Day 24 - Reading Workshop

As many of you know, I've been struggling to feel comfortable with my language arts program this year. I think I'm finally getting to a point where I'm using strategies that match my beliefs about what is important in a literacy program while still preparing my kids for the all-important End of Grade test.
I am very thankful for Laura Candler's newsletters and wonderful site. Having used Accelerated Reader as the backbone of her reading program (just as we do at my school), this year she has given it up for other foundational experiences for her kids. Her transition has been perfect timing for me, since I have never really loved AR either!
After reading about her use of Reader's Workshop, and exploring other wonderful sites like that of Mandy Gregory which also provide support for using Reader's Workshop, I decided to give it a try!
Today I taught my first mini-lesson (using the picture book The Rough-Faced Girl by Rafe Martin) on WOW pages. My kids were so engaged and excited to use their sticky notes to find their own WOW pages, I was amazed!
Tomorrow we will work on using the notes from our WOW stickies to write some reactions on our reading wiki pages.
Between our Comprehension Krill, Spelling Tic-Tac-Toe, Literature Circle Groups, and the Reader's Workshop mini-lessons, I am hoping all the great ingredients are coming together for a powerful literacy program!

Day 23 - Our 1st Skype

Some things happen for a reason! I had been wanting to download Skype onto our netbooks for quite some time, but hadn't had the minute to do it (it literally takes just about that long). So when my Principal came to me today (at 11:00) asking if my kids would like to Skype with a gathering at the Cental Office in about an hour, I hesitantly said, "Sure, we'll do it!" The last day before any holiday is a little stressful, but what the heck!

So I quickly downloaded Skype onto one of our mini HP's (and our IT savior, Donna, came to help us out! Thank you!). My students had not actually written any Thanksgiving stories, but we sure had been doing a lot of research on the 1st Thanksgiving! I chose one of the students I knew I could count on in a pinch to not freak out, and sure enough she even found a perfect Thanksgiving story to read from the Internet (Thank you, Jordyn!). We tweaked it a bit, she practiced it over lunch, and at 12:30 the Skype call went flawlessly! The netbook's video was perfect and the sound was loud enough for all the students in the room to enjoy!

Thanks to Mrs. Johnson for thinking of us, and allowing us to join the festivities downtown, and now world.... here we come!
Skype anyone?
[caption id="attachment_273" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Skype at the Cove!"]Skype at the Cove![/caption]

Day 22 - The Real Thanksgiving

Last week another teacher and I were talking about a graduate class she had taken in which they talked about the stereotypes we teach children in traditional schooling related to the early Native Americans, Colonists, and the first Thanksgiving. Since my class has been studying the early North Carolina tribes, we had also been talking about stereotyping Native Americans. We've had some wonderful discussions, many about the Cherokee and the Trail of Tears.

How wonderful to be checking out some old bookmarks blogged by super-teacher Kelly Hines this weekend! One of the sites she had added to her social bookmarking site was "You Are the Historian - Investigating the First Thanksgiving". My kids spent a good part of this morning working through the site, which is very kid-friendly and interesting (many parts are read aloud, which was great for my struggling readers!). They were instructed to put some of the interesting "truths" about the first Thanksgiving onto a few PowerPoint slides which we will pull together as a class presentation and post to our website. They were very engaged, which allowed me to meet with our new Literature Circle groups for some fantastic book conversations! More on our new Lit. Circle groups in a future post! And make sure you check back to view our PowerPoint!
[caption id="attachment_269" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="You Are the Historian - Investigating the First Thanksgiving"]You Are the Historian - Investigating the First Thanksgiving[/caption]

Day 20 Lovin' Edmodo

Can I just say how much I love Edmodo? I used it some last year with my 6th graders, and just introduced it to my 4th graders! One of their first comments was "Mrs. C. we get to use Facebook?" LOL! This tool, if you haven't used it already, is so easy to set up with a class, and fanastically simple to use!

I recently started a morning warm-up program called our daily Comprehension Krill. Since we are the Cove, stickin' with the ocean theme again! So, each day the kids are sent to a short reading comprehension article or story with some multiple choice questions that focus on a particular comprehension skill. (Found a great site through NC State for this here) According to our 1st quarterly assessment results my kids could use an ocean-load of work on understanding supporting details!

Edmodo to the rescue! I send them the link to the day's passage using their link tool and they return their answers to me in a short "note". It is simple to grade and so organized, I can whip through their responses in no time, and we can go over commonly missed questions right away! And they love the fact that it looks like Facebook! Very cool!
KrillFromAboveWater Daily Comprehension Krill!

Day 16 Spelling Tic-Tac-Toe Tech Style!

So we've been having these great workshops on how best to differentiate in our classrooms, spurred mostly by the administration's focus on classroom teachers working with small groups throughout the day rather than teaching to the "whole". Although this comes naturally to K-3 teachers, for those of us teaching 4th and up that's not necessarily the case, even though it makes so much sense!

Well, one of our last presenters shared the wonderful strategy of using a tic-tac-toe board with choices of assignments to meet certain academic goals. Yes, this strategy has been around for years and years, and I had used it eons ago, but just like going to the grocery store, you get into ruts in teaching and find yourself doing the same old things - often forgetting other great tools!

Given our 1:1 situation, I decided to create a tic-tac-toe for our spelling program to include technology activities. You can check it out on our Cove Spelling Page HERE. This week was our first stab at it. The kids were so involved! Most of the skills were fairly new, including the part about uploading most of their artifacts the spelling page of their wiki (you can check it out HERE). So it took a little longer to get things done than it will once they get used to the actual technology skills. I had some quick learners who became my experts for others, which was wonderful!

Now, I know there are pros and cons to sharing grades publicly, but I decided to grade their components right on the wiki so they could have immediate feedback. They loved being able to open their page and see their grades. And since we're using the wiki as a digital portfolio, their parents can see the grades right away as well.

Well, today was the big end of week test. Just so you know, last week my class scored an average of a 79.8 on the 20 word test. Nothing to phone home about! I don't think many of them glanced at their lists or the "old" practice activities more than the 5 minutes it took them to mindlessly get them done. This week was different! They were engaged with their spelling words every day. The difference shows up in the scores! Our average for this week? Are you sitting down? A whopping 93.9! Eleven of my 19 kids scored a 100 on the test. Proud? Yes, I was proud, but they were even more proud! Proud that they learned some new technology skills, proud that they completed some more interesting tasks, and proud that they knew the words (easily!) come Friday!

A great way to end the week!
Photo Credit: Refrigerator Letters from

Day 14 Cool Little Tool for Letter Writing

I know letter writing is becoming less and less important in this age of email, texting, and Twitter. However, my school was visited by a wonderful group called Colonial Camp last Friday. My colleague, Melissa, had written a fantastic Bright Ideas grant which was awarded and allowed us to bring the field trip to our campus (huge tent, outdoor fire, artifacts, musket firing, and some Colonial gentlemen too)!
[caption id="attachment_253" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Colonial Gentlemen Telling Us About Colonial Life"]Colonial Gentlemen Telling Us About Colonial Life[/caption]

We learned all about Colonial life through hands-on centers, including quill and ink writing, candle making, war painting, and colonial gaming! It was, well, a blast! The kids loved it!

I thought it only fitting that they write the Colonial Camp folks a letter of thanks. A cool component of the ReadWriteThink website allowed us to walk through this process using an organized fill-in-the-blank template. When they were finished, my kids knew the parts of a friendly letter, and printed out a beautifully typed and bordered letter they were so proud of! I'll mail all 19 letters out tomorrow via snail mail!

Next time your kids need to write a friendly or business letter, I highly suggest this site to help them keep their ideas and "parts" organized!
[caption id="attachment_254" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Making Beeswax Candles"]Making Beeswax Candles[/caption]

Day 12 Rhythm at the Cove!

Today was such fun! For the blog post, I had the kids visit a cool new site I learned about from one of my Twitter PLN buddies called Incredibox. It is an engaging site which turns out to be very addictive (Don't believe me? Just try it!). It allows you to create rhythms by dragging and dropping various components onto animated characters. As soon as I played with it, I knew I had to share it with my kids!

But, how to integrate it into our curriculum? Well, we'd been discussing using support and reasons for answers you give, so I designed our daily blog post to incorporate these skills and the fun site. Here's the post (make sure you check out their comments - some of them are priceless!), and click here to see what happened:

Rhythm at the Cove

My favorite comment comes from David, "...this music is like a butterfly lifting you on to the sky of puffy music clods [clouds] of rhythem and beats." Wow!
butterfly cloud
Photo Credit: Robyn Hooz's photostream via Flickr

Day 11 Blog Comments and Email

Every day, to get us warmed up, my kids comment on our blog post of the day. Today I embedded a link to the National Geographic Kids site where short articles are posted about really cool topics. I need to thank Brian Crosby who has an awesome wiki and blog (which you need to follow if you don't already) called Learning is Messy. I have gotten many ideas from Brian's 1:1 work in his own classroom.
Well, the kids LOVED reading the articles, and using our new rubric for assessing blog comments, they were engaged in wonderful work this morning. Check out some of their comments here.
In getting used to our new email program I recently had the kids send me an email letting me know whether they liked fiction or non-fiction books more. Here are a few of their responses:

Dear Ms.Collazo,
I like nonfiction books because I like the facts in the book. I learn new stuff every time I read a new book I imagine stuff in the book I feel like the happiest kid on earth when I read nonfiction books. Nonfiction books make me feel like i'm the smartest kid on the earth. Nonfiction is great I would love to read them all the time. I hope everybody will like to read nonfiction books just like me?

Dear mrs.Collazo I like nonfiction books better than I like fiction because they give more information and they are true.They teach you about things you never knew like some bats eat about 500 to 600 bugs each year and they can be as big as your thumb. I never knew that until I read the book.

And, my favorite:

My favorite is fiction. Because non-fiction is hard to make notes with and because you have to remember all the real things that happened to the person. Fiction its easy because there are crazy monsters and you can remember what happens in the story because it is so funny. And you can picture it in your head while reading and taking the test because all the animals talking you can remember all of it, its just fun you get so in to the book that you don't want to stop. Like the fiction books i have in the middle of the class i be in the book and then mrs.Collazo tell me to put the book up but she always be happy to see me read. I've read about 13 fiction books this year i just peak a book that i like and i read it at home and at school.

Teaching is so much fun!
Photo Credit: samie.shake's photostream via Flickr