Beth's Blog

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Where did fiction writing go?

Filed under: Uncategorized — andersem at 1:36 am on Monday, November 12, 2012

Recently I attended a training in which they emphasized the need to increase writing time in the classroom. Students should be writing about everything and anything. In my classroom, students write during math, science, social studies, reading, and writing time. Writing about our learning is a common practice each and every day. Since we did so much academic writing throughout the day, in the past few years my students usually wrote personal or imaginative narratives during our writing block. However, now that we have switched to the common core, there is not much fiction writing included in our curriculum.

In fourth grade, we were fortunate to have narrative writing as our focus first quarter. Students either love or hate fiction writing because it requires students to come up with ideas for their own writing. Those who struggle can’t find ideas that they like, or enough ideas to create a story. Those who love it usually have an abundance of ideas so they have a hard time pairing them down to create a focused piece. Either way, there is a lot of room for instruction at their age. The problem lies in the fact that we don’t have fiction writing in our curriculum for the rest of the year. I certainly understand the need to have non-fiction writing, and I know that we need to increase our time writing non-fiction because that is a life skill. However, I hate that “creative” writing is being phased out. Since writing is integrated into all the other subjects, students are exposed to variety of non-fiction writing throughout the day. Students are also instructed on writing many times during the day because of the expectations of each activity. Therefore, students are already immersed in non-fiction writing so why not encourage narrative writing as well?

Like I said, I understand why they are phasing out fiction writing, however, I hate it for the kids who love to write stories. From an early age students are encouraged to use their imaginations to create, and I think this should be a part of their schooling all the way through. After all, most of the stories we read and analyze are a product of someone who created a story using their own imagination.

Responding to Reading Through Writing- Nonfiction

Filed under: Uncategorized — andersem at 12:36 am on Thursday, November 1, 2012

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a literacy training on the Common Core for fourth grade provided by our county. At the training, they talked a long time about how reading and writing should be integrated. They stressed the importance of making sure students are spending equal time each day reading and writing. A great way to do this is to have students respond to their reading through writing. In my classroom we write in a readers notebook every day. Students use the skill that we talked about that day and apply it directly to their reading. This worked wonderfully for fiction because students were able to analyze the characters, make connections, find places they made an inference etc. However, I am having a harder time with non-fiction.

The rest of the year our curriculum is based significantly on non-fiction in both reading and writing. This is both exciting and scary at the same time. Non-fiction is something that students either love to read or hate to read. This week I have had a hard time keeping students engaged in their non-fiction texts, even though they are self-selected texts that are of their own interest. Another challenge that I have had is how students can respond to their reading through writing in their readers’ notebooks. We have talked about text features and text structure thus far. Text features were easy to write about because of their widespread availability. However, text structure has been difficult. Since many different text structures are present within one book, some students are having a hard time identifying text structure within their text. This brought about a lot of conversation within my team. We all had ideas but were not sold on any of them.

How do people get students to write about their non-fiction reading every day? They stressed the importance of students having to write about their reading every day, but I am having a hard time determining what is the best way to do so. Is there anyone who has had success with writing about non-fiction that could easily be modified for a fourth grade classroom?

Literacy Today

Filed under: Uncategorized — andersem at 10:59 pm on Sunday, October 21, 2012

Throughout college and in the first years of my career, I learned the importance of literacy and how it plays out in our every day lives. While I have understood the importance of exposing children to literacy early in life and working continuously to deepen that understanding, I never understood the implications of the opposite, until this past week.

As always, I was browsing different websites about interesting things going on in the world today. A couple of posts intrigued me so I read them and then read the comments from different people below the article. One article in particular had an incredible amount of comments that did not have punctuation, capitalization, correct spelling, or really any grammar whatsoever. Now, I will be the first person to tell you that grammar is not my strong point, however, I was mortified by the idea that people were not even re-reading their writing before the posted. Surely they would have caught some of their mistakes if they had. I couldn’t believe it because I know how much I harp on it in my fourth grade classroom. The comments that I read did not have the conventions or content of a lot of blog posts that my fourth graders post, and these people were adults.

Now, this is not a judgment on these people because my first thought was that somewhere along the way, the system failed them. Teachers, parents, administrators, mentors, peers, etc. did not do enough to ensure that they were educated adults who could write a sentence using a capital letter at the beginning and a period at the end. They were not exposed to a variety of literacy practices, and they were not pushed to think critically about these experiences. It made me realize how critical our literacy work is every day in the classroom. It made me realize that it is my job every single day to expose my students to new texts, to challenge them to talk and analyze that new text, and to orally be able to defend their opinions in an appropriate way.  It also made me realize  that I can’t allow a child to fall through the cracks because if I do, that child will continue to fall further and further behind, and may never catch up.

Finally, this break through was also a positive nod of accomplishment. I was able to see how much my students have learned already this year and how much they will learn before the end of the year. Even though I may harp on the specifics, I should celebrate their accomplishments too. While not everything that we do is perfect, they are learning! I also feel that I am doing what I need to for them and their futures. From the variety of literature and the depth of activities we do with these pieces, I feel confident that my students will leave my classroom as prepared twenty-first century learners.

Has anyone else had experiences like this? How has it changed your teaching practice? I can tell you that tomorrow, when I track back in, I will have a whole new outlook on the experience of education.

Digital Technology in Literacy?

Filed under: Uncategorized — andersem at 4:06 pm on Monday, October 8, 2012

I just read an article about the benefits of integrating iPads into the classroom during literacy instruction. My school is still working on adding Smartboards to every classroom so we do not have any sort of hand held technological devices available for instruction. With that being said, I don’t know if I would use them if we did have them available.

After reading the article, I found some benefits to using a technological device in the classroom. It seems that the different apps available to an iPad would enhance student learning tremendously. The saying, “there is an app for that,” certainly applies to the classroom. They have developed numerous apps that allow students to organize information, to draw visualizations, and even to store books that they want to read in their very own classroom library. Finally, students who are reading at a much lower level than their peers could still read books at their level without being embarrassed by it. Since the books appear digitally, students will not know what books their peers are reading. It seems that using an iPad would help engage students who may otherwise dislike the reading block time.

On the other side, there are definitely some draw backs to using a technological device in the classroom. While it allows students who are reading a lower level book to hide it, it also prevents students from seeing what their peers are reading. A lot of books recommendations come through conversations students have with their peers based on books that are visible around the classroom. Since all books are hidden, students will not know what books their peers are reading. Also, the accountability piece is a big question. How can you be sure students are reading books on their level? It is easy for a teacher to survey a classroom in order to understand whether or not his/her students are reading books on their level, on a level that is below where they should be reading, or a level that is well above where they should be reading. When students are reading a book on an iPad, the teacher can’t be sure that the student is reading a good book unless he/she checks in with each student each day. Even then, students can easily change books without the teacher noticing. Finally, I hate to give up the task of choosing a book and reading a book. So much of the world is becoming technical and the craft of choosing an interesting book, reading a book, reading a newspaper, or doing research, is becoming lost. I feel that there is so much time for these students to use technological devices in their life so it is my duty to ensure they still have access (and use) books.

Has anyone had experience with iPads or other hand held technological devices in the classroom? What are your thoughts on the pros and cons of using them? Do you feel it is well worth the added instruction time spent on teaching students how to use the device?

Writing in Science

Filed under: Uncategorized — andersem at 6:01 pm on Friday, October 5, 2012

In fourth grade we take science very seriously. We feel that we have to be very meticulous in our approach to teaching the content because in fifth grade the students have to take the end of grade test in science. With that being sad, the level of expectation is very high. Students are expected to keep a science notebook with labeled pictures, detailed observations, and lengthy claims/evidence.

In our claims/evidence section, students are required to think about what we did during that lesson as well as something that they can claim using evidence from the lesson. Their claim is at least one sentence but usually ends up being at least two sentences. Their evidence for that claim is usually a three to four sentence response using vocabulary words and detailed examples from the lesson.

During parent/teacher conferences, I usually show the students’ science notebooks. Last year I had a parent who was also a third grade teacher at our school. She was blown away by her daughter’s responses and the detail in her writing. She commented that the kids don’t have to do nearly as much in third grade. This made me feel great because we spend so much time modeling and practicing appropriate responses using details to support our statements.

 I know that what we are doing in fourth grade is difficult and time consuming but well worth the time because the students will leave our classroom knowing and understanding how to support their statements with evidence. This increases their overall comprehension of the topic as well prepares them for their future science classes in which they will have to create lab reports using written responses.

While I feel confident in the writing aspect that we have integrated into science, I feel we could do more writing in social studies. We do a lot of non-fiction reading on North Carolina and often have students respond through writing, but it is not as large of a component of our daily social studies block as it is in science. Does anyone have any suggestions about how we could integrate writing in social studies more consistently? I think it is just as critical that students are able to do so, but haven’t come up with any ideas that encourage writing about a topic besides creating more activities that require writing. Do you have a social studies journal? For those who only teach social studies, how do you fully integrate non-fiction writing into your block?

Same or Different Books for Read to Someone

Filed under: Uncategorized — andersem at 10:35 pm on Sunday, September 30, 2012

My school uses the Daily 5/CAFE structure when it comes to reading. Each day we have three rotations that always consist of read to self and work on writing. On M/W/F we have work on word study and on Tu/Th we do read to someone as our third rotation.

The reason we only do read to someone twice a week is because I, as a teacher, hate it. I don’t like the noise level, I don’t like how they have to share a book, and I don’t like that they don’t stop to check for understanding as often as I would like. We spent the first several weeks practicing stopping to check for understanding, modeling what it looks like to sit EEKK, and practicing our whisper reading. Sometimes as a group we are very successful at this, however, most of the time we don’t get as much out of read to someone as I would like.

Since I don’t like read to someone, I have thought about lots of ways that I could change it to make it better. The largest worry that I have with it is whether or not my students are getting enough out of that time. We spend an entire hour of our literacy block (2- 30 min sessions) each week devoted to this time, so it has to be worthwhile. The biggest question that I have had is whether or not it is better to have students reading the same book when they are reading to someone, or whether or not to have students reading different books?

I think kids enjoy just picking up a book and taking turns reading that book with their partner, however, I don’t believe they are getting much out of it. Besides the right there check for understanding questions, students who are not reading that book already don’t know the whole story, who the characters are, and what the overall theme or moral of the story is. So, is this beneficial except for the fact that they get to practice their oral reading fluency?

The opposite is when students have the same read to someone partner and they read a book together over a couple of weeks. That means that they still get to practice their oral reading with a partner but they are also fully aware of what is happening in the story.

I tend to lean toward reading the same book and keeping partners because then they can really work on comprehension through check for understanding. However, I see the benefit of switching partners and being exposed to pieces of stories. This gives kids the chance to read with stronger readers and those who are not as strong, as well as an opportunity to read a variety of books. Hopefully this will expose them to stories that they may want to read themselves.

For those of you who do read to someone, which way do you have it set up in your classroom? Have you tried multiple ways? What are the advantages and disadvantages of the ways that you have tried?

Responding to Reading Through Writing

Filed under: Uncategorized — andersem at 10:33 pm on Sunday, September 30, 2012

Every year I struggle with individual conferencing because I feel uncomfortable conferencing with a student on a text that I am not familiar with. We were coached to have students read a page out loud to us so we know it is a good fit book and so that we could learn about the book they were reading. Then, we are to have a discussion on a skill that the students are learning based on that book. The question that I always had was how do I ensure that they are comprehending and using the skill that I have asked them to use correctly if I only know the content of one page?

In order to solve this dilemma this year, I started reader’s notebooks. Each day students bring their reader’s notebooks to the carpet for our whole class lesson. We talk about a skill and model it through a read aloud. As I am reading, students are writing down a connection, a comparison, an inference etc. After I finish reading, we share answers and have a discussion about why it is important to use these skills as we are reading. Then, students go back to their seats (or choice of spot) and they read to self. After they finish reading to self, they write in their reader’s notebooks. This is a detailed response about their book using the skill that we are working on in class.

As I call students to conference with, they bring their reader’s notebooks with them. Instead of having them use their time to read out loud, we have a discussion about what they have written about their reading in their reader’s notebook. I am able to quickly tell who is having a hard time making a connection or who needs to work on supporting their connections with evidence from the text. If I can identify an area of need (which is almost every time), I write another example in the student’s notebook so they have a reference point as they are working independently. They then have to go back to their seats and try again using what we discussed in our conference. I then make note of what we talked about and what we are going to talk about next time so I can make sure to check in on them.

I find this so much more helpful to me as a teacher than reading a page and talking about the skill as it pertains to the page that we read. I am able to see more of the story, understand how the child comprehends the story and uses the skill of the week, and work with the student on writing (we still have many grammar, punctuation, organization issues).

Does anyone else have a different strategy or check in that allows them to truly understand the student’s level of comprehension? I am always looking for ways to improve my individual instruction and make learning more applicable and meaningful for all students.

Motivated Readers?

Filed under: Uncategorized — andersem at 9:03 pm on Sunday, September 30, 2012

This week I have been thinking a lot about how to motivate readers who are not easily engaged in reading and have no interest in doing so. For our research project we have been talking about how reading motivation coupled with the ability to choose good fit books is a good set up for reading growth. As we have been doing article reviews and talking in our group, I have been thinking about the students who are in my class now who don’t enjoy reading. I have also been thinking about students in the past who never quite made the connection with reading that I would have loved them to have before we finished our year together.

I have never considered myself an expert in literacy (nor do I now) because it is so complex. Students come into the classroom with different knowledge levels, different experiences, and different ideas of themselves as readers. These intricacies create a challenge for me as a teacher, because each student has his/her own action plan to improve their own reading. I feel more confident in teaching them skills to become a better reader and less confident in teaching them to love reading.

For students who are not motivated or lack the desire to read at all, I usually try to work with them to find books that would be interesting and at an appropriate level. I figure that if I can help them get hooked on a good book, they will want to read it. I also try and encourage them by showing them their own accomplishments. Whenever we have conferences together, I always emphasis the positive first and tell them how I loved their response or that I noticed they did this right. My hopes are that they see that they are a better reader than they thought.

Other than these two approaches, I am always at a loss as to how to motivate students to become better readers, but most importantly to enjoy reading. How do you motivate readers to love reading? How do you create an environment where readers feel treasured, acknowledged, and accepted for the reading levels that they are on? How do you help students learn to love reading so they do it more often at home? Most importantly, how do you help students get hooked on reading so they become successful life-long learners?

Hello world!

Filed under: Uncategorized — andersem at 9:12 pm on Wednesday, September 26, 2012

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