Monday, November 11, 2013

Word of the Day

Earlier in my career, I was always questioning the best strategies for exposing students to appropriately leveled vocabulary words.  Some companies or programs feel as if they know which words 5th graders should be familiar with, but who are they to decide?  No offense intended (which typically means offending somebody is coming in the near future), but I don't want adults in an office somewhere making those decisions for my students.  I don't want teachers across the country making those decisions and I don't even want to make those decisions.  We are not the ones who should be determining the direction of vocabulary instruction.  Our students should.

A couple of years ago, my co-teacher and I were introduced to a vocabulary strategy from TeacherTube (I wish I could credit the appropriate teachers) known as Word of the Day.  One word was selected each day and besides looking at it from a vocabulary standpoint, it was also used as a classroom management tool.  We all have experienced students beginning to transition as we wind down our final directions, but now our students know not to move until we have given the signal; the word of the day.

Additionally, our students actually determine what the word of the day is going to be.  As they are reading their independent reading books and come across an interesting or unfamiliar vocabulary word, they write the word and the sentence on a sticky note and place it in our word of the day bin.  Each morning, a word is selected and our students lead the discussion on how to chunk or decode the word while also discussing the part of speech as well as the meaning of the word (they use context clues first and then dictionary skills if they are not able to determine the meaning from context).  Each student tracks this information in a notebook so they are able to look back at previous words and discover various patterns (examples include noticing that words that end in -tion are typically nouns and various vowel and consonant patterns).

Our word wall is surrounding one of our favorite Donalyn Miller quotes, "Reading is the inhale and writing is the exhale."  With students pulling words from their reading and then using those words in their writing, this strategy mirrors Donalyn's quote perfectly.

The picture makes it somewhat difficult to decipher some of the words, but some examples include: vicariously, pandemonium, equilibrium, neurotransmitters, ostracized, tantalizingly, vexation, and the list continues.  It's hard to believe this is just from less than half of our year and we still have plenty of great words to investigate, which our students will decide of course!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Creating an Environment Filled With Excitement For Reading

My co-teacher and I are always working to create and maintain an environment that excites our students.  This is true across all academic domains, but our greatest passion is attempting to do this within literacy.  The video below demonstrates one way we did this in reading, but also notice how we played "Guess what's inside the envelope" in order to foster creativity in developing ideas for writing.


This is the book we were fortunate enough to receive from Ms. Woodson....

And the page she was nice enough to sign for us....

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Favorite Books of the First Nine Weeks!

As mentioned in previous posts, our students select books that are on their level and also interesting to them in order to grow as readers.  We certainly help them with this process, but nothing is more valuable than the conversations they share with each other in order for a book to catch fire within our classroom.  Enjoy our video of our favorite books of the first nine weeks!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Authentic Book Club

SPOILER ALERT!!  If you consider yourself to be someone who follows children's literature, specifically in the middle grades, and you have not read Lynda Mullaly Hunt's One for the Murphy's, you must do so as soon as possible.  There are some discussions in this video that contain spoilers.  You should have read the book by now!

SECOND SPOILER ALERT!!  I have the best job in the world.  It's plain and simple.  I get to read books that I love and then go to "work" every single day and talk to young people about them.  I have the opportunity to encourage students to engage in well-written, high-level literature that allows them to better understand themselves and the world at a time when both can be very confusing.  People always say, "Oh, you must be such a patient person to do what you do" or "I could never do that".  To them, I respond with "I could never do anything else."

Our Reader's Workshop has very much been influenced by The Book Whisperer, Donalyn Miller.  I once saw a tweet of her's regarding the many reading programs that claim to be the best.  It stated the following, "1. Read a book. 2. Share it with another reader. 3. Chat about it. 4. Repeat 1-3. That's MY reading program."  With that being said, our readers have the freedom to read what they want.  We assist them in finding books that will expand their thinking while also being of interest to them.  We've  been fortunate enough to have had many teachers from around the county come to observe our classroom and one question we always get is "How do you keep all of your students on task?"  Well, Penny Kittle (author of Book Love) once said something along the lines that "Engagement is spelled C-H-O-I-C-E."

The four students in the video below all read One for the Murphy's at slightly different times, but each were a huge reason for others reading it.  You see, students catch the reading fever in our classroom and particular books catch fire; being passed from one reader to the next.  One for the Murphy's has had this effect each of the past two years and I don't expect that to change any time soon.

The video runs straight through because I wanted viewers to see that only one basic prompt was given at the beginning of the video and nothing was staged.  I simply asked them if they wouldn't mind talking about the book while I recorded it.  They brought their reading journals with them to review their thoughts, findings, and questions with the group and the rest was history.  Did I mention that I have the best job ever?!?  Enjoy the video.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Strange Case of Choose Kind

Two stories that have greatly impacted my classroom over the past several years have now joined forces.  Tom Angleberger's Origami Yoda series is always a huge hit at the beginning of the school year.  As a matter of fact, we have been in school for 2.5 weeks and we have had three students who have read The Strange Case of Origami Yoda and two of those three students also read Darth Paper Strikes Back and The Secret of the Fortune Wookie (the one student who finished the first in the series, but not the others actually read Angleberger's Fake Mustache before beginning The Strange Case of Origami Yoda).

One other story we have used as our extended text to kick start the year the past two years has been R.J. Palacio's Wonder. Just last week, we reached the part where Auggie overheard Jack Will talking about him around Halloween and our students were absolutely hooked!

In Wonder, Mr. Browne's first precept is "If you have the choice between being right and being kind, choose kind."  We have printed the Choose Kind image below and posted it in the 5th grade hallway.

Now things have really gotten interesting because the Choose Kind image keeps moving and our students CAN NOT figure out who might be doing such a thing!  Initially, our students decided that the top suspects were the tallest individuals in the building.  At 6'4'', I was a prime candidate.  I can neither confirm nor deny who is moving it, but I do have some insider information.  Next, our students decided that it really could be anyone who has access to a ladder.

That being said, our students are now interviewing teachers and putting together The Strange Case of Choose Kind.  It will be interesting to see if they are able to crack the case!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Reading Rut

2012 was the first year I set a reading goal for myself.  I absolutely believe that in order to maximize our instruction and our impact on our students, that we need to be readers and writers ourselves.  Twitter has provided me a Professional Learning Network of like-minded educators who seem to be (hard to be positive with just 140 characters, but I'm pretty convinced!) amazing educators and amazing people as well.  They are constantly sharing recently released titles and fantastic reads that students are sure to love.

I fell slightly short of my 2012 reading goal, but was close and very happy with the number of books that I was able to get in last year.  I set my 2013 goal to be the same number and finished the school year around the end of May on pace to not only meet my goal, but blow by it as well.  Then came summer....

From a reading standpoint, I was incredibly excited about having the freedom that summer brings and the opportunity to have free time to accomplish even more reading.  For whatever reason, that hasn't really happened this summer.  I've picked up numerous titles I have around my house and spent plenty of time at libraries and browsing e-books online.  Nothing has really struck me.

I revisited Daniel Pennac's Reader's Bill of Rights and was instantly thankful for the very first right of a reader: The right to NOT read.  I know many of us have experienced reading ruts and often, they can not always be explained.  I do know, however, that one of the best ways to find my way out of a reading rut is to revisit one of my favorite authors.

Jordan Sonnenblick has brought me back to reading.  While I've only read a couple of his books to this point, his writing possesses the unique ability to take me through a wide range of emotions within one text.  I love this and I also love that I have been able to multitask while "reading" one of his books today.  I haven't always enjoyed audiobooks, but the audio version of Zen and the Art of Faking It has brought me back to reading and also opened my eyes to the joys of audiobooks (was aware of the benefits for students previously, but had not always enjoyed them myself).

Friday, June 14, 2013

Senior Superlatives

It's graduation season around the nation and in honor of our country's most recent graduates, I thought it would be appropriate to award this year's Senior Superlatives.  I plan on doing my best to avoid my own glory days (yes, I am now attempting to sound like Bruce Springsteen as I belt it out) of high school as I award superlatives to a few favorite titles.

Class Couple

By the time readers come across the part where Byron gets his tongue stuck on the side view mirror, they're hooked on Christopher Paul Curtis' writing style and with his characters in The Watsons Go To Birmingham - 1963.  As students become more familiar with the setting, as the Watsons head from Flint, Michigan to Brimingham, Alabama, they will naturally have questions and a desire to learn more about the time period.  Diane McWhorter's A Dream of Freedom is a perfect informational text to pair with the Watsons when students need to know more about the Civil Rights Movement.

Best Dressed

Tom Angleberger is hilarious.  My students and I first became hooked on his Origami Yoda series, and were excited when Fake Mustache was released.  Lenny and Casper enter a novelty store where Casper decides to purchase a fake mustache.  Now, armed with the fake mustache, Casper gradually becomes more sinister and attempts to take over the world!  Oh, all while sporting a man-about-town suit; and who doesn't look better when they're wearing something so dashing?

Most Likely to be Famous

The Goodreads description of Close to Famous deems it "full of heart."  This is certainly accurate as Joan Bauer takes the reader into a small town and introduces us to a quirky cast of characters who quickly become so important to Foster's life that they are almost family.  Foster's dream is to one day have her own cooking show and if she can overcome some major barriers, she may just be famous one day.

Best Smile

Could it be any more obvious?  I would like to thank my mom for giving me the giant teeth and mouth that my sister and I both have.  It is those giant teeth and mouth that actually did allow me to win Best Smile way back in the day.  However, it was not without A LOT of work beforehand.  My journey may not have been as extensive as Raina's, but her story definitely hit a nerve (pun intended, sorry!).

Favorite Teacher

The award for best teacher goes to Mr. Browne in R.J. Palacio's Wonder.  As teachers, don't we all hope to motivate and inspire our students?  We hope to help them learn and grow from a variety of different experiences and really just to leave a positive impression on their lives.  Mr. Browne and his precepts encourage his students to think about life with a wider lens and he has the same impact on our own students. Mr. Browne deserves a standing ovation because, in the words of Auggie Pullman, "Everyone deserves a standing ovation because we all overcometh the world."

Sunday, June 9, 2013

If you give a boy a dinosaur book

I just finished reading Donalyn Miller's post, "Let My People Read", on the Nerdy Book Club blog and while I do not have any children, I was certainly able to connect to her frustrations.

I was at our public library the other day browsing the picture book section when I couldn't help but notice a father and son.  Now, first of all, kudos to this father for bringing his son to the library.  It seemed as though they were frequent visitors and that is definitely something to be celebrated.  The boy, I'm guessing about five years old, wanted to find books about dinosaurs.  After finding a couple that the boy wanted to bring home with him, I heard the father respond with "Let's find something else.  Those are below your level."

At any point in the year, are we really that concerned about reading levels and Lexile levels (please don't make me say something about AR points....UGH!)?  Shouldn't we always, especially during the summer time, be more concerned with building a passion for reading and encouraging our students or children to continue to read because they want to read.  I wanted so badly to give this young man a couple dinosaur books to take home with him and hope that the next time this boy and his father are at the library, they decide to check out a couple dinosaur books (even if they are below this five year old's level) in addition to whatever else they bring home.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Throwback - Respecting History

I'm not exactly sure what I was doing throughout the 1980s, but I do remember rockin' some Jams (ridiculous shorts that apparently you can still buy online) while balancing my dad's love of the Beach Boys with my sister's new fondness for some guy named Jon Bon Jovi (I also remember my dad claiming that Bon Jovi wouldn't even make it into the 90s).  I also remember sitting down to enjoy many different sporting events with both of my parents and listening while they shared story after story about the greats of a particular sport.  I believe, as do many others, that it is incredibly important to respect those that have blazed a trail previously to truly understand where we are today.  I've recently heard numerous authors speak about the impact that Cynthia Rylant has had on either their careers or their children.  After continuing to hear Ms. Rylant's name, I realized that it was time that I respect the history within Children's Literature and study her work.  I returned from the public library yesterday with many of her books in my arms.  After working my way through them today, a common theme arose: beautifully chosen words within a simple, yet elegant story.  While I enjoyed each of her books that I read today, one particular story stood out in my mind.

I recently heard an author speak and she mentioned that she always like to include "old people" people in her stories.  She said this in the most respectful of ways, appreciating the stories that older generations had to tell and often the lovable quirks that may accompany these individuals.  I was reminded of this as I enjoyed The Old Woman Who Named Things.  I was also reminded of the stories my dad would share with me about the beauty of the '57 Chevy; my best guess as to what Ms. Rylant used in this text and affectionately named Betsy.  Often, it is difficult for older generations to make changes to their lifestyle, but I was happy to see that "the old woman" in this story had enough room left in her heart.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Least Likely To Be Found On Our Shelves

It's graduation season around our country and today's blog post is dedicated to superlatives.  I'll avoid the typical senior superlatives of "Class Couple" (however, that makes me want to write a post about pairing novels and picture books) or "Best Smile" (but I bet you can guess which book I would vote for from my list).

Side Note - I'm definitely going to have a create another post using other various superlatives.

For today's post, however, I will focus on the books in our classroom that spent very little time on our bookshelves.  These are the books that students were constantly asking for and the books that had name after name on the waiting list.  They were most often passed from reader to reader as our students' passion for reading continually grew.

Before presenting the list, I do need to disclose some pertinent information.  R.J. Palacio's Wonder was our first extended text (think read aloud on steroids) of the year.  I'm confident it would have made this list, but it was too good of a story and a character kickoff to not use.

In no particular order and without further ado, I present to you our Top Nine (come on, we all know Wonder would have made it!)...

Our girls found it hilarious that Jeffery and Tad were continually distracted by the beauty of Lindsey.  Sonnenblick's middle school voice is incredibly authentic and he is the master of drawing the reader close to the characters.  Anytime I find myself laughing and crying in the same story, I know it's a winner.

I purchased the first book in this series last summer, but didn't pick up the others in the series until late this spring.  I already spend a decent amount of time at our county public library, but this graphic novel series caused me to stop many times to pick up the other books in the series.

Magical cardboard comes to life and tries to take over the town?  That was already enough said, but then I find out that Doug TenNapel was the creator of Earthworm Jim.  Mind blown.

Lynne Kelly's Chained entered our classroom in January after most of our students had already read The One and Only Ivan.  Kashmira Sheth's Boys Without Names was also a popular text this year.  All we had to do to sell students on this book was tell them that it reminded us of Boys Without Names meets The One and Only Ivan.

I almost feel selfish because I enjoyed that our students had not read this one before entering 5th grade.  It absolutely hooked so many of our students on reading at the beginning of this school year and they cheered and celebrated when they later found out that it won the Newbery!  Now that Ivan has that shiny sticker on it, I don't think there will be too many 5th graders that have not read it before coming to us.  I'm okay with that.

Locomotion is a relatively quick read, but students who are diligent in getting to know Lonnie Collins Motion will truly begin to understand his emotional journey.  This text is written in verse and a wonderful entry point into poetry for students who may have already experienced tough times.  

First of all, I am completely biased in regards to One for the Murphys.  Lynda Mullaly Hunt, although I do not know her personally, is as nice as can be.  I will say that my students and I loved this book before we knew how nice she was.  After reading great things about this book online last summer, we actually borrowed One for the Murphys from a co-worker and returned it at the end of the school year.  We now own multiple copies.

As previously mentioned, Wonder was our first extended text of the year.  It was very natural to say to students, "Did you love Wonder?  You'll love this one too."  Out of my Mind was released before Wonder and ever since I finished Wonder, I've been trying to figure out which book I like more.  I'm perfectly content continuing to be unsure of this. 

So many graphic novels seem to appeal to boys more than girls and while our girls.  I love that our girls have something with which they can now connect (and our boys also loved it).  This book will always remind me of multiple different students coming in bright and early in the morning saying one thing: "Mr. O'Neill, I couldn't put Smile down last night and I finished the entire thing!"

Sunday, June 2, 2013

History of a Reader

I suppose that in order to start fresh in my blogging life, it is important to come clean in regards to my life as a reader.  Growing up, I wasn't much of a reader.  There, I said it.  I'll most likely go into more detail about that in another post, but in this particular post, I would like to spend more time on how that all changed.  I graduated college a (clearing my throat) "few" years ago and received a gift from my sister, a teacher herself, that has greatly impacted my teaching career and my own reading life.

If I remember correctly, I set this gift to the side throughout my first year of teaching.  Entering my second year of teaching, I was moved to 5th grade and I picked up Al Capone Does My Shirts.  It didn't take long that year to realize that students were much more interested in reading and discussing the books that I have read.  I know that this may not be mind-blowing and that there are multiple professional development texts available to support this idea, but as a (once) young teacher, nothing is more powerful than learning that firsthand.

Lastly, you'll be happy to know that this book was not in this condition when my sister gave it to me. The current condition of the book is a result of it being passed from reader to reader without ever spending much time on the shelf.  It's the result of 5th graders learning about autism, Al Capone, and Alcatraz; and it's the result of readers developing their passion for reading while also working to find themselves.