Thursday, May 5, 2016

Share Your Summer Professional Reading Stack!

While it is a crazy hectic, exhausting time of the year, I love how my brain begins spinning with new possibilities. What has gone well this year? What do I need to rethink? What new learning needs to take place before the kids come back in August? What are my colleagues talking about, both in my school and in my Twitter PLN? As is tradition, my summer professional reading stack is already growing by leaps and bounds.

In just a few short weeks, Cathy Mere, Michelle Nero, and I plan to unveil the title for our 6th annual #cyberPD event. But we need your help! What is on your summer professional reading stack? We always hope to choose a book that emerges on lots of stacks! Our plan is to announce this year's #cyberPD title right at the beginning of June to give people time to purchase a copy of the book and begin reading before our event officially kicks off in July (exact dates to be announced in June.)

Sometime during the month of May, please tweet your stack (using the hashtag) and/or post to our CyberPD Google community. Inquiring minds want to know what you plan to read!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Amplifying our discussions!!!

So I'm not going to lie... I'm totally geeking out over here about an idea I gleaned from Amplify: Digital Teaching and Learning in the K-6 Classroom by Kristin Ziemke and Katie Muhtaris!! We spent some time reading a Wonderopolis article this morning about the metaphor "The grass is always greener on the other side." My fourth graders watched the Wonderopolis video and read the article twice before we started our discussion phase. We've used the Socratic Seminar method several times this year and have done a lot of close reading practice along with our discussions, so it was time to make a leap to an online discussion.

Now, we tried this once before but my kids were overwhelmed with all 26 of us trying to read, respond, and react in the discussion online. BAM! The idea hits me from Katie and Kristin's book to start out having online discussions with smaller groups of students before attempting it with the whole class. So that's exactly what we did!

Each randomly selected group of 5-6 students was given a separate Today's Meet room. Before beginning the discussion, we reviewed proper discussion etiquette as well as how we should be using more academic language than texting language in our online discussion. I jumped on to all five rooms to get the discussion going and let them take it from there. You can find the transcripts to all five discussions below. I was quite impressed with most of what occurred in each discussion, but I also realize we're in fourth grade and are learning to communicate in this way.

During our debriefing following the chats, kids reported that it was much easier to follow along and respond with the smaller group. Several learners also mentioned how they enjoyed talking online so their voice was heard; it gave everyone an equal opportunity to share their thoughts. 

(This is a quick view of our room while the chat was taking place. 
More students were seated at a table and comfy chairs behind me.)

We will definitely be amplifying our discussions in this way again!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Fourth Grade Novel Read Alouds

More than ever before, I've made it a priority to involve my fourth graders more in the decision making process of which book will be our next novel read aloud. I've asked for input in the past two years, but this year, I've (almost always) given them the final say in the matter.

*Kids fill out a Google form to suggest titles
*Find book trailers or blog posts about the top 3-4 books that were suggested
*Watch said book trailers and provide time for book talks
*Vote via online poll (on our LMS, Haiku)

I have usually given some parameters to their suggestions, to help nudge them along in their reading lives. For example, I noticed that most of them have primarily been reading realistic fiction this year. That isn't a bad thing, but expanding their reading into other genres is certainly a good thing! At one point, we also realized all of the novels we'd shared so far had had female protagonists. Again, not a bad thing... but reading from a male's perspective should be another common experience for us. Ultimately, though, my fourth graders have the final say. Our first three novels this year were...

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
A Night Divided by Jennifer Nielsen
Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix

All three of those books led to rich discussions, heartfelt questions, and children begging to read "just one more chapter." If you ask them, my fourth grade readers will probably tell you A Night Divided was their favorite. It opened their minds to concepts they'd never questioned before and left them hanging on the edge of their seats often.

I strayed from the usual routine at the beginning of March. I chose a book that I absolutely love and would help kids understand the heart of a sled dog (as well as a musher.) Ice Dogs by Terry Lynn Johnson contains elements of realistic fiction, adventure, and friendship. While it might not stretch the genre or protagonist gap, it would still push their thinking. I explained this and asked my readers to give me the first 50-ish pages of the book. Once we read that far, we'd discuss our options.

As we approached the 50 page mark, we voted to decide if we should continue or abandon the book. It was a really close vote (14 in favor of continuing, 11 in favor of abandoning.) Ultimately, the majority wanted to continue but judging by their nonverbal cues during the book, I made the call to abandon. It just wasn't capturing the attention of this particular group, and as much as it pained me (because I really do absolutely adore this book!) I knew we had to move on.

We've since gone back to our normal process of watching book trailers and voting, and we are now fifteen chapters into another Jennifer Nielsen gem, Mark of the Thief.

Even when we think we know best, this was my reminder to honor the voices and choices of my students... because sometimes, I just need them to guide me and show me the way.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Time to Amplify!

Incredibly delicious read,
as evidenced by all of my sticky flags!

I finished reading Amplify: Digital Teaching and Learning in the K-6 Classroom several days ago, and I still can't stop gushing about it to anyone who will listen. The authors, Katie Muhtaris and Kristin Ziemke, have astounded me with their thinking.

What struck me first (and stayed with me throughout the book) was the way they were able to seamlessly incorporate vignettes, tips, and ideas from a primary perspective as well as an upper elementary one. It makes sense, of course, since Kristin taught first and Katie taught fifth, but I loved how the foundation remained the same throughout the multi-grade perspective. Quite often, I have felt myself seesawing on my personal pedagogy in the past two and a half years as I've refined and redefined myself during my transition to becoming an upper elementary teacher. It is quite evident that Katie and Kristin's work is steeped in solid pedagogy and current best practice.

As I was reading, I was thinking about how Chromebooks have been our new 1:1 tool this year. It has opened the door to many possibilities (since they work really well, unlike the Kuno tablets we had for the past couple of years,) but I've had to rethink how we can use pictures or video to document our thinking/learning. My "DUH" moment there came when Katie and Kristin wrote about using audio recording. Truth be told, I hadn't actually explored options for video or audio recording on the Chromebooks. My kids and I are fixing that as we speak!

A few more of my favorite "can't wait to try it" ideas Kristin and Katie shared in the book...
*Model reading digital text ideas p. 46-47
*Ideas for digital reading minilessons p. 48
*Practice watching videos with a "wide awake mind" p. 51
*Introduce/practice online discussions with small groups of students p. 53
*Hierarchy chart for determining content, creation, polishing, presenting p. 75

Amplify has raised my sights toward finishing this year strong and starting next year with a solid framework that is redesigned and refreshed. I have notes throughout the book, tons of sticky notes, and a document started where I've been jotting down ideas so I don't forget! And it has also reminded me of just how much I learn from my Twitter colleagues and how I need to make it a priority to be more active on Twitter.

Through our Twitter and face-to-face connections, I have learned so much from both Kristin and Katie (and have shared many laughs with both of them, too!) I've stolen many ideas from them over the past few years, but I am now fully prepared to snag a bunch more! I'm excited to jump in to the #AmplifyEd conversation to see what others have taken away and have started after reading this gem of a professional read.

What books have shaped your thinking lately?

Monday, August 10, 2015

Celebrating #pb10for10 in 2015!

Each year when I start thinking of Cathy and Mandy's spectacular summer event, I try to come up with a list of picture books that I just can't live without. And then I start plotting ways to include more than only 10 books in my post. Add to my confusion a simply wonderful trip to Nerd Camp. This year was no different. I went through the same process and then went to Nerd Camp. And then went on a picture book book-buying frenzy. As I begin writing this post, we are barely scratching the surface of the month of August. Sigh. I'm in trouble.

After much deliberation, I've decided I just have to go back to picture books that are new to me that I just can't wait to share with my fourth graders. My decision is attributed largely to sessions I attended at #nErDcampMI with the inspiring Jillian Heise. She is a 7th and 8th grade Language Arts teacher from Wisconsin who committed to reading a picture book to her students each and every day of the 2014-2015 school year. Not only did she focus on sharing the joy of picture books with her students, but she also was very intentional and purposeful in why she was doing it. Her presentation (shared here) moved me and revitalized my love of picture books. I especially loved slide #7 and all of the feedback from her kids. I'm thrilled to be joining the #classroombookaday challenge with my learners this year!

Part of Jillian's presentation(s) included passing around picture books for us to read. While doing so, I found so many of the titles I'm about to share with you! A handful of them also came from my summer travels and the independent book shops I visited.

Inspired by my time and my friends at #nErDcampmi...

I giggled out loud as I began reading this book! What a character! Bernice reminded me of a pouty, self-centered little toddler who is having one heck of a bad day. She definitely redeems herself and reminds readers of how our attitude can change everything.

Another giggle-out-loud read that makes us realize how much the way we talk to others and our attitude influences what happens to us. Don't want to drop too many spoilers here, but I'll just say that I can definitely see readers debating this one much in the same way we debate what happens in another favorite picture book, I Want My Hat Back

Hilarity ensues when these nocturnal creatures realize they are afraid of night animals! I also adored the illustrations in this one.

Younger students will appreciate this silly story while older students will tune in more to the grammar humor in this funny book.

What a sweet story! This will definitely be one of the first books I read to my fourth graders this year. It will bring about conversations about how we take care of each other and make sure everyone feels included in our learning community.

Inspired by my summer travels and trips to some wonderful indie book shops...

As soon as I spotted this one, I knew it belonged in our classroom library. My fourth graders have been obsessed with Liesl Shurtliff's Rump and Jack in the past two years, and this amusing rendition of the Jack and the Beanstalk fairy tale will fit in perfectly.

I'm a huge fan of Wendell Minor's work and his focus on nature, so this was a must-have for me. Beautiful language accompanied by gorgeous illustrations depicting a scene both during the day and at night. I'll enjoy sharing this one alongside another find, Northwest Animal Babies, which will make a great mentor text for writing informational texts.

This book has been on my radar for quite some time, and I took it as a sign that I should finally buy it when I saw it while traveling to some of our nation's beautiful national parks this summer. Like many nature lovers, I am thankful to both of these men for working to preserve areas in our gorgeous country.


After visiting the majestic Redwoods this summer, this is a book I can't wait to share with my 4th grade readers. It's based on the true story of Julia Hill and the two years she spent living in one of the ancient Redwood trees to help save it from destruction. 

While I didn't get to visit the Sequoias, this gorgeous book (illustrated by Wendell Minor!) helped me understand the difference between California's two kinds of giant trees (Redwoods and Sequoias.) 

Recap and Final Thoughts...
There are just so many more I could've added (and I admit, I snuck in a few extras...) I'm thrilled to have connected with others who will be embarking on a #classroombookaday journey through Twitter, as I'm sure that will bring many more magnificent picture books into my life! Speaking of which... now I'm looking forward to reading which books appear on everyone else's #pb10for10 lists! Happy reading!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

#cyberPD - Digital Reading Part 3

My, how these three weeks have flown! Thanks to the smart, smart #cyberPD community, my thinking has grown, stretched, and has been challenged. Remember, next week will be our final (live) wrap-up Twitter chat.

As I read chapter six, the voices of Clare Landrigan and Tammy Mulligan (authors of Assessment in Perspective and #cyberPD participants) were also whispering in my ear. I learn so much from their work, not the least of which is the idea that if we're going to assess kids, we need to make it useful in our day-to-day work. In my district, we have a required weekly reading test connected to our basal reading series (Reading Street.) I don't have a choice in whether or not I give the assessment, but I do have a choice as to what I do with the information collected. If I use it as a formative assessment to help drive the lesson planning decisions I make, it makes me feel slightly better about having to subject them to the test each week.

Reading chapter six made me think more about this and what other kinds of assessment I'm using. I thought long and hard about the list on page 90. I'm sad to admit that in the past two years that I've taught fourth grade, my conferring with students has taken a back seat to small group instruction. A lot of that has to do with expectations from my district, but a small part of it also has to do with getting to know what fourth grade is all about. I've come to the conclusion that it is still absolutely critical for me to meet with my students one-on-one to meet their individual learning needs. I appreciated all of the resources and ideas Franki and Bill shared in chapter six that will help me accomplish this.

It's funny how so much of this book has tied directly to goals I have for myself and for my students! Chapter 7 was no exception. As fortunate as we are to have 1:1 devices, we are still faced with educating parents so they can become a member of our digital community. I plan to begin this process at our Curriculum Night (held a few weeks into the school year.) Part of my presentation will include introducing our Haiku page (the learning management system my district uses) and our class Twitter account. I set out with the best intentions after our "Who Owns the Learning" #cyberPD conversation to have my kids gradually take over the responsibility of sharing our learning with parents and the community at large, but it didn't quite happen. I have a renewed sense of motivation and purpose for this after reading chapter 7 as well as my earlier read of the absolutely fabulous book by Paul Solarz titled Learn Like a Pirate.

Lastly, I simply loved the last paragraph of chapter 7 (page 108.) I believe these sentiments to be true not only for communicating with parents but also for our work with children. There is no magic list or a "one-size fits all" approach to making learning authentic, intentional and connected. We can pick a few tools and plan to stick with them, while keeping flexibility and student needs in mind. And of course, new possibilities will always be opened up though our PLNs... and those new ideas deserve our time and careful consideration as well.

Reflection Perfection up here in the woods of northern Wisconsin!
As I write this, I am spending time in the woods and on the lakes up in northern Wisconsin. I'm thoroughly enjoying the fishing and snuggles with my nieces, but I also find myself thinking a lot about the #cyberPD conversation and the upcoming school year. But it sure is a beautiful place to take a deep breath of fresh, pine-scented air and cast a line as my mind wanders...

Saturday, July 18, 2015


Recently, my mom and I embarked on an epic road trip, covering 14 states in 13 days and traveling close to 5,500 miles. I plan to write more about that in an upcoming post, but one moment on our trip has been weighing heavily on my mind.

It was astounding to see so many homeless people as we made our way across the Pacific Northwest. Living near Chicago and visiting the city at times, I've had my fair share of sightings of people surviving on the streets. But this... this was nothing like I've ever seen. Perhaps because the weather is milder on a year-round basis, perhaps because life seems to cost more out there. I'm not sure. But what I do know is that we saw these people everywhere.

Now, I'll admit; I very rarely hand over any cash to the homeless people I've encountered in Chicago. On occasion, I have. But more often than not, I don't.

One morning during our trip, my mom and I pulled in to get gas. As we turned into the parking lot, we noticed a man leaning up against a STOP sign, holding a sign. "Homeless. Will Work for Food," it read. He looked as though he hadn't had a good night's sleep in a while, hadn't showered, and was sporting more than a five o'clock shadow. And then we saw his dog. Being the animal lovers that we are, we both looked at each other and knew this might be one person we would not be able to pass up.

We filled up our tank and headed back to that very spot.
"What do you think?" my mom asked.
Without hesitating, I replied, "Give him some cash."

She rolled down the window and handed the man a folded up bill. He unfolded the twenty dollars and promptly turned to his canine companion, "C'mon, Buddy! We can get you some food now!"

Cue the tears. My mom and I looked at each other, sobbing.

He did call out a heartfelt thank you as we were pulling away, but the comment to his dog was enough of a thanks for me.

As we continued on our road trip, I thought of this man and his dog often. In fact, I'm still thinking about them. How do we know their story? Could they just be down on their luck? For all of those people who never get a second glance from some of us who are more fortunate, what do we know about how they ended up living on the streets?

This man and his dog also led me to think about my fourth graders who come from (mostly) upper middle class families. Do they know how lucky they are?

It made me pause and think about one little boy who was in my class during my first year of teaching... and how he was homeless before finding a home in our community.

But mostly, it reminded me of just how blessed I am.

Beautiful Pacific Ocean Beach on the Oregon Coast