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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:


Next:


And you will have:


Then:


Finally:


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!!