Sunday, January 26, 2014

Our Mock Caldecott Top 7 List: Waiting for ALA!

image credit
We started with 30 contenders in our school's first Mock Caldecott, and we've narrowed down to our 7 favorites. We're excited to find out the winner tomorrow!

Here are our finalists:

What are your plans for tomorrow? Did your school have a Mock Caldecott?

Saturday, January 25, 2014

To Tweet or Not to Tweet? There is no question!

If you’re on Twitter, you are already a believer. I’m preaching to the choir. But, if you teach at a school where many sites are blocked, you probably don’t know how much you need Twitter. Do I understand why IT people place restrictions on internet access in schools? Totally. But,  I believe blocking access to social networking sites for teachers creates a major obstacle for professional learning in schools. Social networking sites are professional learning networks. In his blog post “Tiny Bits of Learning”, Chris Betcher shares how professional development is changing.

“Learning needs to be ongoing. The world is changing. There are new tools that can help students learn, new ideas about learning, new brain research, new emerging technologies, new social structures, and so on… to think that you can maintain a professional outlook by attending two or three PD workshops a year is almost laughable. To keep up with new learning, you really need to be plugged into an ongoing source of professional discourse and resource sharing. It needs to be something that happens regularly, at least several times a week. Like so many other aspects of the 21st Century, some of the “ways we’ve always done things” don’t really cut it anymore.”

Are we talking about a ton of time here? No. You could spend a lot of time on Twitter. Or you could spend a little. But the amazing thing is, in just ten minutes, you can find information that inspires you, about anything you want to know.

“Just ten minutes. Even just skimming through that list of things would give me more relevant PD than most teachers get exposed to in a whole year. And those of us who use Twitter in this way are able to tap this stream of information any time we like.” (Chris Betcher)

Last year, after being on Twitter for about two months,  I came up with a list of 20 things I wouldn’t have known about if it weren’t for Twitter or Facebook. Quickly. And really, there’s more I could have listed. Serious game changers. All impacted my classroom practice in one way or another. I’d love for you to check out this list, or better yet, check out Twitter and create your own! But I don’t want you to be frustrated when you go to check out these things at school when you find out they’re blocked.

Teachers need an all access pass to social networking.
This list exists for one simple reason: social networking. So while I could tweet away at home, I also needed access at school because that’s where the ideas on this list were meant to be implemented.

Take blogging, for instance...
Two summers ago, I first began bouncing around the idea of blogging. I wasn’t sure I had anything meaningful to contribute, but I did think my students (and families) would love seeing their writing published for a worldwide audience. However, as a first grade teacher, I knew my 5 and 6 year olds were NOT going to be word-processing much. I needed to know how other teachers of young children were blogging with their students. My friend, Joe Wood is an Area 3 Writing Project Teacher Consultant and the Technology Coordinator for Natomas Charter School in Sacramento, California. We connected on Facebook, where he regularly posts articles about technology in education. One day, he posted a link on my wall to Linda Yollis’ classroom blog and he said, “ This made me think of you!”  

Linda Yollis is an elementary Google Certified teacher in Southern California who blogs weekly with her students. I would not have a blog without Linda Yollis or Joe Wood. She doesn’t even really know me (although we do follow each other on Twitter, and I subscribe to her blog) and yet her blog was totally the inspiration for mine. There are so many ways she uses her blog with her students that I found were totally doable in first grade. Every time she posts her blog on Twitter, I get a new idea that I can’t wait to try! And I’ve learned about different digital tools just by seeing them on her blog. 

My first attempt at blogging started at home, on Blogger. Easy enough! Then, I opened it up at school to share with my students. Blocked. No images showed up. So frustrating! Turned out we didn't have access to Blogspot at school. So, back I went to Joe and Facebook! A few chat messages later, Joe recommended Edublogs. Thankfully, it wasn't blocked at school! It worked out well, although I still had to unblock YouTube every time I wanted my students to see a video I posted, or to watch a book trailer.

Blogging is just one thing that I would never have done if I hadn’t had access to Facebook or Twitter. Do I use these tools socially? Sure. But mostly, I look to social networking for daily inspiration related to my passion-- teaching and learning. Whether it’s a good book to read, or the latest tech tool we need, teachers need access to the social networking at school. We’re professionals. We want to learn. We need a network of other like-minded and passionate professionals that are sharing daily about what we want and need to know.

Twitter is more than finding out what Justin Bieber’s latest haircut looks like or following Boo, the world’s cutest dog. Sure, that’s out there. Chris Betcher said it best, “I don’t care about that stuff, so I don’t follow those people, so I don’t see those tweets. Twitter works because you get to make choices about who is part of your network.  You create relevance for yourself.”

I’m looking for professional development that’s relevant to my life and my classroom. Given access, when and where we need it, whether at school or in my pj’s, I promise you won’t be disappointed! Twitter. Let's get tweetin'!

*Edited from my original post on January 27, 2013

Close Reading for Little Learners

Flickr image credit Mark Skipper 
A few weeks ago, I wrote this post after reading Falling in Love with Close Reading by Christopher Lehman and Kate Roberts, an amazing book about teaching analytical reading. It was filled with great information and practical strategies. But...

It's like many of the professional books I read-- they're mostly written by teachers of grades 4 and above. Don't get me wrong, I firmly believe that good teaching is good teaching, regardless of grade level. I'm always looking for the key instructional components in any book I read, and then I try to make a connection to the grade level I'm teaching.  But we're talking about teaching close reading to kids when they may not. even. read. Teaching reading and writing when kids are as young as four is definitely an adventure! 

So I was just a little bit excited when I received a flyer from the Placer Area Reading Council (PARC) about a Saturday workshop-- K-2 Close Reading! I signed up to attend along with four teachers from my school. The cost of the workshop: $20, for a six hour training including breakfast treats and lunch. Such a deal.

We spent the day at Penryn Elementary, a tiny school located a few minutes outside of Roseville, California, with about 20 other teachers. Although PARC is a small reading organization from the Sierra foothills, they frequently host big names in literacy. About 10 years ago, Jim Trelease presented, and last year they hosted "The Book Whisperer" Donalyn Miller! Check out their Facebook page or visit to find out about their events. Today's presentation by Patty Calabrese was filled with tons of practical information about close reading with K-2 learners. You can check out the link to my complete notes here. Here are some highlights from today's workshop:

Close reading is…

  • analytic reading
  • careful and purposeful re-reading of text
  • can involve a short text
  • analyzing structure and craft
  • to develop deep understanding of text
  • rereading when needed as they work to analyze complex text

Close reading is not…

  • a reading program
  • just ELA (it’s actually best implemented in content areas)
  • just a strategy
  • the same old stuff
  • a silver bullet

Close reading requires text dependent questions:
  • Require the reader to return to text
  • Can be low level but not as many (blooms levels)
  • Usually higher levels of thinking - requires citing evidence

Close reading is all about comprehension.

Patty shared this analogy:
“Close reading is like digging a hole to plant a tree”

Reread the text at least three times:

  • First read: scratching the surface -- establish purpose for reading, looking for big picture / main idea
    • Generally read by the teacher
    • Discussion (What is this text mostly about? Turn and talk-- sentence frame-- This text is mostly about ____________________.

  • Second read: digging deeper into text structure and author’s craft
    • How does this text work? What did you notice about the text?
    • Students notice language, new thinking
    • Read aloud, independent, or group read.
    • Students need their own copy of the text if you want them to read with a pencil (annotating text) as you read together-- sticky notes, sheet protector, photocopy, typed copy
    • Reading with a pencil-- kids need to have 1:1 correspondence to be able to do
    • Discussion “Who is telling the story?”

  • Third read-- the deepest part of the hole (the deepest levels of comprehension)
    • Connections are made to text
    • Quality of text is considered
    • Lots of discussion
    • Usually read aloud or group read

Easy ways to support students in tackling complex text
  1. Get kids passionate about reading! Kids need choice and exposure to many different genres.
  2. Kids need to read more!
  3. We need to develop vocabulary

Some final thoughts as we ended the day:

Close reading is about thinking.
Emphasize oral response before written.
It's best implemented in content areas.
We need more informational texts.
Kids need more discussion!
Anything by Gail Gibbons is great for a close read.

Reading closely with little learners is not going to be easy. But after today's workshop, I feel so much more informed and inspired-- I can't wait to see our little learners reading and analyzing complex text.



Friday, January 24, 2014

Super-Sized Sharing or Why I blog...

A few days ago, I read Branding in Education, a post by Karl Lindgren-Streicher (@LS_Karl) and I couldn't stop thinking about it. Truthfully, when I first read it I thought he was talking about me. Was I guilty of over-sharing? Did I come off as trying to promote myself? Was I flooding twitter feeds and driving people crazy? I hoped not. For three days, I wondered. Then I finally asked him. Was it me?

Even if it wasn't me, Karl's post did make me think-- and he suggested reflecting on these three questions.

  • Who are you blogging for? 
  • Who are you tweeting for?
  • Why are you involved in social media?
Who am I blogging for?

I blog for me. I don't love to write, but I need to write. I used to toss and turn all night thinking about anything and everything. When I write, whether in a blog post, a Google doc, or in my notebook, it gets the stuff out of my head. I sleep so much better since I started writing regularly. There is always stuff flying around in my head- things I worry about, that I wonder about, things that inspire me. I have a 40 minute commute and I often compose blog posts in my mind on the drive home. Most are never posted. My post about #FallCUE was drafted on the drive home from Napa- all in my head, and it ended up being featured on the CUE blog! I read somewhere that blogging is like writing out loud. In my notebook, no one ever hears it. On my blog, someone could. I love that possibility. I also love reading other blogs and my posts are often inspired by other bloggers. And so I write- when I'm inspired. Luckily for me, I'm inspired a lot- by my colleagues, by our students, by books, and by my PLN on Twitter.

Who am I tweeting for?

I tweet to share and connect. Lots of my tweets are sharing blog posts that I find, or resources, or great books to read. Sometimes I am asking a question, or helping to find an answer. Sometimes I find a cool tech tip that I think people might like. Sometimes I'm introducing someone to Twitter or sharing a post for a new blogger. I also love being involved with CUE and the Area 3 Writing Project so I share conferences that are coming up--sometimes I'm a presenter, sometimes not. CUE Rockstar Napa is coming up and I'm excited about that. I share things like that on Twitter because those events are filled with fun and learning -- we can never have too much of that! I also tweet to connect with others- classrooms, teachers, administrators, authors, artists and more. I found Twitter because of Donalyn Miller, the author of The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild. From her, my world expanded to readers, writers, teachers and more. And my Amazon bill has exploded with all of the book recommendations--from Twitter. I have never read so many books in my life! The better question may be "If you aren't on Twitter, why not?"

Why are you involved in social media?

I think that I've answered this question mostly above. But I do have one rule: post positive. Whether it's Facebook or Twitter, I always keep it positive. I still think snarky Facebook posts in my head but whatever goes online is positive. (Well, except for that one rant about cleaning!)

I love social media because it connects me with brilliant people and ideas. Some things out there don't inspire me, in which case I can always block or unfollow. I want to write about what I know about and what I care about and I want others to do that, too. I'm thrilled to see so many new bloggers out there! Writing, regardless of format, is a good thing! I'll try not to tweet too much, or over-share. I like David Theriault's @davidtedu logic here:

Thanks, Karl, for the opportunity to think, reflect, and share.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

What a trip! A Visit to John Swett Elementary #teamkid

It was a beautiful day for a visit !
I'm not really a morning person, but I was actually looking forward to my 4:30 am alarm this morning! I have been excited to visit John Swett Elementary in Martinez and meet principal Adam Welcome in person! I'd been following Adam on Twitter for awhile, and then in December I happened to see his school featured in a Mind/Shift article about finding creative ways to bring music into any school. That day, I contacted Adam to schedule a visit to check out his music program. I later discovered that writing and technology are also in full effect at John Swett, so I invited Joe Wood to join me! (You can read Joe's post "Living #teamkid" here)
TK Writers

I have a dream...
Adam had described some of the awesome things happening there via email- kids blogging, Google Apps, 1:1 laptops in 4th and 5th grade, 1:1 iPads in 2nd grade, six iPads in each kindergarten classroom, and writer's workshop. Today we got to see all this and more in action!
Genius hour coming up- Edcamp style!
Genius hour project ideas
When we met Adam, he was busy greeting parents and directing traffic in the parking lot. His energy is contagious- you can feel it throughout the school. He shared that after school, he and another teacher were headed to another school to have a Twitter party -- PD around sharing the power of connecting with other educators on Twitter. Every teacher at Adam's school is on Twitter!
Blogging on Kidblog
Fraction Poster

The students were excited to share the things they were working on. Kids were researching rocks, planning genius hour projects, and writing blog posts. One 4th grade student shared "I like blogging because I can share my ideas with others and they will tell me how to improve. We can agree or disagree." The TK kids were excited to get started on their writing, and we saw kids playing the drums (and their knees and hips) to the beat with their amazing music teacher John Buschiazzo. 
 PVC instruments

There are many things that make this school amazing- Adam described his teachers, a very involved parent group, and fantastic kids. But it's also very clear when you talk to Adam that he's a true instructional leader. He taught a class one day when a class failed to get a substitute. His weekly staff PD "Wired Wednesdays" features sharing of a tech tool in just 15 minutes. He's headed to New York in February to attend the Teacher's College Reading and Writing Project institute, and he regularly connects with other teachers and administrators across the country via Twitter. He knows what's going on in every single classroom- what students are learning and how they're learning it. They even have their own hashtag-- #teamkid. 
Google like a boss!
Wonder Wall

Students in every class greeted him with a wave and "Hi, Mr. Welcome!" It's clear the kids dig their principal! 

I have long been a believer that the best way to learn is to get out there and see what's happening in classrooms and schools. I now have so many new ideas to add to our dream list as we plan for next school year. There are two things that I'm going to start right away: tweeting from each classroom at least one day each week, and making positive phone calls home to families. Adam's teachers give him index cards when kids do something awesome and he makes a phone call home. The wall above his desk is filled with index cards-- each one reflects a phone call home.
Check out these seats!

Wireless headphones in kindergarten
If you have a chance, take a trip to Martinez and check out John Swett Elementary-- where kids and teachers are filled with wonder and everyone is on #teamkid!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Three Simple Rules for Blogging OR How I almost burned my chicken!

Most people I talk with about blogging love the idea of blogging. They love reading other blogs. They usually say they would like to try blogging with their class, or blogging personally. But they are worried, usually about two things...

"I don't know what to blog about." 

"How will I find the time?"

My advice: be kind to yourself. The best time to blog is whenever you get around to it! Personally, I try to blog once a week- that's the goal I set for myself. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. Some weeks I have a lot to say! If setting a goal helps you, fabulous. But don't worry about it. Whether or not you blog is a small thing in the grand scheme of life!

My friend Tracy and I were chatting on Facebook the other day about this topic when she shared that she had a blog but hadn't been writing much lately. "Don't worry about it!" I said. Then, I shared my rules for blogging. They're so simple, but they really cover everything.
  1. Blog when you're inspired.
  2. Size does not matter!
  3. Tweet when you blog.
This tweet inspired this post!
Blog when you're inspired...
Inspiration is everywhere! Blog when you see something, read something, or experience something that you can't wait to share! Here are some things that might help light your fire:
  • Take pictures (they help you remember details and you can add them to your post) A snapshot of student work is a great place to start!
  • Get on Twitter!  Twitter is a Teacher Super Power by Jo-Ann Fox is a great post to read if you're new to Twitter.
  • Read other blogs. You might be inspired by the topic or the format of a blog post you read. If you're inspired by another blog, write about it and include a shout out to the blogger in your post.
  • Blog about books. What have you read lately?
  • Write about anything. Read, Write, Reflect is one of my favorite blogs, and one of the reasons I LOVE it is that Katherine writes about everything- books, her classroom, and even her dog.
  • Write about your day. Seriously! Yesterday I had the craziest day ever. I was so excited to write about it that I almost burned my chicken! (I kept adding minutes to the timer so I could finish my post!)
Size does not matter...
Neither does shape. There are no rules about how long your post should be or what it should look like.
  • Images: Try just a picture with a caption, a short paragraph, or a quote.
  • Video: Our TK teacher made digital videos using Photopeach and added one sentence. Done.
  • Write a poem! It doesn't have to rhyme. I do this from time to time. (That does rhyme!) The thing that matters is that YOU like it. 
  • Make a list-- top ten lists are one idea, or 5 things about... anything. This post is about three rules. It's really a list when you look at it closely.
  • If you have a lot to say, write it. It feels good to get your ideas out, even if no one ever reads them. (Someone usually does.)
Tweet when you blog!
Once you're done with your post, share it on Twitter! People will read your blog, and share it with others. If I didn't tweet out the link to my posts, I think my mom might be the only one to read it! So hop on Twitter and share! While you're there, don't forget to add a hashtag-- #caedchat will reach California educators, or #nerdybookclub will get your post seen by some of the most passionate readers on the planet. There are also grade level hashtags if you are seeking that audience-- #1stchat, #kinderchat and more.

Happy blogging! I can't wait to read your posts!

Friday, January 17, 2014

A crazy day in the life of a principal. In prose.

Crazy picture. Crazy day.  Flickr image credit Moffoys
6:30 am.
On the road, cruising in the carpool lane
for the first time this week.
Suddenly, in the darkness I see
soaring towards me
a giant
Hefty bag filled with
I slow and swerve but it hammers 
my hybrid anyways.
Trash flies everywhere and I keep going.
Later I hear on the radio there was an accident
due to garbage on the freeway.
I was lucky.

On to school, yard duty’s not coming.
No lunch for me.
I am the yard duty.
And the lunch lady, the yogurt opener, the orange peeler for the littles.
The airplane toy fixer.
Except it takes forever to find just the right
Allen wrench.

At the front desk, it’s usually
Not today.
“Can I get a cleanup in room 120?”
I didn’t say that exactly.
Before calling home to mom 
after one poor first grader
loses his lunch.

In the parking lot,
more adventure.
Usually, pick up works like clockwork.
One broken down car in the way gave me
excellent practice
directing traffic.

Today was crazy, in a good way.
I call it a test of the system.
It worked.
We followed the number one rule of life.
Thanks, Joe.

Still smiling. Headed home.
No trash in the roadway, just traffic.
The weekend is here.
Time for a
chilled glass of hooray.