Tuesday, April 30, 2013

When Teachers Write...

Recently, I have faced a personal dilemma when reflecting upon my teaching practices. I have become increasingly aware of a missing link in my classroom instruction: writing. While recently reviewing some of my old writing from my graduate coursework years ago, (I realize that I run the risk of sounding like a complete nerd here; I guess it wasn't enough for me to do the work the first time...) I found myself convicted by my own words.

"Although I have always considered myself to be an avid writer, I never approached the possibility of incorporating my enthusiasm for writing into my own elementary school classroom. Just as I viewed components of literacy development as disconnected areas of instruction, I failed to unite my own literary passions with my teaching instruction. The opportunity to explore writing in the classroom with my students seemed to hold a place only in creative writing courses with older students; I did not realize that such instructional practices could take place in an elementary school classroom. Then, I learned about modeling." 

I wrote that. Those words. In 2009. I experienced this revelation in grad school. This idea of modeling writing for students was a concept that excited me. Sharing my passion for writing with students by letting them actually see me write was both an exhilarating, and altogether natural, concept. I intended to do just that as soon as I had students of my own. Then I entered a real classroom, and anyone who has ever been there knows that even the best of intentions can somehow get lost among the lesson plans. 

So I find myself in this place, yet again. However, this time, a sense of failure and neglect hangs heavily over my teaching experience thus far. Have I failed to teach grammatical concepts within the context of writing? No. Have I neglected to cover necessary standards for language instruction? No. My failure lies in my own personal expansion of my writing selections, and my neglect lies in sharing enough of that with my students to inspire them to want to apply those language standards. Lest I forget the importance of this application, my own words are there in those old papers, haunting me...

"Graves and Kittle (2005) discussed the importance of modeling in writing instruction, in that it allows students to observe the process of writing. Professional authors have provided an infinite supply of texts that serve as a model of the final product for students to examine, and it is important for teachers to share these products in a variety of formats and genres. However, when teachers model writing in the classroom, students have the opportunity to witness the many decisions required throughout the writing process in order to create a final product. During modeling, the quality of the writing is not necessarily the focus. As Graves and Kittle (2005) state, “You don’t have to model exceptional writing; you model the decisions a writer makes” (p. 49). These decisions form the link between initial ideas for writing and the final piece of writing those ideas will eventually produce. Teacher modeling serves as a crucial component of the students’ development as competent writers." 

There is a fine line between the lesson plan and the actual lesson. 

So I am left in this place, once again torn between my passion for writing and my intrinsic need to weave that into my classroom instruction. While I am approaching this a bit later than I would ideally prefer, this is a great point in the school year to use this reflection as a springboard for reform in August. I have yet to decide exactly how this type of modeling will fit into my classroom, but it's presence is guaranteed. I have already decided that this blog will serve as a greater instructional tool in the future; in that way, sharing writing here will be essential for me personally as well as professionally. 

As for my own goals as a writer, I cannot imagine a point in my life at which I will not write, in some way. I keep coming back to it, and I just can’t keep from writing, if only in my head. My first memorable experiences with writing occurred when I was in middle school, and since then, my passion has consistently grown. I just can’t ignore it. At some point, I would love to turn this passion into a career. In the meantime, however, I write as much and as often as I can around my career as a teacher. I try to experiment with a variety of exercises, techniques, and voices so that even the little time I have now is not wasted. In the future, that may change, but for now, it is what it is. 
In one of my all-time favorite books, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis writes, “We have to take reality as it comes to us: there is no good jabbering about what it ought to be like or what we should have expected it to be like,” and this quote has become a personal guideline for my outlook on life. For me, it applies to writing as well. Whether thousands of people know about my passion, or only my close friends, I will still write. Whether I have massive amounts of time to devote to words, or only minutes per day, I will still write. Whether my words earn money, praise, critical disdain, or nothing at all, I will still write. 
So that’s where I am, friends. I wanted to share this with you so you might better understand how much I truly appreciate any ounce of your attention here. Please never hesitate to offer your opinions or advice about my work. I’m not afraid of constructive criticism; I appreciate honesty. 
I hope you will continue to visit me here. 

Monday, April 29, 2013

Planting Fact Families

One of our latest spring "creations" incorporated a little bit of art with a little bit of math. We have been reviewing fact families and practicing inverse operations. For this activity, the students rolled dice to determine the first two digits in their fact family. Using those two numbers, they created the full fact family for addition and subtraction facts. Then, they transferred their fact families onto potted plants for our door: the addition and subtraction facts were written on the pots, while each bloom featured a different digit in the fact family. Short, sweet, and to the point!

 The pots added a nice, fresh splash of color to our door. :)

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Looking Forward to Looking Back

The end of the school year is such a hectic time. There's such an abundance of wrapping up, cleaning up, paper-working-it-up to be done. However, I am eager to spend a little time reflecting on this past year with my students. I have created a First Grade Memory book (yes, it's available on TPT) that I intend to use with my students in the final week of school this year.

WAY back in August, I took a picture of each student on the first day of school. I will give those pictures back to them to be included on this page of the book. There is also a space for them to document anything they remember about that day.

In addition, there are a few pages on which students can record details about themselves and their memories from this school year. 

What would a memory book be without an autographs page??? My kiddos love the idea of signing autographs, and I thought this would be a neat way to document names of their classmates this year.

The last page is similar to the first in that it includes space for their picture on the last day of school, and the writing section focuses on their feelings toward second grade. When they are finished, they will bind the book together with ribbon. (Unless their teacher forgets to buy cute ribbon, in which case plain old string will do just fine!)

If you are interested, feel free to check out My First-Grade Memory Book on TPT and help yourself! :)

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Child Authors!

In a previous post, "Round up that Bossy R," I described our circle-map project with r-controlled syllables. However, there was a second component to this project, which has been really beneficial for some of my students. I assigned my more independent writers with the task of creating a story. Each story would feature a main character named Bossy R. They completed a prewriting exercise in which they planned their stories according to a Somebody-Wanted-But-So strategy. If you are unfamiliar with this strategy, you can read a brief, but informative, overview of it here.

Typically, this is a during- or after-reading strategy that focuses on teaching plot elements, particularly plot and resolution. However, for this particular activity, I reversed the roles on my students. Instead of reading a story and using the strategy to help identify the story elements within the story, they used it as a prewriting tool for a creative writing exercise.

From that point on, they wrote their stories according to their prewriting outline. This afforded some really great discussions because several of them copied their tree map entirely, without adding any details. So we had a chance to review details in a story: why they are important to the story, but not quite as necessary in the summary. With that, the students went back and developed their stories a bit more thoroughly. Their first drafts were handwritten, but then they began typing. (Yes, I know my tablecloth has had it.. try to ignore that, please.)

When they finished typing their stories, I assigned them each to a partner. They worked with their partners to reread their stories and correct any errors in their writing.

The end results are now available on the "Author's Share" page. I have published their stories exactly as they have written them, and I hope you will enjoy their work. I wish I had created this page earlier in the school year, but better late than never, right? :) Next year, I plan to incorporate far more reading and writing connections our my classroom, so hopefully this page will be far more fruitful in the future. For now, enjoy these tidbits, and please feel free to leave comments for the student authors! :)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Words in Bloom

It's possible that we're having a little too much fun with spring in our classroom, but I couldn't resist this activity, and it has added a beautiful detail to our wall outside our classroom. Once again, I have to credit The Mailbox for the idea. I have used so many activities from it this year. While it was featured as a center sorting exercise in The Mailbox, I decided to use it as an individual craft for my students. The preparation for this activity is really easy, and it's relatively simple for the students as well. I provided the materials as well as this model for them to view while they worked, and they were ready to go!

You can create this activity using any pair of vowel digraphs or diphthongs. You simply write each one on a separate flower blossom (we used die-cut flowers) and then attach the stem (green yarn) beneath the blossom. I provided the leaves, but the students chose their own words to write on their leaves.

These are a few finished products...

We attached these to the wall beneath our "Life Cycles" display. It looks like we are literally growing words right along with our butterflies and frogs! :)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

What's the buzz all about?

Double-digit addition with regrouping. Oh. Em. Gee.

Okay, that's a slight exaggeration. The truth is that my students have accepted this skill fairly easily. They were ready to do "big kid math," and the concept of regrouping didn't scare them at all. They want to use the hundreds place so badly, so I've had to sneak a few "bonus" items into our assessments just to stretch their minds a bit. They just love numbers; the bigger, the better.

I found a cute bee-hive pattern with math facts, so I decided to use that for practice.

Of course they wanted to color it...

I believe that's the point at which I got a little carried away. I believe my thought process when something like this... It would be so cute if we actually cut these out and glued them together to look like a real beehive somehow. Black butcher paper would probably work just fine. Oh, what if we hang it up somewhere? That corner of the hallway could be a good spot...

Naturally, I ran straight to my assistant with the idea. She's always up for a good art extension activity, so check out the pictures below to see our mathematically-derived beehive!

Sometimes those little light-bulb ideas that spark brightly without warning or prior planning are the most exciting and rewarding moments of a day. Regardless, they are simply fun. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

It's Earth Day!!!

I have been so excited about our Earth Day project because it combines art, poetry, and Earth Day awareness. Perfect for first-graders in April, right? I can't take credit for the activity itself; I was lucky enough to stumble across it in Lisa Frase's TPT store. This packet is a wonderful freebie that contains explicit instructions for the art exercise as well as Earth Day poems and poetry patterns from which students can choose. I love the poem patterns; my more independent writers really jumped at the opportunity to make the poems their own, while other students were provided with an excellent pattern to follow explicitly. With different options from which to choose, the students really had an opportunity to "create," rather than just replicate a model. The images below are samples from the original file, provided by Lisa Frase.

The following images are a few of my students' finished products! 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

TPT Freebie!

Well, I'm a little excited... I have had my first sale on TPT! I know, I know; it's not a huge deal in the grand scheme of things. It's a huge deal to me, though. I am so happy that someone out there found something I created to be useful for them as well. That means the world to me. In honor of the occasion, I have a new freebie, now available on TPT as well!

In order to better prepare my students for their final nine-weeks assessment in first grade, I created a daily language skills review to use at the beginning of each day. I have had some form of "morning work" ready to use all year long, but I like the idea of having it all in one file such as this one that I have created. This packet contains a daily language skills review for one week of instruction. Each day features various items that reflect samples of skills taught throughout this final nine weeks of instruction. Skills addressed throughout the week include: syllable types/segmentation, indefinite pronouns, compound sentences, degrees (shades) of meaning, prefixes/suffixes, real-life connections, possessive nouns, and synonyms.

For my own instruction, I will print a copy of these exercises and project it onto the board for all students to view. They have morning work folders in which they complete morning writing exercises. This will function in the same way. You may find that process useful; however, you could also print and laminate each exercise to use as center exercises. Hopefully, you can find it useful for your classroom in some way. It is free, after all. :) It is my plan to continue to expand this product in the future. I would love to have something like this designed for the entire year (gigantic goal, I know). You can check it out in my TPT store, or use this link: Daily First-Grade Language Skills.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Few Things on a Thursday

  • It seems there is a direct relationship between the approach of summer and my students' ability to listen. Or think. Or function according to pre-established classroom norms. As the days remaining until summer dwindle, so does their listening-thinking-functioning ability. Is anyone else struggling with this? I can't totally blame them; I feel myself wanting to shut down a bit for the summer as well. I suppose it's the natural order of things; maybe we all undergo a slight transformation for summer? We have been studying life cycles...
  • Okay, that connection is a bit of a stretch. However, speaking of life cycles, meet "Trooper," the latest addition to our classroom.

He's cute, isn't he? I'm wondering how long he will survive. He has certainly made a lot of friends today, though.
  • We completed a few neat projects today, and I can't wait to share them with you. I hope to have time to prepare those posts over the next few days. 
  • The sheer volume of information on Pinterest makes me want to eat, cook, workout, shop, decorate, and make "stuff" all at the same time. I just love it. 
  • Coming Soon: An "Author's Share," featuring student writing only. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Are you a Fan?

This week's agenda includes a focus on compound sentences. We have really had so much fun working on conjunctions over the past couple of weeks. My students just love the FANBOYS acronym, probably because I have been using a FANBOYS rap video that is available through Flocabulary. If you have a Flocabulary subscription, then you need to check it out; I was afraid it would be a little over my kids' heads, but they actually picked up on the lyrics quickly. It's a daily request now, which inevitably means I catch myself singing it far more often than I would like to admit.

If you don't have a Flocabulary subscription, you can always rely on Schoolhouse Rock to provide a fun sing-along.

As we transitioned to using conjunctions specifically for writing compound sentences, we began using this pocket-chart exercise as a center activity. I found this activity in the April/May 2013 issue of The Mailbox, and it has been a great addition to our center rotations this week. As you can see in the image below, I displayed five sentence starters, each followed by a different conjunction. To complete the activity, the student can put any of the conjunctions provided at the end of each sentence starter. Then, he/she writes each sentence starter along with the conjunction and completes the sentence to create a new compound sentence. If they finish the activity with time to spare, they can scramble the conjunctions and write different compound sentences. It's also a good idea to provide highlighters which students can use to highlight their commas before the conjunctions as they write (highlighters make every activity fun for my students). 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Poetry Pointers

I absolutely love national poetry month, and I really wish I had planned more poetry-centered activities to use this month. (Fingers crossed for next year!) However, I have tried to be diligent in reading a lot of poetry with the students and providing multiple poetry sources for them to read independently. We use our pointers to physically target specific examples of rhyme and alliteration. So far, my students have just loved selections written by Shel Silverstein. (Also one of my personal favorites. Obviously.)

I am excited about an upcoming Earth Day art project that will also include poetry (visit me here next week for details on that). In the meantime, we are working our way through A Light in the Attic this week. 

What are your favorite poetry activities/projects? I would love some suggestions that I could file away for next April, if nothing else. :)

Monday, April 15, 2013

Catching up with our Life Cycles

Last week, I shared some of our plans for our life cycles unit. I thought I would backtrack a bit and share some of our end products. As I said previously, we focused on the life cycles of butterflies and frogs. My students really enjoyed the cut-and-paste activities for the life cycles. They had a blast adding color to their flow maps. The follow-up informative writing assignment?? Eh... they did it, but as one of them explained to me, "Mrs. Tally, I would rather write about my opinion." Imagine that.

I provided an explicit model for informative writing with the butterfly life cycle. Later in the unit, when we focused on frogs, I encouraged the students to become more independent and write without my model. We created a large display for their writing outside our classroom. This week, we are going to create a few new activities to add to this display. More to come...

Mrs. Tally's Class Moves to Learn!

I mentioned "Move to Learn" in my last post, "A Few Things on a Thursday." For those of you who are not familiar with these videos, I thought I would give you a sneak peak of what that looks like in our classroom.

My students absolutely love this program. If you would like to know more about it, check it out at http://www.movetolearnms.org.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Few Things on a Thursday...

I'm a list-lover. So here's my "Things on a Thursday" list to wrap up the week... 
  • I officially noted a week-by-week countdown on my planner today. (We have 5 1/2 weeks left, for anyone who is wondering.) I am so anxious for summer, and the kids are too. Today, I found myself looking around the classroom and thinking about all the things I wanted to revamp over the summer. The fact that I am eager for summer so that I can work in my classroom (without the kids) probably makes me a nerd... but that really shouldn't surprise anyone; I was the kid who did my homework on the night before a snow day, just in case...
  • My June/July issue of The Mailbox came in today! Just in time... there are so many great center activities inside, so if you are a subscriber, check it out. (Again, nerd, I know.)
  • I think it's possible that a few of my students are smarter than me. It's definitely time for them to move on to second grade. In 5 1/2 weeks. 
  • We've started using "Move to Learn" videos at our school. So far, I'm a fan; it's nice to have someone else entertain guide the students for a few minutes. On the other hand, it makes me want to go home and work out just a little bit. 
  • Our class is giving special attention to Shel Silverstein poetry for National Poetry month. We will wrap up Where the Sidewalk Ends tomorrow. 
  • I ran across this great idea for adding length to cute-but-too-short-for-school dresses… Originally, I had the image linked to it's original web page, but now it seems that the page is no longer active. If, however, you do find this on an active page, please let me know so I can give credit to the original source. 
  • It's dangerously close to Friday.
What's on your list this week?

Monday, April 8, 2013

Life Cycles!

This week, we are learning about life cycles. We are focusing primarily on the life cycles of butterflies and frogs, and I am pretty excited to share a new TPT mini-packet that I have created to use with my students this week. This packet is now active and available for purchase in my TPT store! It does cost $1... sorry guys, I tried to make it free, but for some reason it wouldn't let me upload it for free; can anyone explain that one to me? I think it might be due to the length of the document.

Anyway, I hope you check it out. The activities incorporate language skills such as informative writing, analogies, and prepositions within the context of life cycles of butterflies and frogs. Maybe you can use it in your classroom as well!

Here's a little preview...

The entire packet is available at my TPT store. You can use the store link in the right sidebar or click here if you would like to access it.

In other news, I might have told two of my little boys that I would love for them to bring some frog eggs to class so we can watch them grow. I'm a little nervous to see exactly what arrives in my classroom tomorrow... eek. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Sweet Nothings: The Heart of the Matter

One of the things I love about first grade is that children at this age are generally so willing to love. They express affection through countless "I love you's," abundant hugs, and the occasional note. While "I love you's" are precious and hugs are sweet, the notes get me every time. Last year I taught third grade, and it wasn't unusual to find a short note on my desk from time to time. Those notes arrive from first graders as well; however, they contain far less -if any- words. Still, the message is clear.

Swept away by waves of the Common Core current, we are consumed with helping young children absorb a plethora of grammar rules and foundational writing elements. We're so focused on the curriculum that I think sometimes it's easy to forget that some methods of communication are inherent. Some skills need not be taught, but instead should just be nurtured a bit. Children don't have to write an essay to get their point across; a Crayola-sketched heart will suffice. In these cases, I am reminded that a picture really is worth a thousand words... or maybe just three. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Extreme weather... in cups and bottles

Over the past couple of weeks, we have been learning about different types of extreme weather. These are a couple of science-integrated demonstrations I used with my students to further develop instruction with this topic.

Making a tornado...
Our "ingredients" list was simple: water, dishwashing liquid, and "debris" (Easter basket grass). Mix it all together...

Then watch it twist, turn, and swirl in the bottle! I tried to focus our discussion on the movement of the "tornado" and the similarities between our tornado-in-a-bottle. Needless to say, their questions were more intense: Will a tornado kill you? How can a tornado kill you? Will a tornado pick you up completely? If a tornado picks you up, where will it put you back down again?

Socrates had nothing on first graders.

After creating our tornado, we wrote an informative passage about making a tornado in a bottle.

Making rain (or a downpour):
The tornado activity was pretty basic and familiar, even for some of my students. This demonstration, however, was new for all of us.

Again, the "ingredients" list is simple: a clear cup of water, shaving cream, and blue food coloring.
The water represents the air around us. Shaving cream on top of the "air" represents the clouds. The food coloring represents the rain as the clouds become too heavy and water falls through the air as precipitation.


This demonstration was really neat. The kids loved it! However, if you choose to do it yourself, it might be helpful to know that it really takes very little food coloring. I used a bit too much, and after a few minutes, we decided that our rain was more of a downpour. I just went with that; we have been discussing extreme weather, after all! :)