Exploration and Discovery

Exploration and Discovery
The Outdoor Classroom

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Classroom Libraries are an Ongoing Adventure Story

     Trying to decide what genre books fall into is not easy. There are mysteries set in the Depression or pre-WWII England; Mystery and Suspense or Historical Fiction? If a narrative story is loosely based on a real event from an earlier time, does it belong in Realistic Fiction or Historical Fiction? And what about Dan Gutman books that are about sports but have spaceships in them? Or Jack Gantos' Joey Pigza series which is actually based on his own life?
     This is my fourth year teaching and my third year working on my classroom library. I am proud of the number of volumes I have acquired, the range in reading level within most genres, and the visibility of where to shelve the books upon return.  Last year I leveled the majority of my titles, no small feat since I have well over 500 titles. I placed a large number of titles in book boxes according to level, sorted my non-fiction by subject matter, and left a good number of titles to be found by author's last name, like they are in the public library. This year as I have been sorting, taping, and discarding, I have noted a great many things about myself as a reader. For instance, I have a lot more Fantasy titles than anything else, followed by Historical Fiction most of which have a female lead character or narrator, and a great number of Classic titles, in part because it is the one genre I actually assign a focused book report on (theme). I now know that I need to get more titles that focus around Sports and a larger variety of Animal Stories.
     I have also decided to sort the majority of my books by genre rather than reading level and only have buckets of certain authors with no part of my library according to author's last name. I know it is somewhat ridiculous to spend two summers in a row setting up different systems, but I DO have my reasons. Last year I gave multiple mini lessons on how to choose a just right fit book; open to any page and read for a few minutes- can you follow the action? are you interested in reading on? do the words make sense?, the five finger rule, read the blurb on the back of the book. I definitely got more good fit books in the hands of my students, especially my reluctant readers, than I would have before hand. But I had some readers, particularly a number of boys, who would stay close to the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books or Graphic Novels.
     What I found was even though I had been successful in finding a book that interested them, and they read it and enjoyed it, they wouldn't seek out another book on their own or even with prodding. They did not like the "label" of a reading level box, yet they didn't want to start a book and have to admit it was too difficult for them, so they stuck with what they knew until the next time I put a title in their hands. I try to get the kids reading independently and this system didn't support that as well as I had hoped.
     My hope for this year is these same kinds of readers will find their genre box more readily since it doesn't advertise what letter level they are reading at. The books are still leveled, I placed a sticker on the cover, but it is far less visible than the colored tape which identifies the genre. First and foremost I want students to think about what it is they like in a book before they go to the shelves and then use what they have been taught to pick a good fit title. That way, they'll be able to find books in the public library long after they have left my classroom. Fingers crossed. I would really rather NOT spend next summer redoing my library again.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Summer Resolution- Check; Setting a School Year Resolution

Now that I am back from New York, I am going into the classroom every other day to poke things into place, level and label the library, and just generally think through my plan for the year. This will be my fourth year teaching in the same 5th grade classroom, with the same wonderful teacher partner, and a whole new slew of kids. I have received test scores and class lists, so I am beginning to imagine the initial table groups and pairings for workshops. I went to Ikea today and picked up new book boxes (best price ever!) and just printed labels. It is so fun to sit in my big recliner, listening to my own children play video games, my hubby cooking, and get things ready while I sit here reading and writing, and sip some wine before dinner. I am one lucky lady and I know it.

My summer resolution was to make time for reading and I have; go to New York and train at TCRWP and I DID(!); reconfigure my library (AGAIN!) and I am; get up to date on all my medical exams- all clear; spend time with my boys, not near enough, but more than during the year; enjoy time with my husband and have some talks about finances, the future, and make each other laugh- we have and continue to; get regular exercise and lose weight- well, I have done the exercise and watched my meal size, but the weight loss is slow going- so be it, I feel better and I know I am stronger; all in all I am pretty well on track.

My school year resolution is to be patient and trust while I: grow my hair out- that will take eight months at least; lose 10 lb.- just keep on doing what I am already doing, exercising and eating less; and become a more effective teacher, growing kids into passionate readers and capable writers, by getting them reading and writing early, often, and with a whole lot of encouragement, praise, and a few pointers. I am excited to test my resolve to keep mini lessons short and have both Reading and Writing Workshops four days a week, without letting scheduling, testing, or even field trips get in our way. I hope I am can be as successful with my school year resolution as I have with my summer.

But now, I can feel the pace changing; I can feel the vacuum of "the school year" pulling at me. I think my success this summer lies in the "keep it simple" mentality and the Nike mantra of "Just Do It"; my 2014-2015 goal depends on maintaining that consciousness and pace for 180 days, one day at a time.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Reading like a Writer

The first week in New York was the Writing Workshop intensive and the second week was the Reading. I have become very aware of my own "bad" habits surrounding both. One of my most profound take aways from the Writing Workshop was the need to stay in your own skin when you are writing as narrator. The example that Lucy used was when she was washing the dishes at the sink, with her hands deep in the sudsy water,  and the phone rang and her sister answered. When she first wrote about this experience she said, "It was my mom on the phone and she had been to the doctor."
If her hands were in the sink, how did she know that? When she stayed in character all she could see and hear were her sister picking up the phone and half of the conversation- "hi, mom. What? What did he say?"
By staying in character the story is real. You are storytelling not summarizing. Such a powerful lesson and it has made my revision process much more meaningful and productive.

Reading though has been REALLY eye opening. I have always been an avid reader. I love language and appreciate great imagery. I came back from the Intensive with plans to start a book blog for my classroom. What I am finding is ,I tend to race through books wanting to know what is going to happen, rather than lingering and appreciating the language. I think that is fine, but it makes me aware that a number of books warrant a reread. I notice and appreciate craft as I am reading, but I am a plot junkie first and foremost.

Friday, July 11, 2014

We are not the enemy

I happened to go to Office Depot today to recycle some ink cartridges and pick up some labels for leveling my library. When I got towards the back I saw that they had Composition Notebooks on sale for $1- college ruled!- but there were no more on the shelf. When I asked the sales person if there were any in back, she went to check and brought out a "case" of 12 notebooks.  When I told her that I was looking for 64, she told me there was a limit; teachers could not buy more than a certain amount. I told her I hadn't seen any limit on the sale sign, so we went back together to check it out. No Limit. So she went into the back and got me what she said was her last case; bringing me up to a grand total of 24, hardly enough for my 2 classes of 32 students. I bought them anyway. As she assured me that I could check back later, that they would have more at that price, I wondered why there would ever be a limit set on teachers. A sale is a sale; isn't it? Do they think that teachers are trying to take advantage of the price point or something? Why should it be cheaper for my student to buy a notebook than for me to buy one for all my students?

What does our city/state/country have against teachers?

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Summer Intensives Coming To An End

Every night I have the best of intentions of recapping all that I learned and posting here for others to read, but after dinner and homework, I brush my teeth and fall fast asleep. This morning I swore I would make up for crawling into bed early with my current read, Mark of the Dragonfly, but here I am after breakfast with only a few minutes until the muggy trek to TC>

The truth is, I am so incredibly grateful that I got into the TCRWP summer intensive, and on top of that to have been able to attend the conference in June/July, so that I have the rest of the summer to digest what I have learned, finish reading all the materials, and make plans for what and how I will incorporate more of the workshop best practices into my classroom.

for anyone who wants to make heads or tails of my notes, here is a link to my evernote in class notes

I have a lot of photos of charts and links to videos, but that will have to wait. I have left myself two days to be in New York after the Workshop ends. I had originally planned to do some sightseeing, but I think a walk to Strawberry Fields, to "Imagine" my classroom next year is all I really care about doing. I will just have to come back another time for the tourist trip.