Wednesday, February 29, 2012


I was thrilled to find Supersister by Beth Cadena in the super hero collection in our local library as I was thinking about connecting Super Reader Tools to superheros.  Supersister is a great companion text for Super Sam!.   I love this book's main character is a girl.  I also love her superhero tool is a mask, different than Super Sam's blanket.  Supersister begins her day with superhero behaviors;  bounds, dashes, whistling, rescues, and races.  She does all these things while getting ready for school.  She's headed out the door for school and returns for a kiss and to tie her mother's shoes.  Hmm, why would Supersister return to tie mom's shoes?  Supersister continues with various super behaviors while at school that kindergarten students found very funny when read with the just right superhero inflection.  I was really excited when one of my students pointed out this sentence, "Supersister is a super reader."  The ending of the story explains why mom needed her shoes tied and why the main character is called Supersister.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Drawing and Max Brand

Look what we did after I decided to immediately apply conference learning, sketched the class guinea pig.  One reason I attend the Dublin Lit Conference each year is to hopefully see Max Brand.  Max Brand is a classroom teacher and the author of Practical Fluency and Word Savvy.  Max and I met while participating in a study group through The Literacy Connection a few years ago.  I like listening to Max speak because he is a global thinker.  Following Max's thinking and speaking is like a chat on twitter, great ideas flowing fast.

This year Max was speaking about Drawing.  Drawing is at the heart of all writing if we encourage and allow it.  I often think it's acceptable for emerging writers and then easy to be overlooked after that.  Max began our  session by sharing - "drawing starts by showing our students, teaching them how to look".   Max starts with noticing by looking at shapes.  This is a huge part of geometry in kindergarten and I love the connection to literacy.  Max uses books the children love to read as mentor text; No David and Piggie and Elephant Series are a couple of ideas.  He also says we have to reinforce sketching as a top to bottom act.  He recommended using Eric Carle's book, Head to Toe as a reference point for helping children make the switch from bottom up to top down with drawing, number, and letter formation.  As we have motor plans for letters or numbers Max has developed some key vocabulary to guide drawing.  For example, "place a dot at the top, go around and connect."  Here we would have a circle.  

Max draws each day with his students, five to ten minutes.  Students have sketch books or a dry erase board when they draw.  Max doesn't like stick figures and gets students started at the beginning of the year with round figures which make it easier to show action.  I loved this quote, "We need to pay more attention to details by paying attention to drawing action."  Max spends time drawing spirals, sunshines, bubbles to show various ways to include details.  

Max shared some great sketching vocabulary.  How should we draw it?  What shape do you see?  Where will we start?  Which way do I go?  Read  me your drawing?  What was challenging?  What will you work on?  When you see students doing something you've talked about here is a smart Max comment, " I'm so happy you have taken responsibility for your own learning."  

Then as in true Max fashion I will leave you with some global thinking.
-Phonics have become too dominate.
-We've gotten away from shared learning - shared reading and shared writing.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Eric Litwin, James Dean, Interactive Music

Why do I go to conferences?  Of course to travel to new places.  Of course to learn to new things.  Of course to meet new people.  Of course to eat and shop.  However, to bring something back to my classroom.  This can be hard with so many wonderful new thoughts swarming in our brains.  This weekend I had the opportunity to travel just next door to Dublin, Ohio for the Dublin Literacy Conference and spend time with Eric Litwin and James Dean.  This wasn't the James Dean in blue jeans and a white tshirt.  This was James Dean in blue jeans with a beachy button down shirt open and a tshirt sporting that blue cat I tend to rave about and review;  Pete the Cat, Pete the Cat Rocking in his School Shoes, even my shoes!

Now that we've established I'm a big Pete the Cat fan then it's safe to assume I'm bringing something back from spending time with his creators and I am.  However, it's not anything you might guess.  I'm bringing back more music from Eric Litwin.  Eric said these words of wisdom in between some really grooving and moving moments for his audience.

1.  Interactive music is a way to build community.
2.  Build community every morning, before every lesson...a song.
3.  Movement with structure is more manageable.  
4.  Movement is clearly defined by starting and stopping.
5.  We have to move and cue our students to make books and songs interactive.

I had so much fun during this session.  I didn't take a lot of notes.  I was moving, smiling, singing, and enjoying myself.  Eric Litwin, who has a teaching and administration background, made an important suggestion.  A song before each lesson, lots during a day.  Songs have vocabulary, sequencing, structure, rhyme and so much more.  I'm not an apple user, but I do love Amazon and found Eric Litwin in their music department.  I now have next to my running playlist an Eric Litwin playlist up in my cloud.

Tomorrow we will be interacting with - 

Now let's hope my filter at school opens my Amazon cloud for music.  
Photo found on twitter via @maryleehahn, thanks a bunch!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Super Sam!

I am reading A Curricular Plan for The Reading Workshop K by Lucy Calkins and Colleagues from the Reading and Writing Project (more on this fabulous resource in the future) and got the idea for introducing reading strategies as Super Reader Powers.  I then got thinking about my classes of kindergartners.  Both groups this year love to go to the library and get books on Superheros.  This is a bit foreign territory for me, my three girls never were interested in Superheros.  I didn't grow up with any brothers.  I wasn't sure I could connect Superheros to Super Reader Powers until I was at the public library and noticed they had a special section of books all about Superheros but they were normal boys or girls or pets that were Superheros.  I could relate to this and thought both boys and girls would enjoy these books.

Super Sam! by Lori Ries and illustrated by Sue Rama is a huge hit in room 104, times two!  Sam is a big brother who just happens to take his baby brothers blanket and turns it into a cape.  Super Sam is able to run, leap, fly, show his strength, and much more.  Then on a page with no text, readers are able to look and think about the picture to know why Super Sam is need to save the day.  Super Sam tries lots of things to save the day for his baby brother and in the end it might just mean Sam has to be Sam.

This text has large print, repetition, punctuation for inflection making it an interactive shared reading.  I loved hearing my students share their picture reading thinking as they commented, "He isn't really flying.  He just jumped off a chair and landed on pillows."  For a few of my students understanding and taking ownership for one to one monitoring has been challenging each year.  This year I decided to give them some tools to help make this important strategy more engaging while learning the purpose.  I got chopsticks donated from a local restaurant.  Just like Super Sam had a cape, we now have reading chopsticks and they won't let me call them anything else.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Math Exchanges - Brilliant!

I woke up Saturday thinking about my dinner plans and realized I never posted about reading Math Exchanges this past fall.  I was having dinner that evening with a group of teachers and Kassia Omohundro Wedekind the author of Math Exchanges would be there.  I apologized for not sharing my thoughts sooner than this and told her the book is brilliant.  It truly is.  I have read a lot of professional math books and Kassia brings to the profession some new thinking, organization, and much needed thinking for working with children in small groups.

"Being a reflective learner often involves slowing down our thinking and really analyzing what is behind what we are doing."  When we talk about reading lives and reading strategies this is exactly what we are hoping for.  Kassia guides the reader and shows us how to do this mathematically.  Math exchanges is when teachers work with small groups of children.  I love the words Kassia's uses to describe these sessions;  joy, rigor, reflect, deep understanding, nurture, and construct.

I found Chapter 4 to provide some really new thinking for me.  I've always used problem solving and asked students to share their strategies.  However, I never thought about understanding problem types.  Kassia introduced me to Cognitively Guided Instruction.  It's really about the articulation and having a common language for different types of problems.  There are join and separate problems and within each there are three more types.  Kassia is constantly giving you examples of each type and describes student thinking as they are problem solving.  She also includes work with multiplication and division.  I also can't help but mention a special chapter is devoted to kindergarten and the importance of counting.  This book is listed as a K-3 book but I really think if you believe in a workshop model for teaching, teachers in 4 and 5 will benefit from reading this text.

It was a pleasure to meet you in person Kassia at dinner!  I was a bit jealous Nicole's Book Nook got to sit directly next to you during dinner, I could of talked all night about math and K students. Thank you for spending time with my Ohio friends while you were in town.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Happy 50th Day of School!

When you teach kindergarten that alternate days your students never attend school for 100 days.  The 100th day of school has become a great way to visualize and make the number 100 concrete.  However, I felt if my students didn't really experience the number 100 it didn't seem the best use of our time.  Then last year, I thought about the number 50 which is a fairly large number for five and six year old children and thought I could adjust things I did with 100 to 50.  I'm on year two of the 50th day and we love it.  I thought I would share the things we do in case any of my readers might also never experience the 100th day of school.  

My students bring in a collection of 50 things.  We will orally share what we have brought.  We will listen intently.  We will take a photograph of each student with their collection.  We will share our collections via VoiceThread.

We will practice counting one to one and visualize five groups of ten as we create Fruit Loop 50 necklaces.  This is a great way to visually see groups of ten with each ten being a different color.  Each year I am amazed how intentional and focused my students are with counting while making their necklaces.

Dot to Dots are one way students can read and order numbers.  I put out a variety of number sheets up to 50.  I forgot how much fun it is to create a Dot to Dot and see the shape one creates.

We will create a class book, I wish I had 50........

We will play the Number Grid Game from Everyday Math with a modified grid to 50.

We sing, read, and illustrate Happy 50 Days to Us, to the tune of Happy Birthday.

I do hope to find a 50 piece puzzle for next year.  I hope to think far enough ahead to have a parent volunteer bake cut out cookies in the number five and zero.  If you know any books with 50 in the title I would love to know.  Right now we look at 50 Below Zero by Robert Munsch and I'm not finding much luck with any other 50 related books.