Monday, February 29, 2016

World Read Aloud, World Read Aloud WEEK!

My 5th grade students and I had a phenomenal World Read Aloud Day (WRAD) last year. Many staff came in to read books to us, we Skyped with a few classes to read to each other, and Erik Palmer Skyped in to read aloud from The Princess Bride. (He was incredible, and it was unfortunate that he was unavailable this year due to his spreading PVLEGS love to teachers in Saudi Arabia.)

Of course I wanted to celebrate WRAD again this year...with my 6th middle school...with five different classes. 

Planning started early.

I knew I wanted to keep the class read aloud portion, so I connected with many of my teacher friends from other states, setting up our read alouds for the day before WRAD (on February 23). I'm thankful to Scott Akerson, Angela Rutschke, Paul Solarz, Heidi Jones, Laura Wagenman, Cara Cahill, Jess Lifshitz, and new friend Laura Frank. My students loved reading to their students, and loved being read to by them. 

I also wanted to reach out to more authors. Since I loved her books and hoped she would Skype with my class, I reached out to author Gae Polisner. Not only did she volunteer to read aloud to two of my classes, but she connected me with her author friends Amy Fellner Dominey, Carole Estby Dagg and Phil Bildner. All three were on board right away. 

Then, I took a day to contact many of the authors on Kate Messner's webpage. I hoped that a few could Skype with us, and was overwhelmed when all of them said yes! 

Well now I had a different "problem." I didn't have enough spots on February 24th. any creative thinker, I added another day. Now, I had a packed schedule of read alouds for February 23-25. 

That wasn't of the authors with an upcoming new release (Sticks & Stones, out on July 19) is local and lives in St. Paul, MN. Abby Cooper offered to visit and read aloud in TWO of my classes. I was over the moon. It would be one of her first school visits, and our first author visit. It was meant to be.

Here was our schedule for those three days.
Author name
Book titles
Feb 24
Scott Akerson (MO)
Read to each class
Feb 24
Gae Polisner
Summer of Letting Go, The Pull of Gravity, Memory of Things (ARC)
Feb 24
Lee Gjertsen Malone
The Last Boy at St. Edith's (new)
Feb 24
Phil Bildner
A Whole New Ballgame, Rookie of the Year, Marvelous Cornelius
Feb 24
Tamara Ellis Smith
Another Kind of Hurricane (July, 2015)
Feb 24
Amy Fellner Dominy
A Matter of Heart, Audition & Subtraction, OyMG
Feb 24
Joanne Levy (Toronto)
Small Medium at Large (new book out this December)
Feb 24
Carole Estby Dagg
The Year We Were Famous, Sweet Home Alaska (Feb 2, 2016)
Feb 24
Gae Polisner
Summer of Letting Go, The Pull of Gravity, Memory of Things (ARC)

Feb 25
Sarah Darer Littman
Backlash, Life After, Purge, Want to go Private?, Confessions of a Closet Catholic
Feb 25
Gretchen Kelley (Abu Dhabi)
Superheroes Don't Eat Veggies (new)
Feb 25
Melanie Conklin
Counting Thyme (April 12, 2016)
Feb 25
Greg Armamentos
Feb 25
Sarah Jamila Stevenson
The Latte Rebellion, Underneath, The a Truth Against the World
Feb 25
Abby Cooper visit
Sticks and Stones (July 19, 2016)

Well, if you're wondering how WRAD ended up extending over five days, listen to this. Author Gretchen Kelley lives in Abu Dhabi, and had to reschedule her read aloud Skype for Feb 23rd. Then, Mr. Akerson's school had a snow day and rescheduled for February 26th, and Mrs. Rutschke needed to reschedule for Feb 26 due to a class ski trip.

So, yes...that's how this pirate teacher created a World Read Aloud EXPERIENCE for her students.

I can't wait to do it all again next year... 

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Warning: Distracted Teacher!

Does this sound like you?

Because this is, admittedly all too often, me.

I try to tackle one thing at a time and focus on my task. However, when I plan, it's more like..."Squirrel!"

Whenever I try to get some school work done, I end up in a never ending spiral of random tasks. Don't get me wrong, many of them lead to the most creative ideas and collaborations, but my thinking is definitely not linear.

Like I mentioned before, maybe you'll see yourself in this breakdown of my latest attempts at commenting on student blogs. (Not even all 140 of them. I just wanted to get ONE class of 38 done).

*Note...I did manage to finish them all at some point that evening. It should also be noted that in the midst of my randomness, I started a running list for this post, which I find rather ironic.

Without further ado, here's a peek into my distracted brain...

   I started to comment on my students' book blogs on our Kidblog site.
   I read and commented on a few before deciding that my writing groups were too large (and might be the reason my students' peer comments were not as deep and helpful as they could be). So...I created a writing buddy list for that class.
   Then, I joined one of my favorite Twitter chats- #sstlap and read some tweets, said hello to a few educators.
   Back to commenting on a few blog posts.
   I got to thinking that I should make a writing buddy list for the other morning class as well, so I did.
   Once again, I went back to commenting on a few more posts
   Well, after #sstlap comes #ditchbook chat, where I ended up in a conversation about an upcoming student-created videos chat topic. I feel strongly about this subject, so a teacher friend and I planned to co-moderate a future chat in March.
   While on Twitter, I was reminded that I need to tweak my Global School Play Day (GSPD) post for Oliver Schinkten. I took a look at it, made some revisions, and then sent it to him.
   Ok, back to a few of my student blog comments...
   Oops, I realized I hadn't posted in my fitness FB group, so I checked some other daily posts before responded to a few. Then, I posted my eating and workout for the day.
   It was at this point that I had an "a-ha" moment about my distracted behavior making an interesting blog post, so I jotted down what I had accomplished (or what had distracted me) so far that night.
   Back to some more blog comments...
   I looked over at my book stack, and decided to read a little from the one on top-feeling justified that I needed a break. Read about 50 pages, and then found a good place to stop and went...
   Back to commenting on a few posts.
   A tweet in the latter part of the #ditchbook chat gave me a great idea for a short story activity, and I spent a little time creating it.
   Then, I got thinking about the next short story I planned to read with my group. I read through it and came up with a fun way to introduce it and provide some context.
   You got it...back to the blog comments.
   Reading more comments, and looking at my students' goals, I reviewed their portfolio self-assessments. I got an idea for how to help them be more reflective. I made changes to their response sheet.
   Then, since I was already in the tweaking mindset, I pondered how I could improve students' self-assessment during Socratic seminars. Since my professional growth goal is student self-assessment and I had an observation the next week, I worked on deepening the self-reflection piece for my next seminar.
   Finally, I finished those blog comments...3 hours later.

Although it took much longer than I anticipated, I had accomplished more than just blog comments.

Yes, I have a distracted brain.

Doesn't everyone?

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Global School Play Day in Middle School

I witnessed sheer joy in my classroom last Wednesday.


My 6th grade students-middle schoolers- were playing games.
Social games.
No-tech games.
Board games.
Games that requiring reading directions.
Games that necessitated taking turns.
Games needing clarification and compromise.
Games requiring setup and clean up.
Games of chance.
Games of strategy.
Games of skill.
Games for two people and games for many more.
Active games.
Fun games.
Choice games.

All of this during the school day, in place of regularly scheduled core classes.

Yes, I have English standards to teach.
Many, in fact.
However, I don't teach standards; I teach students.

In addition to standards, my students need to know how to socialize: how to talk to each other. They need strategies that help them compromise and problem solve peer disputes. My students need practice asking for clarification and explaining their creative thinking. While socializing with friends, my students need empathy for those seemingly left out, and a desire to include everyone.

Being allowed to play without teacher control or interference, my students learned more about kindness and collaboration than I could have imagined.

I saw this quote on Facebook today from Herding Kate in Kindergarten, and it echoes what I witnessed on Wednesday's Global School Play Day.

"You can discover more about a child in an hour of play than in a year of standardized tests."

I sure learned a lot about my students by observing them through play, by talking to them as they played, and in some cases, playing along with them. I learned more than from data generated by bubbling in answers on a multiple choice test.

On the Global School Play Day, I deepened connections with my students and discovered something new about each one.

My students and I participated last year, and I plan to do it again for many years to come.

There's something so refreshing about breaking from the ordinary and providing an experience.

It's one they won't soon forget.