Blackout Poetry

I hoard books.  I have a problem.  I know I do.  Getting rid of books is very difficult for me.  You just never know if you will have a reader who needs THAT book!  So for me, it is always a struggle.  This year, I have been very lucky.  I have  received many brand spanking new books for my classroom library. I finally felt better getting rid of some of the old, worn out books and/or the books that were never read.  I set up an area in my classroom called retired books and my students could just take as many as they wanted.  I got rid of many of my books, but there were still many left.  What should I do?

Going with my theme of trying to make the end of the year as good as the beginning, I decided to give them to the students to do Blackout Poetry.  In blackout poetry, a reader skims any page.  Students are looking for words that stick out for them.  They then try to find words that go with that word to form a poem.  The rest of the words are then blacked out.

I gave a brief explanation from and showed them a few examples on google. Then set them off!

The pictures below were created in no more than 15 minutes (all the time we had).  If students create more tomorrow, I will post another blog.

In this example, the student highlighted the words and then made a base and part of a diamond to go with his poem.



This child was not completed yet, but you can see how her poem is turning out!


Students loved this activity and actually asked to take it out to it at recess!  Success!

Mystery Skype

After three years of begging asking, I was finally granted Skype capability in my classroom.  I could finally talk to classrooms around the world. I was allowed entry into the club of teachers who have their classrooms talk to each oxSWMapTAyR_1408329962664ther.  How cool is that?!  A Skype is one thing, but a Mystery Skype takes it to a whole new level.  In a Mystery Skype, you take turns with another class asking yes/no questions as you try to figure out where they are.  There was a whole lot of preparation on our end. Students had to learn geography.  They had to understand states, oceans, time zones and regions to name a few.  Then, my students had to learn to listen, really listen.  They had to use what the other class was saying; mark their maps and think about the most logical question to ask. That took hard work on both of our parts.

Here is an example of how a Skype will go:

Us: Are you East of the Mississippi River? Yes (They, they would cross out all of the states to the west of the Mississippi)

Then it would be the next class turn.

Us: Are you in the Northeast Region of the US? No (they would then cross out all of the states in the Northeast)

Questions would continue until only a few states were left.  Then normally one of the questions was do you border ________?  That would help narrow it down even more.  Then a student would ask if they are from the state of _________.

I think you get the hang of it.  We have done over a dozen of these and we have been able to see classes all across the United States, including Hawaii and Alaska (where the internet kept cutting in and out and class size was 9).  We have also Skyped a classroom in Quebec and my daughter on her trip to Spain.  We followed a Mystery Skype by the website GoNoodle in Germany.

My students have grown in so many ways through this.  They now have a better understanding of the state of Connecticut (where we live).  They know the oceans, Mississippi River, Great Lakes, Canada, Mexico and time zones.  They are getting an understanding of what state is where.  They have learned that kids are just kids no matter where they are in the United States.  We have marveled at some classes and their questioning and listening skills.  What I am most proud of is that they are learning to listen.  Really listen.  They are able to take what they hear, record that information and ask an intelligent question to obtain the answer.  That has been just priceless.

A Boy Called Bat

I have often said that the middle grade books are amazing.  I taught third grade about 18ish years ago and I really don’t remember middle grade books being as fabulous as they are now. I even recommend middle grade books to adults.  One of my friends, a retired teacher, comes in and does book clubs because the books are THAT GOOD!

The book that captured my heart this weekend was A Boy Called Bat.  I am madly and totally in love with the main character, the adorable Bixby Alexander Taylor (Bat). While as an adult reader, I realize he is on the autism spectrum, the book never says that he is.  It talks about him having a hard time with loud noises, needing order and attending a different school. I love that! I love the way Elana Arnold crafted her words to show us about autism without labeling it. Kids don’t need to label other kids.  They just need to read books where not everyone is the same, because in the classroom everyone is different.

There is just so much to this book. I need to read it again!  Bat lives with his mom and sister.  His parents are divorced.  His mom, a veterinarian rescues a baby skunk.  Bat decides that he should be the one to raise it.  I was reading it on a car ride with my husband and I told him (a non educator) all about it.  When I saw Kelsey, I told her as well! I met someone who by chance had a son on the spectrum and I told her. This book has me still thinking about it days after I have put it down.  I couldn’t wait to tell my class about it today. It is that good!

There is exciting news as well.  A tweet from the author Elana Arnold reveal that there are two more books in the works with Bat in them.  I can totally see this book having its own bucket in my library! This book is definitely worth a read or two from you!

There is a bit of money…

I love money.  I love, love money. I have never had a lot of it, but I just love it.  Like most teachers, most of money goes right back into my classroom.  (Don’t tell my husband) My absolute favorite words to hear from any administrator is, “there is a little bit of money…”  I don’t ever even hear the last part.  I am already spending money in my head.  I don’t care how much; the money will be full..and to the last penny.

Today we were told that we could get books for our library.  Even just thinking about that makes me happy!  90% of my library is mine. I personally own it. 30 years of scrounging, book orders, book fairs, book drives, begging, stealing, Christmas gifts, end of the year gifts, more of my own money I care to admit etc. I am very proud of my library.  It is big!  It is well organized.  The students love it.  However, I will never say it is complete.  EVER.  You can never have too many books.  Each year brings a different crop of students, with different interest.  I lose books, students don’t return them, they break.  I ALWAYS need new books.  Also new books add a renewed sense of energy to the library. So to hear there is money, I have already spent it. It took less than an hour.

About two months ago, I applied for a grant for diverse books; mostly series.  Hoping that I get that grant, today, I spent money on graphic novels.  What are graphic novels you non educators want to know?  These delicious, amazing fabulous nuggets of literature turn nonreaders into readgraphicnovelers.  They settle students with attention problems and captive even the most reluctant student.  What are they?  They are the 2017 version of a comic book.  Archie and the gang.  Remember them?  I do! I remember spending my whole $2 allowance to buy them.  I would want until we had to go on a long car ride and I would buy them.  Then to my dismay, it would take me all of 20 minutes to read one.  UGH!

Today’s graphic novels are pure genius.  Complex story lines and detailed illustrations are the perfect recipe for captivating young minds. Most of my students have read every single one of the graphic
novels in my class.  I have about 2 or 3 buckets of them. Truth be told, graphic novels disappear (and don’t return) quicker than any other book category in my library.  Students follow Baby Mouse as she goes on her sassy adventures.  In Smile, they empathize
with Raina as she gets braces.  In Roller Girl, they learn about the sport of roller derby and what it means to never give up and always try your hardest.  El Deafo follows the life of a hearing impaired girl as she deals with a hearing aid.  The list goes on and on.

As a teacher, I am so thankful for the incredible authors that write graphic novels for the middle grade years.  When students hit third grade, they all feel like they should be in chapter books.  It is almost like thick books are a status symbol to them.  While they love picture books, they don’t tend to read them during independent reading time. (again, I wonder..status symbol?)  However, readers of all levels flock to the graphic novels.  While vocabulary and comprehension may be complex, the illustrations scaffold the skills to help promote understanding.  These high interest books have created many readers in my classroom.  They are the first place I will look when a student says, “Can you help me find a book?”  If you haven’t looked at a comic book graphic novel lately, I suggest you try some out.

Oh, and that money, spent..all of it.  I will turn it tomorrow so the order can be processed.  After all, I have readers waiting!



When the day turns around..

A funny thing is happening to me.  There are moments in the day when I think, I should blog about this.  It is very interesting to me because I have heard for years, that teachers should blog and I didn’t get it.  Who has time for that? But, I am realizing that this blog is making me even more reflective and think even harder about my school day. I am grateful for that.

Yesterday I woke up crabby.  I was carrying a frustration from the day before and the night didn’t allow me to shake it off.  So, I barked at my husband, got into the car, and left.  I am sure he was happy to get rid of me! I had to change my attitude quick because this is parent conference week.  With yesterday’s frustration still lingering in my head, students started coming in.  One arrived with a bowl full of fish eggs!  How can anyone be upset when there are fish eggs in the classroom?  Oh and the students, they were so excited!  So, we are growing fish eggs! Or at least she thinks they are fish eggs! Let’s see what happens. Stay tuned..I feel another blog coming! 🙂

The second thing was my very dear friend, a retired teacher, has been coming in and holding book clubs with students.  She taught many of them in grade one.  She visited one day and the students gave her a reading list and told her to come back to talk to them.  She did! Today’s book was the Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart and about 10 students participated. There is really something special about a retired teacher who left loving her job coming in to talk with students.  I walked in and out of the book club (as I still had other students) and boy I felt so lucky. Here is a very talented teacher who has the gift of time. What a treat to watch her work.  What an experience for my students.

The last thing that happened was completely unexpected and brought tears to my eyes.  We had a fire drill and while we were outside, I saw another friend (who I haven’t seen in a few years). I went over to say hi and she said I came to see you! I have a surprise for you. When she came into my classroom, I was reading aloud (Wish, by Barbara O’Connor – great book) and she exclaims, “You are doing just the right activity.” She then proceeds to unwrap the most gorgeous bookworm I have ever seen.   My students were in awe!  It is beautiful, don’t you think! The fact that I haven’t seen her and she took her time to make it for me touched me so deeply in my heart.

So, I was frustrated when I started out the day on Thursday.  By the end of the day, my heart was full.  Little moments are what keep teachers coming back day after day.  When I got my first job my dad said to me, “Teaching and coaching are the greatest jobs in the world. It is all the other stuff that will kill.”  That was 29 years ago and I still hear his voice saying that.  This blog is helping me to focus on the little positive moments in my day. Thank you so much for reading.  You are all making me a better teacher!

When the students become the teacher

So for the past couple of weeks, I have been having those hmmmm… moments.  Those are the ones when youyoda are caught between being really proud of your students or being upset with them. Let me explain. Last week we were all on Kidblog writing blogs about March Book Madness books and I noticed that several students were gathered together holding up books in front of their chrome books.  I didn’t pay much mind to it.  We have “student teachers” in our class that help others with technology. I thought that is what they were doing, so I just went about helping another student.  These kids didn’t know how to log on to the computer at the beginning of the year, so I wasn’t worried.  Sometimes, I am so stupid trusting. A little time goes by and I decided I need to check it out.  Turns out I created monsters tech savvy computer geniuses.  On Kidblog, there is a header.  You can change the header but because of our firewall protection, the students couldn’t get the clip art they wanted off of the internet.  So, they saw the button that said take a picture.  They figured out that they had a camera on their Chrome book and they were taking pictures of the book for their headers.  They assured me that they were not taking their face, only fingers holding the book.  hmmmm..honestly didn’t know how to react.

Another time, March Book Madness again, I was approached twice in one day by different students (at different times) who wanted to read books with a partner.  That’s great, right?!  Well, they wanted to skip up to the part their partner was on.  They both told me that it would be okay because their partner would fill them in on what they missed. Hmmm… we actually discussed that as a class.

What happened tod1280px-Venn0001.svgay, just made me proud and think wow.  Remember students did not know how to log onto Chrome books until this year.  They had little knowledge of Google docs in September and I taught them Google slides. Today a student told me that in Google Slides (a program like Powerpoint), she tried to make a Venn Diagram.  (see pic; a Venn Diagram is an organizer that compares and contrasts)  She told me that she used the shape button but the circles were not coming out well, so she went and copied and pasted a Venn Diagram like the one below.  She tried writing on it but because it was a picture, she couldn’t so she decided to use text boxes to put the words on the diagram! What?!  She did this all on her own.

A couple years back someone said we need to teach students for jobs not created yet. That it is not always about the knowledge. I believe that things that make me go hmmmmmm fit into that category!

Kelsey – It truly amazes how smart these kids are.

But on another note, it amazes me what incredible things Mom does in her classroom. March Book Madness, Google Slides, Chrome Books, Blog posts, etc, etc. With the right instruction (and the right teacher), the things kids can do is unstoppable. I would love to have my classroom be like that in the future, full of hands-on collaborative learning and beneficial use of technology. Just makes me grateful again to be able to be her daughter and visit whenever I want. 🙂

Kathy:  That is incredibly sweet, thank you!  Love you!