Wednesday, December 14, 2016


I've firmly planted JOY in the center of my classroom world this year. Making learning joyful has always been important to me, but amid the crazy stressful education world we live in today, it seems more necessary than ever.

Lucky for me, I have a partner in crime in this endeavor. Maria Vallejo teaches across the hall from me and has become one of my greatest sources of inspiration. She has fully embraced the idea of infusing joy into everything we do. Our conversations leave me richer, happier, smarter.

Together, we are going back to basics, if you will. We are making sure each and every day offers plenty of time for choice reading and writing. We are focusing on depth not breadth with our lesson plans. We are drinking from the waterfall that is Twitter and coming to school ready to try something new on a whim. We are pushing kids to dig deeper and think more.

Reading this article from the Moving Writers blog has reminded me that I enjoy being a risk-taker, a trailblazer. I also thought it was a telling sign when I grabbed a Dove chocolate from my cabinet and was given the message, "Why not?" Why not, indeed.

Of course, there are moments when I falter. There are days when I have my doubts. But then Maria comes along with another mind-blowing suggestion, and I'm back. My Twitter people are also such a great source of inspiration for keeping me grounded and nudging me to do more. Scott Fillner, Aliza Werner, Jess Lifshitz and Stacey Reidmiller move me daily. I can't (or maybe won't?) tell you how many times they've posted a lesson, idea, or chart on Twitter... and I've promptly stolen it for an upcoming lesson.

Going back to my summer professional reading is something that's also kept me moving forward. UpStanders by Sarah Ahmed and Smokey Daniels has catapulted me into doing more with how we treat each other and infusing social issues into our learning. DIY Literacy by Kate Roberts and Maggie Beattie Roberts brought back my dedication to anchor charts.

My 4th graders remind me to make the most of every moment and to embrace the fun in every situation. They've given me so much to ponder as we've redesigned our learning space to include more flexible seating options. This year especially, they've shown me what happens when I step out of their way and let them soar.

In this season of giving and a time when we see "joy" written everywhere, I have to give thanks to the people and ideas by which I am inspired. And a special thanks goes out to Peter Kupfer for asking me yesterday why I wasn't writing on my blog any more - it was just the nudge I needed to finally publish this post!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

#pb10for10 2016

Hooray!! It's one of my favorite, favorite days of the year. Unfortunately, like many others have said, it tends to be an expensive day as well. Thanks to Cathy Mere and Mandy Robek for hosting the yearly event!

After last year's #nerdcampmi, my fourth grade readers and I embraced the idea of a classroom picture book a day challenge. We were inspired by Donalyn Miller's original #bookaday idea which then inspired Jillian Heise to create the #classroombookaday challenge. (I know that isn't the focus of today's event, but it is definitely related and definitely a worthwhile endeavor!)

At the end of the school year, I asked my fourth graders to do some reflecting on which picture books were their favorites. We also took a vote for which books were the ones we remembered the most. So this year's #pb10for10 list is actually their list! Without further adieu...

Number 10...

Number 9...

Number 8...

Number 7...

Number 6...

Number 5...

Number 4...

Number 3...

Number 2...

Number 1...

And their top pick...

As I look at their list, I know we read a wide variety of picture books that included informational texts, poetry, historical fiction, and more. However, judging by their list, they were clearly drawn to the humor in picture books! And, yes, I do know I actually snuck in 11 books. (Oops!)

And now the best part... I get to go read other people's lists and attempt to not break the bank! Thanks again to Cathy and Mandy for providing this spectacular opportunity!!

Friday, July 15, 2016

#cyberPD 2016 - DIY Literacy Part 2

As I begin writing this, I cannot help but thank our incredible community for nurturing this event and helping it grow into ways we never thought possible! Cathy, Michelle and I are so impressed with how everyone is jumping in, trying new ideas, and supporting the work of each person. Our weekly conversations and comments on our Google community have certainly brought us to new understandings as well. 

My Thoughts on Chapters 3 and 4...

Creating an educational climate that elevates the level of thinking, discussion, 
and performance is ideal when raising the next generation. (p. 54)

As I began reading chapters 3 and 4, I started thinking about how repertoire charts are the teaching tools I am probably most comfortable with. Most comfortable... and yet, I still haven't utilized them consistently with my 4th graders. While reading more, I continued to think about how those charts around the room really do support the work of my readers and writers. I'm excited to also try out the other tools as other means of scaffolding, supporting, and stretching our learning. 

On page 42, Kate and Maggie list a few ideas for keeping a chart "alive" for students. While fairly common sense, these really stuck with me. I also really appreciated their advice for narrowing the focus and assessing whether the tools worked. The bookmarks will be an incredibly powerful tool for students as far as agency, independence and "stickiness" are concerned. They tie in well with goal-setting and keeping kids accountable for their own progress, too.

The focus on what rigor really means was incredibly helpful. Not only does it link to difficulty, but it also has a lot to do with motivation and kids' desire to work harder. I love the quote I listed earlier for this reason. Isn't that our ultimate goal? It ties in so well with another fabulous professional read I'm loving, which is Upstanders by Sara Ahmed and Harvey Daniels. We want our kids to want to learn and make a difference in this world.  

The Conversation Continues...

Credit to Rachel Harder for creating this!

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

#cyberPD 2016 - DIY Literacy Part 1

Let's get this party started! Cathy Mere, Michelle Nero, and I are delighted to be celebrating the 6th annual #cyberPD event with all of you. As you probably already know, we'll be focusing on just a few chapters each week and culminating our event by the end of the month. While you are certainly welcome to comment on people's individual blog posts, we would also highly encourage you to hop over to join in the conversation on our Google Community and on Twitter.

If you are new to the event, Cathy has written a super helpful post about the basics of #cyberPD. We encourage imagination, too! If there is a way you're thinking about participating, feel free to give it a whirl!

My Thoughts on Chapters 1, 2, and Bonus...

DIY Literacy was a wonderful companion for a cabin in the woods and by the shores of Stockade Lake (both in Custer State Park in South Dakota.) Both places gave me plenty of time to really dig in deep and wrap my head around what Katie and Maggie were teaching us through their new book.

"We crave these results as we teach, and yet often we get trapped in the hamster wheel of breadth - of being sure we have gotten to everything - rather than centering our work on depth." (p. 3)

I will admit that I've fallen victim to the hamster wheel. Especially as I've been learning the ins and outs of 4th grade, I've felt myself spinning in circles as I try to "cover" everything that is expected of me. I took a step back last summer during our #cyberPD event around Digital Reading (and again when I read this quote) to think about how I can address this and not feel the pull of that hamster wheel. Focus on what Maggie and Kate suggest throughout the book (memory. rigor, and differentiation,) Add these to Franki Sibberson and Bill Bass's authenticity, intentionality, and connectedness... WOW! That packs quite a punch.   

Another trap I've fallen into lately is creating very few anchor charts for (or with) my students, opting for pre-made or digital versions instead. As soon as I saw page 4, I knew that would have to change. Kate and Maggie explain the four different types of teaching tools (repertoire or process charts, demonstration notebooks, micro-progressions of skills, bookmarks), and I could immediately see how these will fit into our classroom. They go on to describe how these tools both influence learning and make it stick. Makes perfect sense! I also appreciated the step-by-step descriptions in chapter 2 - I'm totally the kind of learner who is grateful for those!

Being that I am in a 1:1 Chromebook school district, my students have information at their fingertips at all times (including at home, too.) While I do want more of our co-created anchor charts visible around the classroom, I think I'd also like to continue to provide them digitally as well. We use Haiku LMS, so it would be logical to take pictures of our charts and include them online. I'm also a huge, huge fan of Padlet, which could also work beautifully for this purpose.

What really struck me in the bonus chapter is how intuitive Kate and Maggie were to their readers' needs. As I was reading chapter 2, I did start to think, "Wait - do I have enough information to come up with these charts on my own?!" I finished the chapter, and then BOOM! Our authors were right there to set my mind at ease, offer more helpful hints, and provide resources for us. I love that the book is written like a conversation between the reader and Kate & Maggie. It's the perfect blend of new knowledge, affirming what we already do, and an enjoyable conversation!!

The conversation continues...
Thanks to Rachel Harder for creating this for us!

We've all learned that the real power of our yearly event lies in the conversations and connections we make surrounding the book we're reading. Heading over to our Google Community will help you add your voice to the dialogue! I'm looking forward to hearing what you all have to say!

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?