Jul 6, 2017

Writer's Workshop: Conferencing

I know it's summer, but my gears never shut off.  They may slow down a little but, but there is not a shut down mode on my teacher brain.  I partially think this is because I'm doing what I love and I LOVE what I do.  Teaching only writing to our firsties has opened up an amazing world for me.  Throughout the summer I'm just reading and researching to better my craft and I find so much joy in learning.  Towards the end of my school year I had noticed that taking notes during my conferences had really gone by the wayside.  We were still having great conversations, but I just wasn't writing things down for me or my students.  This was not good.  Especially when we came to the next conference and I thought we had talked about things to try but neither of us could remember.  It was ok, but I knew I had to get better so I jumped online.  I came across Julie Shope's Writing Workshop Checklist. You can check it out here.  She did a fantastic job, but it just didn't fit what I needed to help my littlest authors.  That's when I decided to make my own.  They are common core aligned and really just hone in on what I need my firsties to do.


Here's how I intend to use these guys.  When conferencing with my firsties I will highlight what he/she can do and focus on one thing they can try.  Both will be highlighted.  At the bottom, I will write a little note that will include encouragement as well as a suggestion.  Then, the firstie will put this notes page back in his/her folder and off they will merrily go to try out what we discussed. (I do snicker a little at this comment because I know we will probably have the same conversation the next time we talk. hahaha) I do love how each firstie will keep this notes page in their writing folder for safe storage. I love how we will be able to take it out over the course of a unit and see our conferences together, what we've talked about, and the growth that has been made as an author.  I also think I'll send these little babies home at the end of each unit or save them for parent teacher conferences. That's yet to be decided.  Click the above images or HERE to get this packet for yourself!

I hope you'll be able to use these in your classroom and I'd LOVE, LOVE, LOVE any feedback you have. :)

Happy writing!!!

Jun 27, 2017

More Tips to Create a Trauma Sensitive Classroom

This summer my school building is taking a deeper look into how trauma impacts learning and what we can do to support our students.  My last post was all about trauma.  Chapters 3-6 focus on our self-awareness.  These chapters remind us that in order to support the students and children around us, we need to take a look ourselves first.

Who Are You?
Kristin Souers says, "We are most likely to make mistakes or say things that we regret when we venture away from our sense of self."  How true this is.  When the pressure is really on (testing season, new policies, etc) or when a new student challenge arises, it is easy to "lose your cool" or react in a way that will be regretted.  I know that I have been there.  She goes on to explain the importance of knowing who you are and what you stand for.  Sticking to your true self will keep you grounded in the decisions that you make and how you deal with challenges.

I'll admit it.  I think I know who I am and what I stand for.  But I also know that I have never written it down and formulated a personal mission statement.  The author stresses the importance of this.  She poses some questions for us to ponder as we create mission statements.  I answered each one of them and discovered some key words or themes that I do not believe I would have originally placed in my mission statement; therefore, it proved to be a worthwhile activity for me.

I typed up the questions from Kristin Souers into a template so that I could edit, refine, and change my mission as I grow.  If you would like to try this activity, just click on the image below to download.

Mission Statement template for educators

Know Your Triggers

"Beware of Tornadoes."  I loved this heading within the chapter.  How true this is!  I'm sure we have all been sucked up into one a time or two.  Knowing our own triggers helps us to prevent twisters rather than just react to them.  And at the same time, we need to know our students.  What are their strengths? What are their fears? Knowing these answers can help us to be proactive rather than reactive when student challenges arise.  "If it's predictable, it's preventable."  This statement has great power.  What is predictable in your classroom?


Our words and our body movements has great power in a classroom.  The author reminds us that it can be difficult to not jump in and save a student when we have such empathy for the trauma that they have endured; however, it is imperative that we communicate our belief that they CAN do it.  Analyzing the way we speak to others is crucial.  Are we saying that they are capable or that they are not?  And Kristin points out, if we do communicate the later, how do we model a repair to that relationship with the student?  

Repair.  This was a huge take-away for me.  So many students may witness the fight, the blow-up, the anger.  But do they get to see the repair.  How is an explosion resolved?  How do you "clean up" after a tornado.  Personally, I have always felt that my own children need to witness my husband and I getting into an argument, but they also need to see how we resolve it.  If a student does not learn how to repair a relationship, then what message are they receiving?

So...do you have a mission statement in writing?  What are your thoughts on triggers and repair?


Jun 4, 2017

Tips to Create A Trauma-Sensitive Classroom

Do your students ever walk into school already angry?  Do any of your students have meltdowns, explosions, or find ways (good or bad) to get attention?  What about power struggles...have you ever found yourself caught up in one with a student?

For me and my colleagues, the answer is yes to these questions and many others that surround students with trauma in their lives.  So we are digging down deep this summer with the book Fostering Resilient Learners: Strategies for Creating a Trauma Sensitive Classroom by Kristin Souers.  Getting honest with ourselves and looking at what we can do to better support the students that we love and teach everyday.

The Why...

Kristin Souers has a great paragraph in her introduction that I want to share because it really illustrates the need for this book, conversation, and changes within my school:

...Instead, they step into our schools toting heavy burdens: the stress of overwhelming
trauma and the scars of neglect and abuse.  The experience of trauma
has dramatically altered the landscape of the schools we work in. (p.1)

The demands on us are high.  Academic demands on students are high.  But a stressed brain cannot learn. I cannot sit back and expect my students to learn from me, if I am not helping them to address some of the emotional burdens that they carry into school with them.

What Is It...

Trauma and "not-OK events" is dealt with differently by each and every person.  Traumatic events can include: incarceration of a family member, suicidal family member, death, domestic violence, divorce, separation, mental illness at home, substance abuse in home, experience of any type of abuse or neglect, criminal behavior in home, deployment, war, homelessness, or bullying.

And because the statistics show that most students have experienced some sort of not-OK event, the author urges us to treat all students as though they have experienced trauma.  Especially because chronic stress like this does not discriminate.  It does not matter the socioeconomic status, religion, or race, studies have found trauma to be prevalent. 

The Brain...

The limbic area of our brain controls emotion and survival responses (flight, fight, or freeze).  This is what we can see in our classrooms when a student's survival mode is triggered.  Defiance, refusing to answer, daydreaming are some of the examples that I have seen this year.
The prefrontal cortex area controls our ability to think and reason.  It is also suppose to help regulate the limbic area; however, each time a brain is triggered to tap into the survival responses, a chemical is released into the body.  Souers explains that large amounts of this chemical can have a negative impact on development (including memory, mood, and some executive functions).  This means that this chemical is directly impacting the academic work we are trying to do with our students.

Something to Think About...

It is mentioned in the book that a teacher's method to dealing with behavior is habitual.  And habits can be hard to admit and even harder to break.  Having these conversations with yourself and with your teammates is hard, imperative, and needed.

Here is one example that is very difficult for me to admit: I know that somewhere along the line, I was taught that students need to kind of  "check their baggage" at the door.  What happened at home is at home and they need to learn at school.  In some ways, I have accepted this thinking because I did not have any other tools to help me help them.  I am admitting this and I am making a change.

A student that is working in survival mode, cannot also work in learning mode. So I am working to create a trauma sensitive class that I can teach in and my students can learn in.

What are your thoughts?  Are these conversations that you need to be having in your school?


May 20, 2017

What the Data Can't Tell Us

Our jobs include a lot of data.  It has certainly helped me to move my students along this year.  Analyzing, regrouping, reteaching, and providing interventions is what I do.  I love it.  And the growth that I have witnessed this year has been amazing.

And I hear often, "the data doesn't lie."  But it can't tell the whole story.

In a time when data is being collected, shared, filed away, and scrutinized, I must remember that there is so much that the data does not and just cannot tell me. 

Did you know that we had a student this year that said she "could not read" every time a book was set in front of her?  Now...she tells you that she can read.

A student joined my class this year that could speak absolutely no English.  Now he is making comparisons between texts he is reading in class and sharing stories with us.

This year I had students literally cheering when I would pull out a new LLI book.

When students completed their LLI intervention, they were so upset that they no longer got  to come to their "book club" each day.

So one student started her own during recess.

Yes...there were days that I could not make it out to open up the Readbox after school.  And students would be upset with me!  They want more books!

Did you know that we had a student writing only beginning sounds for his stories, but he is leaving first grade writing full stories with a hook, details, and closure!

Several students discovered "Who Would Win" books!  And are desperately waiting for more to be published.

And others found a love for Iza Trapani nursery rhyme books.

This list is only a slight glimpse into the daily "successes" that we get the opportunity to witness.  Some are big and some couldn't be seen without the trained eye of a primary teacher but ALL are important when you are trying to build lifelong learners.


May 10, 2017

Sending Book Recommendations with Epic

This year my focus has been on creating reading rituals with my students.  Ultimate goal...engage, excite, entice young readers to READ!  Book recommendations is one of the ways that I have tried to connect with my students this year.  But this time it was through EPIC.

If you are not using Epic in your classroom, then you should check it out! It is a website/app that has thousands of engaging books for students to read.  And it is free for teachers to use in their classrooms.  Now...I am a HUGE fan of in-your-hand books, but this is a great tool to sneak in, as well, because it is engaging and helps to broaden student book choice.

You can create "collections" within your Epic account.  So if your students are reading books about characters that persevere, you could find books on the same topic in Epic and group them together in a "collection."  Then you can actually assign this collection to your class, a small group, or an individual.

This is exactly what I have been trying to do this year, except I like to think of it as RECOMMENDING a book to my students instead of assigning.  I am not going to take away points if they don't read the book or assign an activity to the book that I recommend to them.  My purpose is to excite, entice, and broaden their interest in books.  For example, my students completed research reports on an animal of their choice.  I sent book recommendations to each student with a collection of books and videos about their individual animals.  They were so excited!

So here is what you do to assign or RECOMMEND books to your students:

Step 1:
Decide what books you are looking for and search.

Step 2:
Decide on the books that you would like to add to a "collection" (to assign a book(s) to a student, they must be part of a collection).  Click "add to" on the right of the screen and choose "collection."

Step 3:
Choose the collection.  If you do not have any collections or would like to create a new collection, a small screen will pop up for you to do so.

Step 4:
Complete this process for each book that you would like to add into a collection.  Once you feel that your collection is complete, it is time to recommend it to your students!!  Head back up to the tabs at the top of the page and click "my library."  Then click on "collections."  You will see an "assign" button under the name of the collection.  Click on it!

Step 5:
A small screen will pop up.  You can choose to assign your collection to all your students, a group of students, or an individual student.  Then click "assign."

That's it!  You have recommended a collection of books to your students!  Now how do they access it?  Once they log in, they will see a small number pop up on their mailbox.  Ruby has 1 new collection in her mailbox.
This is just one way to engage our readers to try out some new books or even to reread some old, forgotten favorites!  Could you see yourself using this tool in your classroom?  I would love to hear your thoughts.

Happy reading and recommending!


For more engaging posts this month: Please check out the calendar below!

Apr 21, 2017

Spring Mentor Text to Teach Reading

Spring!!! It is here!!  And with it comes flowers, sunshine, and growth.  As teachers, we are always searching for that growth and spring is just the place to find it.  I am excited to share with you a "new" book to me, procedural text to use in the classroom, and some growth that I have encountered this year.

Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain by Verna Aardema retells a tale originally uncovered by Sir Claud Hollis in 1909 during his stay in Kenya, Africa.  Verna has written this story to the rhythm an old nursery rhyme, "The House That Jack Built" (one of my absolute favorite stories, as a child).  In this story, the Kapiti Plain is dry and in desperate need of rain.  The main character, Ki-pat, solves this problem by shooting an arrow into the rain cloud.  He then shares this rain ritual with his own son and the tradition continues.

I have two goals with this lesson.  The first goal is to help students to articulate the importance that rain plays in our daily lives.  Students need to understand that rain is imperative for crop growth, drinking water, and for animals to thrive.  This fact has remained true throughout history; therefore, civilizations have relied on rain to survive and have created rituals to help with the production of rain.  Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain, an article from NASA, and the procedural text to make a rainstick will all be used within this lesson to teach this first goal.
My second goal is to provide an authentic reading opportunity through procedural text.  My students this year have craved "how to" texts during my guided reading groups.  They love when I use these books and allow them to follow the directions.  This has really pushed some of my more reluctant readers and we have spent a great deal of time discussing the importance of reading these types of texts throughout life (i.e. recipes, directions to build an object, or other manuals).

In order to accomplish the goals listed above, I begin this lesson by activating their schema on rain.  I ask the following questions: "What is the importance of rain?  Why do we need it? "What happens if it does not rain?  What problems can arise when it does not rain?"  Once the answers to these questions are discussed through a "turn and talk," small group, whole group, or a combination of all three methods, I explain that many cultures and groups of people have come up with different rituals to help make it rain.

While reading Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain, I  stop to quickly explain the following words: belated, drought, herd, slender, and pierced.  As mentioned above, this text is written to the rhythm "The House That Jack Built;" therefore, it repeats.  Students are invited to say the story with me as I read it.  Stopping throughout the book to get student predictions about how Ki-pat will solve the problem of drought is also a great discussion point!

 Once the story has been completed, I ask the students how Ki-pat solved his problem.  Then I explain that this is only one example of a rain ritual.  There are many others that have been documented throughout history.  NASA has an article that explains some of the other cultural traditions and rituals that take place to bring rain to the land.  You can find that article HERE.  You may want to read the whole article to your students or only parts of it, depending upon the age of your students.

My students have been so excited about reading procedural text this year.  And what a great reason to read!  So to connect this new learning to their reading, this procedural text explains how to make a rainstick.  The resource contains three versions of the directions.  Each version is a different difficulty level.  This allows you to differentiate the lesson based on the individual reading needs of your students.  The example below illustrates two of the leveled books. 

The directions are the same for each of the texts, but just written in a slightly different way.  When each student has followed the directions, they will end up with a rainstick like the one pictured below.

If your students are interested in continuing their study of rain rituals, there are several other texts that they can check out!
  • The Legend of the Bluebonnet by Tomie DePaola
  • Rain Dance by Cathy Applegate
  • Sing Down the Rain by Judi Moreillon
 If you would like to use this lesson in your classroom, please click on the image below!  Or you can pin for later!   Thanks for reading today! -Em


Don't forget to hop through and read about all the great mentor text lessons that can help you to spring into spring!  You can also enter the Rafflecopter and win ALL (yes...ALL)  of the mentor texts in this hop! My mystery word is RAIN.

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Apr 6, 2017

RtI Meeting Preparation

Earlier this year, I explained the changes that we made to our interventions, schedules, and meetings for RtI.

One of our big challenges as a building has always been meetings.  We have a large amount of Tier II and Tier III students (which we hope to be turning around as we dive deeper into RtI).  Due to this large amount of students, meeting on ALL of them has been hard, frustrating, tricky...I don't know...just not happening the way that it should.  Our mission this year was to change that.

It was a bit of a scary endeavor.  In order to meet on all of these students in a consistent, efficient manner, it would take some "leg work" up front.  Previously, teachers would bring all of their data and then we would listen to the data on each student.  This was not a quick process and conversations could quickly stray off topic.

Although we had folders set up for each team member that included "decision rules" and intervention options, we really needed more than that.

What we needed was all the student data in a clean, clear format.  This would help us to move through each student efficiently. We needed something like this:

And so that is what we did.  First, we assessed each Tier II and Tier III student on the DRA (that is our reading assessment).  This assessment helped us to determine if their interventions were impacting the overall "picture" of their reading progress.  Second, we gathered all of the progress monitoring data.  This could have been LLI reading records, an Aimsweb assessment, or any other predetermined progress monitoring tool.  Finally, we imported all this information into the slide (like the one above) for each student. 
As an intervention team, we came up with a "rough draft" of the interventions that would change, stay the same, or be discontinued.

Then came the meeting day...

As an intervention team, we met with each grade level during their plan bells.  We flipped through the slides.  None of this data was unknown to the classroom teacher, of course, but having it all on one slide for us to look at collectively was extremely helpful.  It was a HUGE time saver in terms of our meeting.  Once we quickly went over the data, the intervention team provided their recommendation for an changes to the support the child needed and the classroom teacher would agree or disagree.  Then we moved on to the next student.  And this would continue on until all of the slides were complete or the plan bell time was up!

We met on each and every Tier II and Tier III student each 7 weeks.  This has never happened in this manner before and I will tell you...I think it made a HUGE impact on our interventions this year.  Yes...it took us a full week to assess, prepare the slides, and complete RtI paperwork...BUT...the payoff for this time commitment has been great.  We have seen more growth this year than I can ever remember observing in the past.
Now.  That could be for several reasons. 
We just started using LLI.
We added a Title I person to our team.
We were no longer tied to grade levels.
We were following a true RtI framework.
We had consistent meetings every 7 weeks based on current data.

All of these factors played a part in the success that we have seen this year.  But stopping to analyze, reflect, and make changes (no matter how small or how big) has been really important.  Each student received interventions tailored to their needs. 

And that is what it is all about, right?  Meeting them where they are and taking them to where we know that they can go!  While supporting and loving them the whole way.