutes in class on these and the goal is to build their fluency with quality constructed responses (in other words they will improve over time). The goal is to get better each week and the repeated practice helps prepare students for the assessments they will do in the spring.  Students will be instructed to put “NF” for “not finished”, letting me know they had more to say but ran out of time.  The exit tickets will be scored using the following rubric: screen-shot-2016-09-16-at-3-21-16-pm

Overall responses are only worth 8 points, so some weeks students may not do as well; the goal is LEARNING and growing over time, not getting full points week after week. This gives the children goals to work for.
I know this all seems complex and confusing. My intent is to set lofty goals and expectations for students to work for…not to achieve instantly. So if a child just reads the chapters, then s/he is doing what is required. S/he will start to discover that investing more time and effort will reap more “reward”. The other piece is that I want all of the children to ease into the expectations. Doing all of this is intense and would take an excessive amount of time, so as they get more comfortable, they will be able to do more; I consider it stamina building.

Book Club/novel for 4th grade starting…

Fourth graders got their first novel for the year on Friday, Ella Enchanted. Before I passed out the books and explained the expectations, I talked to the children about setting goals.  In gifted reading, I present opportunities for the self-directed learner. I recognize that I have a range of students so I reinforce that many things are options.  I went over the following rubric that I use for classifying levels of “self-directedness”:

Screen Shot 2016-09-16 at 9.55.31 AM.png

I tell the children that #1 or “rocks” do not belong in the GREEN ROOM. However if they are a #2, that is ok because I recognize that not all children have a strength in ELA or enjoy reading to the same extent. HOWEVER, the “minimum” for me will be challenging.  Next I gave a copy of this rubric to each child and told them to set a goal for themselves for our book club work. Where do they feel the most comfortable? What might they want to strive for? I collected these and then went into the expectations.

First, they must read the assigned chapters each week. There will be 3; a total of approximately 20 pages. I do not expect the reading load to be demanding. This is necessary for even a level 1. Then they will have a pre-discussion Google form with questions to complete. This can be completed during the week in class (at home is NOT required but is certainly helpful!) If they have not completed this by Friday of the discussion they will get 10 minutes in class to work on it, submitting whatever they have when time is up. Reading the chapters and completing the pre-discussion questions on the Google form are level 2 expectations.

Ideally each child will strive for a “3”. For this they will do the Google form and have some thoughts on the discussion guide prompts/questions written down. They get ONE paper copy of the discussion guide. (The guide will also be available in our Google Classroom).

Screen Shot 2016-09-16 at 10.06.08 AM.png

A student wanting to work for a “4” has a bonus option: a discussion “break”. A Google document will have quotes from the weekly chapters pulled out for deeper thinking. Students are encouraged to comment on the quotes for higher level thinking emphasis.

I encourage parents to let their child take ownership of this. Parents may want their child to strive for a “4” but that may not be the goal their child has set. I would hate for a child to start wanting to avoid the reading because they are being asked to do more than they are willing to invest.

These elements factor into “preparedness” for discussion. Each Friday the children will get into random groups to discuss the chapters for about 20 minutes and discussions will be recorded for reflection opportunities. After the discussion, they will complete an “exit ticket” which is an essay response to a question. The essay question is to be done in class ONLY; no work done on it outside of class will be counted. The purpose is to help the children have practice with typed response questions so that they can build stamina and fluency. This will come in handy when they take the state tests in the spring. In this way, I’m giving them higher level comprehension while practicing these skills. I shared an 8 point rubric with 4 different categories that will be scored: Screen Shot 2016-09-16 at 3.21.16 PM.png
The goal is to build each of these areas… not to get 8 points each time!  If a student runs out of time to finish a response, they will just put NF (for not finished) on it and turn it in! This lets me know they felt they wanted to add more but ran out of time.

1st week “kick off”

2016 first week

We kicked off our first week in the Green Room! Priorities for each grade level were slightly different, but there were a few common areas.

All students received the same homework: Comprehension Notebooks (see outline of expectations here).

I do want to point out that the purpose of these lessons is to provide background knowledge and instruction to students, saving valuable learning time together. The lessons are older and ideally I would like to re-do them for more clarity and interest, but for now they meet my goal.

I have only had a few parents and children ask questions about these… PLEASE do not hesitate to reach out and ask for clarity! In the past students have worked on these in class and I was there for immediate support; I realize I am releasing a great deal of responsibility to both parents and children on these. As long as children watch the video and insert the information to the best of their ability for future access and reference then the goal has been achieved! This should not cause ANY frustrations or stress at home. You are helping me maximize my learning time with your child by doing this.

Gamification: I introduced my PM 3rd graders to this (I didn’t get to see all AM 3rd graders due to MAP testing so they will learn about this soon). Returning 4th graders were reminded of their digital badges from last year and all were introduced to some new elements (see info here). I will discuss this more at Parent Information Nights, but basically gamification is bringing game like elements into the classroom for interest and motivation. Gamification is NOT connected to assessment or grading necessarily; however student “game play” reflects the effort they put into their own learning and gives me a means for tracking progress as skills are learned and developed.

4th grade: Students accessed their new Google Classroom environment with resources and information. Returning students were eager to pick up where they level off from last year and new friends were excited to learn about stations. I did spend time doing a lesson on Digital Citizenship because I believe this is so important (click here for Digital Citizenship Brochure). I have very strong views about teaching and reinforcing appropriate Internet use and online safety (see this post I wrote last year on “Monitoring Virtual Play”). I believe it is important that students develop strong collaboration and communication skills (both face to face and virtually) so we started having digital discussions with an online resource that allows us to build conversations around text, images, and video clips called NowComment. This resource lets me set up private “chat like” areas where I can completely monitor small groups of students having discussions about text. In this way, I can develop your child’s comprehension skills while teaching and reinforcing responsible and safe digital citizenship. Students are NOT required to access this at home, but many find they enjoy it so much that they want to. In the past, students and I have used NowComment from home on snow days!

3rd grade: Math MAP testing challenged our week a bit as I didn’t get to see all of my 3rd graders everyday. For this reason, I could not administer their reading MAP tests yet (we will do this Tuesday and Wednesday; I only get one hour, so we will need 2 days to complete). For this reason, I’ve only been able to spend a few hours with my newest Greenies. It will take us a long time to learn each element of our menu of tasks and I take the time to teach each individually and carefully. It pays off because I get students again in 4th grade, but please don’t let our slower start fool you! We did start with learning about “making tracks” or annotating when reading. This is a huge foundation for our comprehension work because I move students from lower level thinking such as “the character’s are…”, “the setting is…”, retelling plots, and answering basic “one correct answer” type questions to more open ended “there is no correct answer” thinking with analysis and evaluation. This is a HUGE mind shift for children and parents alike. With annotating, I am helping children pay attention to that thinking voice in their head as they read. It can be a bit frustrating because I cannot tell a child what to think or “how much to think”; I merely encourage that they think! See the two video clips I used to model this: Reading Tracks and Making Tracks when Reading . When annotating, there is no ‘correct’ or one way to do this and each child brings different thinking to each text. I value and honor it all. I encourage students to record their thinking often…it is why we go through so many post-it notes! In class, the children are using an app called Seesaw to take photos documenting their thinking. Soon I will give parents an access code to peek at their child’s uploads to me if interested.

Feedback: I reminded 4th graders of this and started planting the “seeds” with 3rd graders. I give detailed feedback as much as possible. With so many students and so many tasks shared with me, I don’t have time to provide in depth feedback on everything, however when I do, my intent is growth. I am not a teacher that will put a smiley face and “great job” on a task when there is room for further growth (which there always is…it is not like these kids are college ready! I put no “ceiling” on what we can do and learn). Students do not grow if they are just told “great job”. My students are typically already achieving well above their same age peers, so to tell them they are doing a great job with grade level work is redundant and usually pointless. Learning is not static… I am always learning new things and I expect my students to as well. Therefore we adopt a growth mindset. If students meet an expectation I set, then I need to set a new expectation; I need to raise the bar. And I set high expectations to push and challenge. This mindset is a bit hard to wrap one’s head around at first because we are wired to think we need perfect scores or need to “get everything right’. That is limited thinking and locks students into a fixed mindset. More on this at Parent Info Night.