Tuesday, September 25, 2012

This Week's Story

In the West, we use the Reading Street program (published by Scott Foresman.)  Each week we focus on a strategy that will help the fourth graders become strong, thoughtful readers.  Then we practice applying that strategy in our class-wide reading and independent reading.

This week we are focusing on Author's Purpose.  As a reader, it's important to think about the reason the author is writing a certain piece because it guides how we're going to be thinking as we read.

Remembering the three most common Author's Purposes is as easy as PIE!
P = persuade - the author is trying to convince you of something
I = inform - the author is giving you facts and info on a topic
E = entertain - the author is telling you an enjoyable story

The tricky thing is that sometimes author's have more than one purpose when they write.  We read a ZooBook article where the author was trying to inform us about wild dogs, but also trying to persuade us that they aren't as bad as they seem from fairy tales always talking about the "big, bad wolf."

Our main story this week in Reading Street is called Lewis and Clark and Me by Laurie Myers  It is the story of Lewis and Clark's expedition told from a very different point of view - the dog!  Meriwether Lewis brought a Newfoundland with them on the journey and he, Seaman, is the narrator of this story.  
After seeing this picture I really understand why they call Seaman "Beardog!"
If you want to learn more about Lewis and Clark's expedition, you can go to

Monday, September 24, 2012

Superstar 600

Oh boy! Well, first of all, I thought it would be a lot easier to update this more frequently.  I am sure I will get better at it - I just need to get in the habit.

Today I want to tell you about the Superstar 600!  One of the ways we are trying to improve our reading (particularly our accuracy and fluency) is to make sure that all the kids in Room 13 can easily read the most common sight words.  Back in 1996, Dr. Fry studied many different pieces of writing and found that there were certain words that kept showing up over and over again.  He made a list and then organized them so that the most popular words are first on the list.  It turns out that the first 100 words make up about half of all printed material!  The first 300 words make up about 65%!  Imagine how much easier reading is when these words are easy and automatic.

Our goal in 4th grade is to be able to read the first 600 words on the list just by sight.  Similar to knowing "2+2=4" and "summer comes after spring," it will save so much time and brain effort if these 600 words are automatic. This picture is the first page of The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan.  On the page, the highlighted words are all part of the first 600 list.  They make up over 80% of the words on the page!  That means the reader can really concentrate on the 20% of the words that require figuring out.

So, you might be wondering how we're going to make this happen.  Well, luckily, an amazing teacher named Jennifer Bates put together easy-to-read lists for these words and some really cute stars to help display everyone's progress.

During our Reading Workshop, I meet with individual kids and ask them to read me a couple lists of words.  They start on white paper and then move through the colors of the rainbow.  Each page represents 100 words, but it is divided into 5 lists of 20 words.  If they read the list quickly and smoothly, they get to put a sticker on the star of the same color.  If they get tripped up, we highlight the words that they missed and they keep the page to practice.  Then we try again in a couple days.  We have stars that go with each color as well.

The kids are still working on becoming independent readers during Reading Workshop, so we are getting a slow, but steady, start.  Once the kids are able to read on their own for 15-20 minutes, I will be able to meet with individuals for just a minute each and get through the lists nice and quick.  As students complete fill a star (meaning that they have mastered a complete list of 100 words!) they will add their star to our display.  The white stars will fill in the cloud and then the other colors will add to the rainbow.
How can you help? 
If there is a list that seems really tricky for a student, I will send home a copy in their DOT binder (more on those coming soon!).  Please keep an eye out for these lists coming home and then help your fourth grader practice the highlighted words.  Put them on the fridge, keep them in the car, anything to help your kiddo become as familiar with them as possible!  Hopefully by Open House (on October 4th) we will have some stars up there on the wall!
Click here for the list of the First 100 words!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

What did you do at school today?

As a teacher, there is nothing worse than hearing a kid asked this question and then hearing the inevitable answer...
Of course we do a million things each and every day, but trying to pick one or two to talk about seems to be difficult for them.  So, this year I am trying to do something to help them remember just a thing or two to talk about after they leave room 13.
Every day At least 3 times a week, we will be writing in our Table-Talk notebooks at the end of the day.  For now we are just writing down one or two new things that happened during the day; things like "We had gym with Mr. Frazer," or "We learned some new vocabulary words."

As the year progresses, I am expecting these to become more specific and individual for each kid.  My hope is that it will help them really focus on something special they learned during the day or something that made a big impression on them.

Then, as a family, at some point after school, take a look at what they wrote.  Maybe it will be around the dinner table, coffee table, or breakfast table, but it will just take a minute and really help everyone stay connected.

So, from now on, "Nothing" is not a good enough answer to what we did in school!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Amazing Beginning!

What a wonderful start to the school year!  We have done so many fun and important things in just 3 days.  I wonder if the students are as tired as their teacher is!  
Sorry it's so blurry! Busy kids are hard to catch in focus.

It's been a particularly exciting beginning for us because we have so many new teachers and administration at the West!  So far the kids have met Ms. Morgan (our new principal), Ms. Feeney (Title 1 specialist), Ms. Murphy (art), and Mr. Frazer (P.E.).  Stay tuned for more information on them in the next few weeks as we work on some interviews and biographies in Room 13.

Our days have been filled so far by learning lots of routines, some important rules, and a few key reading strategies to get us started.
Routines to as your kids about:

  • lining up in line order
  • "Hands and Eyes"
  • morning meeting
  • our theme song
  • Read to Self
  • DOT Binders
  • Building stamina
New West Rules and Expectations:
  • Always walk on the right side in the hall.
  • Halls should be silent.
  • Toys and games should be left at home, not brought for recess.
  • Food cannot be shared.
Reading Strategies:
- Check for Understanding
     ~stop while you are reading to make sure you understand what is happening in the story
- Back up and reread
     ~if something doesn't make sense, go back and read it again, more slowly
- Cross Check
     ~ when you get to a word you don't know, or if a word doesn't make sense, ask 3 questions (I hope the fourth graders remember these!)
1. Does it look right?
2. Does it sound right?
3. Does it make sense?

Thanks to everyone for making the first 3 days of this year stupendous.  I hope everyone has a great weekend and spends some time reading!  

Saturday, September 1, 2012

A Quick Tour

Well, we had a whole week in the classrooms and they are all looking really good!  It's hard to believe that school is starting in just a few days, but having the classroom set up makes it seem very real.

I thought I would show you all around a little bit.  I will start with the most important part of our class - the library!  This year I expanded the library to separate fiction and nonfiction.  My first and most important goal every year is to help kids find books that they are going to love and then give them time to read them.  Having access to a lot of good books is definitely the first step.

Right next to the library are our computers and word wall.  This is where we'll keep all those interesting words that we find when we read and write. We will be using the computers for listening to books, research, and math practice.  We are also supposed to be getting some iPads for the school that we might be able to borrow.

 Here is a zoomed in picture of the front corner.  I mostly took this one to show you where all those summer projects I was working on ended up.  I don't know about you, but I think they look much nicer hanging up where they belong than they did on my apartment floor.

Above the windows we have 4 bulletin boards.  I have two of them set up already.  One has all our reading strategies with helpful hints and reminders about what each one means.  It also has my reading motto, "Reading is thinking!"  The other board is a reminder of the West School values and expectations.  The school-wide expectations are something new for this year and we are going to be doing a lot of work with them.

Pardon the mess that was still going on in this picture, but it's the only one I have that shows how the whole room is set up.  This is how the room looks from the door.  We've got the desks up front right near the SmartBoard (because we'll use it a lot!) and then a big meeting area with an easel for morning meeting and mini-lessons.  The desks are starting out in groups like this, but I change them around pretty frequently depending on what we are working on and how the class is cooperating.
The bulletin board by the meeting area is going to be our literacy board.  This is something I am really excited about starting this year and I am sure I will explain more about here in the near future.
This last photo is just one more project that I worked on over the summer.  I love that the binders fit into it so perfectly and there's even room for more! It is also a very handy place to keep those tools that the kids always seem to need (but I can never remember where I put down.)  
I think one of my favorite things about summer vacation is that it gives me a chance to think about all the things I can do better for the next school year!