Texas Teaching Fanatic

A look inside a 4th grade classroom

I’ve Moved to WordPress.org

Friends and followers:

I have moved my blog to a self-hosted site through WordPress.org.  Follow me there at www.texasteachingfanatic.com.  Those of you who were followers here on WordPress.com have already been transferred.  I’m currently just having trouble with my Bloglovin’ followers.  Sorry for multiple posts if you are receiving them.  Just delete!  🙂

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Find Me on Facebook and Instagram

Just a quick post to let you know that am now on Facebook and Instagram!

Follow me on Facebook here. (www.facebook.com/texasteachingfanatic)

Follow @texasteachingfanatic on Instagram.

I’ve also been on Twitter for a couple of months–@TxTeachFanatic.

Looking forward to new adventures with social media!

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Differentiated Instruction: Students Teaching Students

Our campus has been discussing differentiated instruction a lot lately. We are focusing on student needs and effective teaching strategies that help all students. There are multiple ways to look at this concept and it encompasses several ideas.

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In my classroom, one way I’ve found that reaches all students is to allow the students to teach each other, not just in small groups or within their table groups, but actually working out problems for the entire class and explaining how they reached their answers.

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This week we have been working on combinations. Some of these problems are very easy, and the kids catch on very quickly. Some, however, require some serious thinking skills to figure out all possible answers.

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This is where the “student teachers” come into play. I could stand up there and explain how to work these problems until I’m blue in the face and some kids would get it, but others will completely tune out. Put a student up there–automatic engagement for all involved.

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Not only are the students happy ecstatic to be called upon to help their peers, they extend their thinking and learning by explaining their strategies to others. It encourages them to work harder and think critically about their work. They are more likely to ask questions and seek help so that they may be called upon to teach others.

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At first I thought that the idea of differentiated instruction sounded like a lot more work on me (and it can be at times), but this simple technique actually saves my voice and allows the students to find theirs. 😉

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Narrative Writing In Action

Just a short post for you tonight. I’ve been meaning to post some pics of my students’ rough drafts for their narrative pieces, but I’ve been so extremely busy with so many other things that it slipped my mind. Some students have already finished their publishing, so I figured it was past time to get these on the blog!

Last week we worked on thoughtshots and snapshots that Gretchen Bernabei references in her books and trainings. We used mentor texts from Fun Size Academic Writing for these activities, and the kids really took off with it. The picture below is the mentor text that we colored up for thoughts.

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We glued our drafts to large construction paper and then used the outside edges to write in our snapshots and thoughtshots. The students just drew arrows to the places where this new information would go.

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The students enjoyed the lessons, and once they were finished they were amazed at how their narratives were transformed. A quote from one of my students: “Wow, Mrs. Shook, my story sounds so much better with this extra stuff I added!” Gotta love ’em!! 😉

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Remember Sandy Hook

As educators, we remember and honor our fallen colleagues and their students from Sandy Hook School.  We honor them each day in our classrooms in which we continue their dream of teaching our children.  We honor their memory with our service.  Join with teachers everywhere in committing random acts of kindness to show our love for Sandy Hook.

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Narrative 11-Minute Essays

After several long weeks of expository writing, we have switched back to narratives again.  Students always usually enjoy writing narratives more than expository pieces, so this was refreshing to most.

I have tried the 11-minute essay (introduced by Gretchen Bernabei) with my students for expository writing, but not for narrative.  I thought I would give it a try.  Rather than giving them a truism to think about, I gave them a narrative prompt.  Their prompt was: Write about a time you went to your favorite place.  They used the text structure: Where I was–>First Moment–>Next Moment–>Last Moment–>What I Thought.

Wow!  They impressed me once again!  Simply speaking–they wrote an entire narrative in 12 minutes.  Yep, I gave an extra minute for their introduction (2 mins. for intro., 3 mins. for each body paragraph, and then 1 min. for concl.).  The craziest part about it was that some of my students wrote more in 12 minutes than they have in an entire week of Writer’s Workshop.  I guess the time crunch works!  I’ll definitely be doing this again…probably as our rough draft for just about every piece of writing from here on out.

Canyon Lake by Gasseli

Basketball Court by Ciarra

Closet by Avery

My Room by Joe

Pantry by Avery

The River by Annaleah

The Car by Daniel

They loved it SO much, that we did it two days in a row. After sharing out on day 1, we noticed that some students were spending too much time on their way to their special place.  On day 2, some students chose to use their same place and make it better, while others chose to write about somewhere totally new.

I made copies of each student’s writing (it was in their notebooks) and gave it back to them.  Since they did not skip lines, we had to come up with a way to add to our stories without trying to squeeze everything between lines or in the margins.  The students have cut out their writing pieces and glued them down onto large pieces of construction paper.  They will be adding icons, ba…da…bing sentences, snapshots, thoughtshots, etc. on the construction paper with arrows pointing to where the information will go.  I’ll be sure to post some pictures of their work.

I will also have them publish this piece of writing, so all can see what they look like after some individual conferences with students.  Remember: They wrote these in 12 minutes!

I have posted a sampling of some of their papers (above).  Some of them are already really well written, while others need some serious interventions.  I like to post more than just awesome papers so that we can look at them and use them as a teaching tool for students.  I do this in my classroom–use real student writing to show how we can make it better: adding icons, changing verbs, punctuation marks, checking for spelling rules, schesis onomaton (renaming), etc.  Hopefully you can find a use for them in your classroom, too!

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Expository Writing Samples

Our first day back from the holidays was a success.  My students, although lethargic at the start of the day, worked hard and finished up their expository essays they had started before the break.  Some are still working, but since it is time to move on to narratives, I told them that they can revisit their pieces a little later if they had not quite finished.

For this essay, we used a different prompt and text structure than our first attempt. This time, I gave them the prompt: Everyone has something that they consider special.  Write about your most prized possession.  Explain why it is special to you.  We used the following text structure: I just couldn’t do without… –> It has the most… –> It also has… –> Before I had it… –> That’s why… –> Without it… What I found the most interesting was that my students were already taking risks and changing up the text structure to make it relevant to what they were doing.  They would ask, “Can I change the text structure around?” and “Do I have to use that sentence starter, or can I change it a little?”  Yes, yes, YES!  Music to my ears.  Soon I will be posting their altered text structures and labeling them with the students’ names to give them credit.  Love it!

All this being said, they didn’t have a real long time to work on their papers this time due to testing and interruptions in our schedule.  I chose 3 papers from my homeroom to share with you.  I’ll be adding more from the other class, but this is what I have for now.

Cats by Mallory  (This one is a little shorter, but this is a student that did not come to me as a natural writer.  She has great ideas and is able to write very quickly and very well about things that mean a lot to her.  You can really tell that she admires her cats–she wrote about them for our other expository prompt, too.  I like that she is using the same ideas for more than one prompt.  I give her lots of credit for that!)

Multi-Tool Knife by Andrew (This one is longer than the first sample.  This student actually got to come into my classroom last year as a 3rd grader since he was more advanced in his writing than the rest of the students in his class.  He has learned a lot and is getting better and better by the day.  He has a wild imagination and his personality shows through his writing.  He has taken to heart our mentor text, Barbie, and incorporated some of her ideas.  If you’ve read it, you’ll notice!)

Balloony by Avery (This is the longest one–longer than 26 lines.  She is an AH-MAZING writer…and I can’t take credit for much of it.  She is definitely a natural.  She soaks up every lesson and incorporates new ideas in every piece of writing.  She, like Andrew, has taken ideas from Barbie and run with them.  She also uses a thesaurus just about every time she writes to be sure she uses just the right vocabulary to get her point across!)

You will also notice that all 3 of these kiddos modified the text structure to make it their own.  I will try to find some papers that used the text structure as it was given for my next installment.

We all hope you enjoy reading these papers.  I show my students my blog posts that relate to them, and we look at your comments together.  They LOVE to read your comments, so leave them some love! Let them know how awesome they are!!  😉

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December CURRENTLY

My first time ever to participate in the CURRENTLY linky.  It’s late and I REALLY need to go to bed, so this one is short.  (The pic in the post is really small and I can’t seem to make it any bigger, so click on it to see what it actually says without having to grab your spectacles!)

December Currently

I hope y’all had a great Thanksgiving and had some quality time with family!  I’ll be back soon to reveal more expository writing samples!  Then we will be back to narratives to finish out the 2013 year.  😉

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Cooperative Learning + Math = SUCCESS!

I had a not-so-pleasant day on Tuesday watching my students turn in their Math Benchmarks. Failing grade after failing grade made my heart sink. Here I thought my students were right on track, and the reality was–many of them needed lots of help. This test had many of the released questions from our state assessment last year (which is given at the end of April), so I shouldn’t expect them to rock it, but still…heartbreaking.

After crying about it with our instructional coach, I scoured the tests a little closer. As I was looking over the tests, I noticed that several of them were just guessing at answers, not showing any kind of work. This has never been ok in my class, but for some reason I had many students that just went through the test without thinking. Grrrrrr!

That afternoon we had a come to Jesus heart-to-heart talk about what each student’s job is. It is their responsibility as the learner to ask questions and ask for help when they need it….but it’s also my responsibility to find a way to reach them and instill some motivation to want to succeed.

So…I thought about this training I went to on Monday. It was for ELL’s (English Language Learners), but all the strategies they mentioned are good for ALL students. By Wednesday, we were trying them out!

One of the strategies was to have the students stand around the room in a circle at the end of class and use a sentence starter to identify something they learned that day. We were told that when students have to verbalize their thoughts and listen to themselves say it, the learning goes up. I gave them these sentence starters: I learned… I’m surprised that… and I will remember… As I listened to their responses, it made me feel that their learning was already increasing, even the very first time we tried it!

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Today I used another strategy called, “Stay and Stray,” where groups of students move around the room and talk. We did this with word problems from our math assessment that have them fits. Of course, some of my students were able to complete their test successfully, so here was already some knowledge of what to do. I put the students into groups, making sure that each group had an expert to start.

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I wrote word problems on chart paper and taped them around the room. Each group was to solve the problem on their paper together. Each student had their math journal in hand to take notes. It was their responsibility to really understand the strategy, because they would eventually be sharing out a strategy.

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However…the groups would constantly change. Before we started, I gave each student in the group a number. These numbers would determine who stayed at a poster and who would move on to the next group. If I called number 4, then all number 4s would stay at their poster, and the other group members would move on. Number 4 would then explain to their new group how they solved their problem.

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Then I called time again. This time, number 2 had to stay, and the rest of the group would move on. This meant that by now, the 2s were explaining a poster that they did not create! It also meant that they really had to pay attention to the previous presenter so that they knew how to teach it to he next group. And so on until each student had stayed at a group to present.

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What did this mean? ALL students were participating. ALL students were learning. ALL students were actively engaged. No more sitting on the sidelines, folks! The students were definitely accountable for their own learning!

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When we were finished with this activity, I asked them for feedback. They told me that it was fun, they enjoyed teaching other students, they enjoyed learning from other students, and they now understood how to solve problems like he ones we solved. Best of all, they wanted MORE! Big smiles followed this conversation–students and teacher alike!

Part of teaching is understanding that we aren’t perfect. Sometimes we just have to step back and think about what is in the best interests of the kids. Every time my students teach each other, they just seem to “get it.” As long as they have some guidance, they can take off with their learning…even when I’m not in the driver’s seat. What a great feeling!

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Narrative vs. Expository

Texas requires all 4th graders to write a narrative AND an expository piece for their state assessment.  Now, if your school is anything like mine, students very rarely (if ever) write any sort of expository piece before stepping into a 4th grade classroom.  Nope, I’m not blaming the other grade levels because I know that they have their own battles to fight and win, I’m just stating reality.

So how do we tackle this?  How do we get students to understand the difference (and similarity) of narrative vs. expository writing?  What do we tell these kids?  My answer is simple.  Make it concrete.  Make it relevant and meaningful.  Allow students a visual that shows them, rather than just telling them.  I use grandma.

Grandma, you say? Yep.  I use an activity that I created (mostly on my own) that helps kids to compare narrative and expository writing.  It takes several glances at it to understand it completely, but my kiddos love to take “grandma” out and look at her and talk about writing.

"Grandma"

Here goes: I searched for kid-friendly grandma and balloons clipart.  I just googled it and found some that I liked.  I saved them, and then put the grandma pic in the center of a Word document.  I inserted a dashed line down the middle of the page.  I put the pics of the balloons on separate pages, so the students actually started with a page with only grandma and then a separate page with balloons.  I like to talk them through the process and leaving the balloons for later helps with our discussion.

I give the students about 10 minutes to color their grandma (helps with the management since they just HAVE to color her), and then we get down to business.  We then add Narrative and Expository labels at the top of each side of the page.  We talk about how grandma represents our topic.  I choose grandma because all students have some experience with a grandma, whether their own or someone else’s.  You see, the topic can be the same for both types of writing–it’s how the piece is written that makes the difference.  We notice how she appears on both sides of the page because of this.  We then label her as, “topic.”

Then we fold our page down the dashed line and talk about one side at a time (hence the lighting in the picture).  We start with narrative which is most familiar to them.  Narrative writing is when we tell stories from our hearts about a time we did something.  We use our Writer’s Tools to tell a story in the order that it happens.  In narrative, order matters!  I refer to the story of the 3 little pigs.  It just wouldn’t make sense or be the same story if the wolf visited the third pig’s house first.  It would change the whole outcome of the story, thus proving that order matters!  We discuss other stories and even refer to their own stories and think about how the stories only make sense in order.

Next we cut out and glue the cluster of balloons in her hands and label them one through five.  This represents the paragraphs that happen–yep–in order.  We put our own ribbons on the balloons and attach them to her hands.

Last, we add our sentences to the side that remind us of our purpose for narrative writing.

When we have finished with the narrative side, we flip our paper over and begin our discussion about expository writing.  This type of writing is not a story.  Instead, we are required to explain our beliefs on something and give reasons why we believe it.  In expository writing, order doesn’t matter.  We discuss various topics and give reasons why we believe what we believe, flip the reasons around, and then talk about how the reasons don’t have a specific order–unless you have a spectacular reason (like why you just can’t do your homework) that you want to save for the “grand finale,” as one of my students mentioned.  But overall, the order of your reasons really doesn’t matter.

We then cut out and glue the one balloon onto the paper and label it with “central topic” and “WHY?”  This represents the main idea of our paper and the purpose for writing.  We draw only one ribbon from the balloon to grandma’s hand and put flags on it with our Writer’s Tools.  Those tools help us to explain our beliefs and make our papers longer and coherent.

When finished, we add our sentences to the side that remind us of our purpose for expository writing.

It is very detailed and takes lots of time, but the students really respond to it, especially when you tell them that they will be required to add to a final discussion about the similarities and differences of these two types of writing!

Hopefully this makes sense to you.  It makes sense to us.  Please feel free to ask questions if you have them!

What do you do to help your students with this?  Leave a comment with your ideas!!  🙂

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