Sunday, December 14, 2014

Interactive Student Notebooks and Close Reading... A Perfect Pair!

I've written before about how "close reading," presented as a "NEW and IMPROVED" way to teach reading sorta rubs me the wrong way. Like most buzz words and theories in education, I get annoyed when they are touted as the brand new way of doing things that will save education as we know it! Because the thing is... most likely, someone has just polished up and renamed something that great teachers have known and practiced for years! 
Close reading is a perfect example. For infinity years, great teachers have known that for kids to really comprehend a piece of text, they have to dig through, connect to, and understand all its complex layers. That's why my sixth grade teacher spent two whole days talking with us about Dally going down in his "blaze of glory" when we read The Outsiders. And it's why in 9th grade we spent almost a month with The Old Man and the Sea.... all 128 whopping pages of it! 
Great teachers have been getting kids to close read for a long time. It's not new or improved. It's sound practice and it's something that all ELA teachers... and science and social studies and math teachers... should be working with kids to do!
So, just what do I mean when I say "close reading?" Well, according to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC):
Close, analytic reading stresses engaging with a text of sufficient complexity directly and examining meaning thoroughly and methodically, encouraging students to read and reread deliberately. Directing student attention on the text itself empowers students to understand the central ideas and key supporting details. It also enables students to reflect on the meanings of individual words and sentences; the order in which sentences unfold; and the development of ideas over the course of the text, which ultimately leads students to arrive at an understanding of the text as a whole. (PARCC, 2011, p. 7)
For me, there is no better tool in the world for teaching close reading than our Interactive Student Notebooks. I've written before about how I use these and today I am going to talk about why.

Interactive Notebooks, and more specifically, the foldable organizers and literary analysis questions are the best tools I've found for getting kids to read, reread, and reread closely.

Here is a timeline of how we approach a piece of literature:

Day One:

1.) I introduce our story and provide any relevant background knowledge. I keep this short and sweet... about a 10-15 minute chat.

2.) The students listen to (either I read it or we listen to it on our audio anthology) or independently read our story.

Day Two:

1.) I introduce the skill or device we will discussing within the context of our story and give students the literary analysis question that they will be answering. Typically, I do this by reviewing our notes from earlier in the unit, and then reading and breaking down the question.

2.) Then students reread, using Post-Its to mark places in our story that we should go back and examine.

3.) We come back together and discuss the places where students put their Post-Its and how those spots are relevant to our question.

4.) I distribute the foldable organizer that we will be using to help us sort our thinking and find evidence that will support our answer to the literary analysis question. Students then reread again, this time focusing on the specific details necessary to complete the organizer.

Here are a just few of my favorite organizers:

Day Three:

1.) Students participate in a Literary Analysis Station designed to zero in on our skill even more! Here they discuss and often, yes... REREAD, the text in detail. 

2.) Students answer the literary analysis question. 

Day Four:

We take a quiz on our story. I allow students to use the text for their quiz because it is not about how much they've memorized, but rather how well they can make assertions about the story and support it with evidence. So, chances are when they take this quiz they are rereading yet again.

So, that's one piece of literature, read and reread and reread for analysis several times over four days! I can absolutely attest that most of the kids are experts on how the skills and devices we cover are exemplified in the story. And even my most struggling readers can hold their own in complex conversations regarding the story.

If you have never tried Interactive Notebooks, I urge you to give them a go! After winter break is as good of a time as any to start incorporating some of these strategies into your teaching. 

If you decide to give them a try, I'd love to hear how it goes for you!

Happy Teaching!!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Practicing What You Pin... Another Success Story!

About twenty times a day Every now and then, I stumble across a technique or strategy or product on Pinterest that I pin, but never try. I have about infinity of these pins scattered throughout my many Pinterest boards. Anyway, this year, I've vowed to change that! I'm determined to try out at least one pin per week, be it something for my classroom, or a recipe, craft idea, life hack...

So, here is one of my most favorite finds ever! I cannot even tell you how stoked I am to have tried out these little gems and what a huge impact they've made on my writing instruction.

These are Janet Malone's Transition Tickets and they are seriously the BOMB!! Watch her video about them here.

Basically, this product contains a ton of "tickets" that have transition words or phrases that students can use to write a paragraph. And these aren't just your usual line of transition suspects, like, "first," or "then," or "finally." These are great words and phrases that will instantly smarten up anything your students are writing.

So far I've had my students use these to:

  • answer constructed-response questions
  • summarize short stories or chapters of a novel
  • write opinion paragraphs
  • respond to a compare and contrast or argument prompt
What I love most about these is that they give a jumping off point for a writing piece that may be difficult or intimidating. This is HUGE for reluctant or struggling writers! Also, now that my students have been using these for a while, I am noticing more and more that they will use these stems when writing on their own, which is obviously the goal!

So, what do you think? Can you find a use for these Transition Tickets in your classroom? If you try them, let me know how it goes and how you used them.

Happy Teaching!!    

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Answering Literary Analysis Questions

When we made the shift to Common Core, one of the biggest changes to my daily ELA practice was moving from my traditional line of open-ended questions to more of a literary analysis question. This was a tough move for both me and my students because the questions were more complex, requiring a closer reading of the text and a deeper analysis of its elements and devices.  Overall, I think the change is for the best, but I won't lie... there have certainly been some bumps and bruises along the way!!

One strategy for answer these types of questions has been "S.P.I.T. Out a Great Answer!" I put this together over the summer and first posted about it here. Now that we are few months into the school year and have had some good practice with answering these types of questions, I want to share with you how it's been going.

So, as I've mentioned before, we use the Holt Literature series. I love this series... I really do. I didn't really love it at first, but now that I'm four years in, I'm super happy with it. First off, the literature is GREAT! Short stories, poems, literary nonfiction, articles, movies... it's got everything! Second, the more PARCC stuff gets released, like sample questions and rubrics, the more I am sure that Holt is doing a fantastic job covering Common Core and my students should be as prepared as can be expected when they take that standardized test for the first time this spring.

To teach elements and devices, I use an Interactive Notebook (read all about that here). With each element or device I teach, we read 4-6 texts where we practice analyzing that specific skill or device. Our analysis is done via our Literary Analysis questions.

And that is where S.P.I.T. comes in... Students can use this strategy to help them organize a better answer. Now, typically, I am not a huge fan of formulaic writing, but when teaching some of the heavier types of writing, much of which is new to my 6th graders (like literary analysis or argument writing) I find that exposing them to a formula allows EVERY kid an entry point.

Here is an example...

This shows a student's answer before I modeled S.P.I.T.

And this is the revised answer that came after teaching S.P.I.T.

Ahh! So much better, right?!

I'm loving how this has been working and I am thinking it's only going to get better!

Any strategies for Literary Analysis that you'd like to share? I'd love to hear from you.

Happy Teaching!!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Revising 2.0! Teaching Kids to Revise Their Writing with iPads

I've been teaching math and ELA in various capacities for over ten years now. In that time, writing has come to be my most favorite subject to teach. It's certainly challenging, but so, so rewarding.

With our state's adoption of the Common Core, and our preparation for administering PARCC this spring, I've been in the process of changing up my writing lesson plans, which you can read about here. We just finished up a unit on comparing and contrasting and we've moved onto a Literary Analysis piece, where we are comparing and contrasting two versions of the same story.

This has definitely been a struggle for my 6th graders! Each of the skills necessary for completing a lit analysis - identifying the literary elements of two stories; analyzing each of these elements; comparing and contrasting the elements of each story with the other; forming an opinion about your analysis; supporting your opinion with evidence from the two stories; and then writing it all up in a clear, concise essay - are proving to be a challenge for even my most advanced students.

We've just moved on to the revising phase of our process. In the past, this has ALWAYS been a challenge for kids! Just getting them to go back and reread their writing is a fight, but when you want them to reread and then REWRITE what they have to make it better, FORGET IT! They fight me every step of the way.

I can't really blame them, though. When they've struggled so much just to get a draft down, the last thing they want to do is rewrite it. Especially when the directions for making for better are often so vague - things like, "Add more detail," or "Just say more about this," or "Pay attention to word choice."

In the past, I've tried a million different ways to get kids to reread and revise their work (peer conferencing, teacher conferencing, checklists... just to name a few!) and I've never really found a strategy that I've found super-effective... until now!

Enter the iPad (or iPhone or iPod Touch or Flip Video recorder... anything that can easily record and be viewed).

What I've got my kids doing is recording someone (either a peer or teacher) reading their essay on video. Then, students can get a pair of headphones and watch again and again, making changes as they hear parts that need improvement.

The first few times I tried this was with my most struggling writers (and I recorded myself reading their work). They are always the first ones finished and also the ones that I can never get to reread their writing aloud, regardless of how many times I emphasize the importance of this (I tell them that their ears will "hear" a mistake before their eyes will "see" one). I could not believe how much pausing, erasing (or scribbling out), and writing I saw! They easily spent a good 15 minutes working (most only had about 10 sentences... remember, these are my most struggling writers!).

After they were finished, I recorded myself reading their essay again, and we compared what we heard. All of us (myself included) were so impressed with how much better their essays were! I'm talking serious, serious improvement! And what's best was that the kids were so proud of themselves because they could hear how much better their essays were becoming with some rewriting. Most had no problem going back and drafting for yet a third time.

I could not believe how well this worked! And I can't believe that I've had my iPads for two years now and I've never used them for this before. I'm sure I'm late to the party... many of you have probably been teaching revising like this for years! But, I'm so glad I tried this out because it has markedly changed the way I will teach writing in the future.

So, what part of the writing process presents the biggest struggle for you? How have you (tried to) overcome it?

Happy teaching!!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Checking for Understanding-Using Daily Formative Assessment

I've written before about how I use guided math in my 6th grade classroom. A big part of guided math is the grouping of my students. For the most part, guided math is homogeneously grouped. These groups are fluid, though, and I use a daily formative assessment to help determine our small groups for the next day's guided math session.

At the end of class each day, I project a PowerPoint slide with a few questions (anywhere from 1 to 3... depends on the skill) pertaining to our lesson. I really spend time coming up with the questions because I need to make sure it's a good measurement of their understanding. Each student gets a Post-It and puts their work and answer(s) on the front and their name on the back. On their way out the door, they place their Post-It on my stoplight poster. They stick it on the red part if they really feel they need more work with this skill. It goes on yellow if they feel they need just a little more practice, and on green if they feel they've mastered this concept.

Kids who feel shaky with this skill, and students who got the answer(s) wrong will automatically work with our intervention teacher the next day during guided math. The students on yellow, and those who got part of the answer wrong, will work with me. And those in green will work independently (though my group can be interrupted with questions from those working independently, so help is available if necessary. My intervention teacher's group cannot, under any circumstances, be interrupted! I tell the kids they need to be bleeding, barfing, or on fire to interrupt her group!).

I save all the Post-Its from each marking period in a special folder I made from two file folders taped together. Then I made little envelopes from card stock with each students' name. Saving these Post-Its are great for conference time, and they are also helpful for CST or INRS (or MAT, or whatever form of alphabet soup your school uses!) meetings. The back of the folder also has a class list where I can record how students' did on each skill in our math unit. This makes it super easy to reference who needs more help.

So, that's how I use exit tickets to check for understanding! How do you check your students' understanding? Any great daily formative assessment tools you like to use? I'd love to hear about them! :)

Happy teaching!!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Practicing What You Pin

You're on Pinterest right? I mean, obviously! Silly question, I know.

So, I've been on Pinterest for a looooong time. And I've pinned a ridiculous amount of stuff.

I have 25 boards on Pinterest, but in reality, everything I pin can be broken down into two categories: the "Jenna I am" category and the "Jenna I pretend I am" category. The first category is practical: "25 tasty recipes you make with boneless chicken," "the 5-minute make-up routine," "no-sew curtains," and the like. Stuff that a busy, overwhelmed, working mother of four kiddos can certainly use.

But, the "Jenna I pretend I am..." ooh, that stuff is good!! Those pins all reflect the #moneyisnoobject, #Irockasize4whileeatingsaltedcaramelstuff, #myDIYissoPotteryBarnchic person that I pretend to be. That Jenna is SO freakin' awesome! Not even a little practical or reflective of my life whatsoever, but AWESOME!

Anyway, this spring, I had twins. As a result, I spent a lot of time of the couch feeding babies, who while cute, provided little interaction other than an occasional milk-drunk grin or hiccup. This gave me a ton of time to play on Pinterest on my phone and while doing so, I realized I do a lot of pinning, but very little doing. So, I decided that I was going to commit to trying out one pin per week for an entire year. Practical or awesome, it didn't matter. Recipe, craft idea, game with my kids, lesson plan, it didn't matter... but I had to do ONE thing each week for an entire year.

So, just the other day, I tried out this activity.

We were just getting started on our Compare and Contrast writer's workshop. We started out simple... looking at the similarities and difference between apples and oranges.

Next, I gave each student an index card with either a pink, blue, yellow, green, or purple dot at the top. I told the kids to spend ten minutes writing a paragraph that explained the similarities and differences between the two fruits. Then, after ten minutes, they found the other kids in the room with same colored dot, and as a group, they had to combine all of their paragraphs into one, really good paragraph.

After each group was finished, we came back together as a class and shared what we wrote.

All in all, I was so happy with how this lesson went! First, it was a nice way of randomly grouping students. Also, I liked listening to how my kids were able to negotiate what parts of whose paragraphs made it into the final. I heard things like, "Nick has a cool opening because it's not that boring, so let's use that one," and "Sarah's closing is good, but Chris' closing starts with the word 'however' and that sounds pretty smart so let's mix their two closings together." They all worked well together to get the job done.

So, so you practice what you pin? Success or epic fail? I'd love to hear!

Happy teaching!! Follow Jenna's board Education-Reading Stuff! on Pinterest.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Writer's Workshop... PARCC Style!

So, in April I gave birth to my beautiful twin babies. Two babies meant that I was anchored to my couch for infinity hours each day feeding sleepy newborns. But, what I had this time around that I didn't have for my first two kids, was certainly a game changer for me... my iPhone. I didn't make the big move to a smart phone until my second born was a year old, so I NEVER knew how essential having an iPhone was to a mother with a newborn (or two!).

Admittedly, much of my time was spent pinning baked goods that I knew I'd never have the time to make and Candy Crushin'. But, there were many, many hours that I spent pouring over everything I could find on the Common Core and PARCC, looking for hints at what I could do to get my students super prepared.

I knew that writing was where some of my biggest changes would need to be. For years, I had used a pretty hard-core Writer's Notebook approach... think Calkins, Fletcher, Atwell, Routman, and Graves. This approach to writing has been, and probably always will be, my jam! Teaching writing this way makes me happy... and more importantly, it makes my students happy. Over the years, I've watched kids get hooked into telling their stories, addicted to making that connection with others through their words. I've watched them laugh and cry and cringe with embarrassment over the words on their pages. I've watched them agonize over creating the most perfect beginning and beam with pride when they know it's been successful. In essence, I've watched them cross over from being just a kid who writes to being a writer. It's truly been a privilege.

However, with PARCC looming and the emphasis on writing to inform/explain/analyze coming to the forefront, I knew that I needed to make some changes to my writing plans.

My tentative thinking is this:

  • September: and introduction to Writer's Notebook
  • October:
  • November:
    • a week-long writer's workshop on literary analysis using compare and contrast
    • an RST (Research Simulated Task... this is part of the PARCC test)
  • December: Writer's Notebook
  • January:
    • a week-long writer's workshop on literary analysis
    • an RST
  • February:
    • 2, two-week long writer's workshops on argument writing
  • March:
    • Review of literary analysis, RSTs, and argument writing
  • April:
    • Writer's Notebook
    • a three-week long writer's workshop on short stories
  • May:
    • Writer's Notebook
    • a two-week long writer's workshop on poetry
  • June: Writer's Notebook
**Note: for me, a writer's workshop means lots of modeling; mini-lessons on writer's craft, mechanics, grammar, and conventions; small group guided writing; conferencing (both with teacher and peers); revising and editing lessons; publishing on a computer; and an author's chair.

So, now that we just wrapped up our time in our Writer's Notebooks, we are going to put them aside for a few weeks and begin grappling with our unit on informing/explaining through comparing and contrasting.

Last year, I started opening every writer's workshop by getting all my kids to write just one really good paragraph and then we worked to stretch that paragraph into an essay. I cannot even tell you how GREAT this worked, especially for my struggling/resistant writers. Every single kid could give me at least one, good paragraph. And once we got that down, we would go from there. Some kids had no problem stretching that to a five-paragraph essay, some could manage to eek out three paragraphs, some managed two, and a few were stuck at one... but it was a GOOD one!! I found that I'd much rather have one outstanding paragraph than three not so good ones.

Anyway, we will be starting on this next week, so I'll keep you posted on how it goes. I'd love to hear how you teach writing in your classroom. Any methods/strategies that you swear by? Have you had to change things up since Common Core?

Thanks for reading!  Happy teaching!!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Mentor Answers to Constructed Response Questions

Something I include in our ISNs for each skill I teach is a mentor answer to a constructed response question. When I began including these two years ago, I can honestly say that the answers I started to get improved at an alarming pace!! Before, when I would give students questions that were specific to the story they were reading, the students made some growth over the year, but nothing like the growth I started to see after making the switch to mentor answers. I think what would happen when students were required to answer lots of different questions that all evaluated a skill, was that they were not transferring what they were learning about, say, mood and tone, from question to question. It was like they were never learning the skill deeply, or completely because they were always just touching the surface of the skill when they would answer all the individual questions about mood and tone.

But, I found that when students were being asked the same questions again and again, just using different stories each time, the answers got better and better because their understanding of the skill got better and better.

I am not sure what I just wrote was completely clear, so let me show you:

The old way I taught would have been like this:
  1. Read a story and answer this question: "What is the climax of this story? How do you know?"
  2. Read second story and answer this question: "Name two events from the rising action. How do these actions create suspense?"
  3. Read third story and answer this question: "Evaluate how the characters' actions drive the plot of this story."
  4. Read fourth story and answer this question: "Describe how the plot unfolds in this story."
** What I found would happen was that the kids who understood plot elements, could answer each question decently. The kids who struggled with plot elements, answered none of the questions well.

Now, I teach it like this:
  1. Read a story and answer this question: "Analyze how the actions of the characters create the rising action and climax of this story."
  2. Read second story and answer this question: "Analyze how the actions of the characters create the rising action and climax of this story."
  3. Read third story and answer this question: "Analyze how the actions of the characters create the rising action and climax of this story."
  4. Read fourth story and answer this question: "Analyze how the actions of the characters create the rising action and climax of this story."
** Now what happens: the kids who understand plot, can give a decent answer the first time and an AMAZING the last time. And, the kids who struggle with plot elements, will struggle the first time or two, but are doing great with it by the last time.

Since the story is different each time, it's not that kids are memorizing the answer, rather they are really coming to understand how the character's actions drive the plot. Also, they are getting a feel for the organizational structure of a short constructed response about plot elements. The more comfortable they get with their understanding, the better their answers become. And as the year goes on, I will continue to break out these questions over and over, even after we are well out of the unit where that specific skill is taught... that really keeps them on their toes!

I think of answering constructed response questions now like I think of process writing... The more you revise, the better it gets!

How do you teach constructed response? Do you have a strategy that works well for you?

Happy teaching!!
Visit Jenna's profile on Pinterest.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Interactive Student Notebooks... The 4-1-1

So, when I first made the switch from using a traditional notebook to an interactive one, NO ONE was writing much about them on the internets. I knew what they were because of our social studies program, but Google offered up little by way of support for developing one for ELA (it was LAL at the time, but since then we've shaken up the can of alphabet soup and have made the switch to ELA!).

Anyway, my fearless ELA teaching compadre, was willing to take the jump with me into this crazy world of scissors and glue and paper folding, and since that day, we've never looked back!

Nowadays, infinity teachers use ISNs in ELA and blog/tweet/pin about it, so the resources are pretty much everywhere. I debated even writing this post because there is so much out there, but it's been a slow week and I got nothin' else, so here it goes!!

In my class, our ISNs function almost like a kid-created textbook in that we will go back and reference pages in it ALL THE TIME! For that reason, on the first day of school, we number every, single page in our composition books (yes, ALWAYS use a composition book! Hard-backed, 200 pages... Spirals will make you lose your ever-loving mind by Thanksgiving... Trust me on this piece of advice... You're welcome!)... prepare for some whining! The kids hate this part!! But, it really is essential.

We also keep a meticulous table of contents to make referencing easy as we move throughout the year (the table of contents is actually the first five page of the notebook... so the very first lesson doesn't begin until page 6). Stay on top of this. If the kids can't easily reference the information in the book, then all this hard work is for naught! One way to stay on top of this is to keep a notebook right along with your students so if they are absent, they can visit your "While You Were Out" board to get the notes they missed and then use your book to help them catch up.

Now, what you fill your notebook with depends on your curriculum. ISNs are not a curriculum in and of themselves... they are merely a supplement to what you are already teaching. For me, the content of my notebook is determined by my reading series, Holt Literature. The skills I teach and the order in which I teach them come from the scope and sequence my district uses when teaching from Holt.

I don't necessarily have a solid format that I use when putting material into the book. Additionally, I rarely produce a notebook that looks exactly the same as the book from the year before. I am always looking for new and different approaches to the skills. I've been liking this, as well as my own stuff:

But my basic approach is as follows:
  • I teach eight units in ELA. Each unit teaches a couple literary elements (although one unit teaches literary devices and one unit is nonfiction/argument writing).
  • I have a page of notes for each skill that goes into the notebooks. I used to try to have the students copy these notes on their own from the board, but it was a disaster!! So, I created notes pages that have all the info they need to know and together we highlight or add details to them together.

  •  After we glue in the notes and read through/highlight them together, we read a short story together. I call this story our "touchstone" text because I will reference it again and again throughout the unit. Luckily, my lit series provides us with this text, but if your doesn't, any meaty, short story will work. (My fav to use is "All Summer in a Day" by Ray Bradbury. The story can easily be found through Google, all the literary elements and devices are there and easy to identify, and it's a good enough story that the kids won't mind referencing it again and again.)
  • For me, the next two parts are crucial: first, using the touchstone text, I create a completely correct interactive graphic organizer with my students.  ALL of the information in this organizer is correct and I expect students to copy down exactly what I have down. Now... I will say that we talk about what belongs in the folding page together, but I completely guide them into coming up with all the exact answers that I want! This interactive organizer will serve as their MODEL when they need to complete the same activity with all the other stories that we read in the unit. I need everything to be right so the students have a great model to help them.

  • Next comes the second most crucial part: the constructed response. In this day of standardized testing, constructed responses is where it's at! Seriously, no test will ask students to identify the plot and then organize it into a cute, little folding graphic organizer with a roller coaster graphic! Rather, they will be asked to identify it, and then be given some intense question that asks them to "analyze," or "evaluate," or "explain" some aspect of it. So, with each interactive graphic organizer, there a constructed response question that goes along with it. The goal is to get the kids to complete the organizer, and then use all the information that they put into it when answering the question. Just like I have students put a perfect model of the organizer into their notebook, we also put a perfect answer to a constructed response question (I call them a mentor answer) using our touchstone text. Over the next several weeks, the kids will answer this same question for all the different stories we read, using the mentor answer to help them.

So, that is basically the gist of how I use ISNs. Nothing else goes in them... just notes (or anchor charts if there aren't real notes for the lesson), interactive graphic organizers, and constructed response questions. By the end of the year, the kids have an awesome, organized, and most importantly, useful, reference book of everything we learned in ELA over the year.

Are you using ISNs? How are they working for you? Any useful tips?

Happy teaching!!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Printing a Poster... the Cheapskate Way!

I am a sucker for handmade posters in my classroom. From inspirational quotes to anchor charts for ELA and math, my room is full of them!

Some of them I hand drew on poster board or the big Post-It chart paper (obsessed with that stuff!! Every two years, I budget some of my $$ for a pad and then I savor it for the next two years, using it for only the most special of projects!!). But, anymore, most of posters are designed on Photoshop (I use Elements 7).

In a perfect world, money would be no object and I'd have all my posters printed from Staples or Shutterfly, but sadly, money is just something that I never seem to have enough of, so I needed to figure out a way to print my snazzy creations on the cheap!

Enter Microsoft Publisher. It's sorta like the fourth cousin, twice removed from its more famous family members: Word, PowerPoint, and Excel, but this little gem is hands-down my favorite! Before I learned Photoshop, it was my go-to for designing posters, worksheets, templates, and activities.

Anyway, lots of people use Publisher for banners, but you can print great posters, as well. And, as long as you like puzzles, it's a snap to do!

First, design or find a high-resolution jpeg. If it's not high-quality, it will pixelate when you blow it up. Then, save it to your computer.

Now, open Publisher:


And you will have:



It will print out on several sheets of paper. You will then have to trim them and carefully piece them together (like a puzzle). You can tape them to a large piece of poster board or just tape them to each other. I highly recommend laminating them (or clear contact paper them, or even frame them), but you don't have to! And voila! A beautiful poster that you made for a tiny bit of ink and some copy paper!

Here's a few from my room this year (don't mind the glare or the terrible camera phone pictures!):

Here is a close up so you can see the seams where I pieced the pages together:

(It's not even visible when the poster is hanging!)

So, there you go! A cheapy way to make beautiful posters for your classroom. Any other easy and inexpensive ways you make posters?

Happy teaching!!

P.S. If you are interested, I do sell the motivational posters pictured in this post in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store. What you would actually purchase is a high-res (8.5" X 11", 300 dpi) jpeg that you can print at an office supply store or a print shop... OR PRINT IT THE CHEAPSKATE WAY!!

P.P.S. Again, if you are interested, I do sell the literary elements posters pictured in this post in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. Same deal as above: you would actually purchase is a high-res (8.5" X 11", 300 dpi) jpeg that you can print at an office supply store or a print shop... OR PRINT IT THE CHEAPSKATE WAY!!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Printing on Post-Its... Everybody's Doin' It! Are You?

Are you printing on Post-Its? So, it's pretty much the greatest thing I've learned in the history of learning things.  I'm kinda obsessed with it... and it's not really the most practical obsession. Seriously, Post-Its, especially the super sticky, fun-colored ones that I like, are expensive!

But, seeing that I already spend a ton on stuff for my classroom, what's another drop in the bucket?! Especially for the hot pink ones... I'm a sucker for hot pink!!

Anyway, here's my latest printing-on-Post-Its endeavor...

So, last week I wrote about changing up my math block and mentioned how I am using a differentiated menu board for the students to use after small group or independent work.  I wanted to make a large version of the board to hang in the classroom because I knew that the kids would be far more likely to utilize that one, rather than get out their math journals and look at the one we taped onto the inside the cover.

Now, I'm always reluctant to print a poster version of something from Staples or the like, because they are expensive! And I knew that it would be likely that I'd be changing up the activities on the menu board when I get bored it's time for a change, so I didn't want to drop any cash only to have to do it again a month later. Enter my Post-Its....

First, I took the menu that I created in Publisher and saved it as a jpeg. Then, I opened the jpeg and re-sized it so that each box of the menu was approximately the size of a 3x3 Post-It note. Next, I made a bunch of copies of it and cropped each one so that I had a separate jpeg of each box of my menu. Then, using a template like one of these, I inserted each jpeg into one of the Post-It frames. I printed out a copy of this and it looked like this...

Then, I put a Post-It on top of each outline, reinserted the paper into my printer and hit print again. That will give you this...

Finally, I hand drew a grid onto poster board, cut it out and laminated it, and stuck each Post-It into its spot on the board.

Now I have a large menu hanging in my room and if I want to change out the activities it's just a matter of taking down an old Post-It and replacing it with a new one!

Are you printing on Post-Its? How do you use them?

Happy teaching!!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Notice and Note (Part Two)

As I mentioned before, over the summer I read the book, Notice and Note (Beers & Probst), and I decided that I am going to use their strategies for getting kids to dig deeper into text, or "close reading." (Just an aside, I can't be the only teacher who is slightly offended that "close reading" has suddenly become a "thing," can I? I mean seriously!? All this recent hubbub surrounding "close reading" seems to imply that the powers that be who make up school stuff - like standards, and tests, and rules, and what not - think they invented something brand new called "close reading." I get the feeling that they really think that for infinity years, teachers haven't been working their tails off to teach kids to read deeply, reaching further and further for all the meaning behind the writing! Seriously!? Teachers have been teaching "close reading" basically since teaching was invented... we just called it "reading." We felt no reason to fancy it up by adding a "close" before it! Sorry, rant over!)

Anyway, the premise behind the book is that there are six signposts that readers should be on the look out for when reading (but really, it could be when watching a movie or a TV show, as well. Once you learn the signposts, you will literally see them everywhere!!). When you see a signpost, you need to stop and ask yourself the anchor question for that signpost and think about your answer. And, in thinking about the answer, and all the other wonderings the answer makes you think about, you will be digging deeper into the text.

I decided that I was going to teach the first three signposts at the start of our first unit (I use the Holt Literature series) and then we would practice those throughout all the reading we do in the unit. My plan is to teach the next three at the start of unit two, and then for the duration of the year, practice looking for all six every time we read something.

Over the course of three days, I had my students glue notes about each of the signposts into their ISNs. (As I said in this post, taking notes is a pretty new concept to 6th graders, so in the beginning, I give my students the notes I want in their ISNs and they cut them out and glue them in.)
Then, we practiced looking for and discussing our latest signpost in a short story.

After teaching the first three signposts, I gave the kids a little quiz. I gave them a short story (I used an excerpt from Esperanza Rising that is in our Holt books) that I knew contained one example of each of the signposts taught. They had to read and annotate it, writing down where they saw each signpost and the thinking they did when they answered the signpost's anchor question.

So, I just started to look through the quizzes the other day and I have to say, I was super stoked at what I saw! The kids found lots of signposts and did some really cool thinking... but the kicker is that many of them didn't annotate where I did. They found signposts in other parts (that I TOTALLY missed!) and came up with some really awesome predictions and inferences that NEVER EVEN OCCURRED TO ME! Don't you just love it when that happens? When the kids come through big time and teach you a thing or two?! It's my most favorite thing ever when that happens!

So, long story longer, I'm loving this book and its approach to close reading. I'm eager to teach the rest of the signposts and see what kinds of discussions arise!  I'll certainly keep you posted.

Happy teaching!!