Thursday, July 31, 2014

Our Favorite 5th Grade Books

Happy Thursday, friends! Today marks the last week of our Reading in the Wild summer book study. If you are just joining us and missed the other chapters, click below to join in!

This week we are zooming-in on Miller's final chapter - Chapter 5: Wild Reader's Show Preference  Our hosts are Sabrina at Burke's Special Kids and Courtney at Ramona Recommends at, so make sure to stop by and say, 'Hi!'
In Chapter 5 Miller talks about the different reading preferences students may have. Today I wanted to share with you the reading preferences of my students last year. If you're looking for place your first Scholastic Order of the year (they open back up tomorrow - wooohoo!), you should definitely consider picking some of these books up. They come highly recommended by 90 Kentucky 5th graders. :)

After reading Wonder as our class read-aloud, we spent a lot of time reading and talking about bullying. Many times we discussed it in reference to our class motto - "Words Have Power". These were some of our favorite books about bullying. The best powerful? Definitely, Wonder. For a graphic novel approach to friendship/bullying, check out Tommysaurus Rex!

Probably our most-read books were war books. 5th graders, boys and girls, love war...absolutely love it. If I place a war book in front of one of my boys, they'll either (1) fight over it (2) read in 2-3 days and ask for another one. Don't believe be? We have three entire book bins about war, and they stay empty most of the time. 

At the beginning of the year, my graphic novel collection was nonexistent, as in I did not own 1 graphic novel. From making inferences, identifying text features, noting the development of characters, and identifying theme within a text - graphic novels are a great way for students to integrate skills that you've previously taught or are currently learning about. Additionally, graphic novels aren't overwhelming for students, especially students who battle with reading. In the words of one of my sweet and lows, "Well, they're the best kind of book, Ms. W. More pictures and fewer words." While I would not choose to read a graphic novel, for many of my students, I could 'hook' them with a particular genre or practice a skill they were struggling with using these visual texts. In the Spring, we had a Donors Choose project funded that added all of these books in our classroom library! My kids were SO excited to be spoiled by so many generous strangers. :)
My lowest 5th grade friends really enjoyed the Sports Illustrated graphic novels I picked up. They were written on a 2nd-3rd grade level, but were action-packed. Plus, the outside covers of the novels looked very cool (i.e. they were okay to carry around), and a student could easily finish them in a day or two. Although my kids did LOVE these, within 2-3 readers, many of the pages fell out. :( So, great books, but poor purchase at your own risk.
Well, friends, this week is packed with trainings and room prep, so this week's post was short-and-sweet. So, please tell me, what do you students love reading?  I would love to know what books you can never keep on the shelf! If you're a blogger, I'd love for you to link up your posts/ideas. If you're not a blogger, that's great, too! You can read/follow and comment. We want to hear your advice, thoughts, and ideas for the classroom, too. The more teachers we have joining, the more amazing our classrooms will be this fall! Thank y'all for a wonderful six weeks. You rock!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Classroom Photos

Happy Wednesday, friends! Today was Day 3 of training and PDs, and the children arrive next Wednesday - eeekk.I thought I would share some snapshots of how the room is looking. I'll be back sometime next weeks to share the final product! :) 

Two weeks ago, my books bins arrived from Really Good Stuff (I was able to use a coupon, so they were a steal!), and I love them!
Using craft Glue Dots I attached simple number labels that I made. Under each number I did include the number written in Spanish. My school has no language program (say what?!), so I'm trying to be very intentional about integrating at least little bits of Spanish into our day.
The only thing worse than organizing 5th grade books by genre?!? Leveling you own that your 1st graders might read. Ohmygoodness! Plus, I have used 3-4 different levelers/apps and I still haven't found some books. Thankfully, I do not have as many primary books as I do intermediate!
Inside each book cover I placed these color-code labels (A-P). Thank goodness for Mama Bears who help you clean out book bins and level books! Each label has the guided reading level, the grade level, and the Lexile Level. With my kids I will use guided reading level, but our STAR and progress monitoring tests use Lexile and ZPD we (the 1st grade team) wanted to use all three. 

I am loving these job circles by Going Strong in 2nd Grade. They're absolutely adorable and she was so fast in adding a few jobs that I needed. Everyone in our class will have a job each month, and on the 1st of each month we'll apply for new jobs. :)
Seeing my classroom for the first time, I was shocked and SO excited to see a classroom rug was provided! Plus, it's a large rug with individual rectangles for every student. It's perfect for in class read-alouds and mini-lessons in front of the Smart Board! I also wanted a little carpet for the library area, but wanted it to match everything in the room. So, I opted for exercise mats, and I LOVE them. They are super easy to clean (just wipe them or take them up and hose them off), they can be arranged in any pattern I want. They are offered in all kinds of colors, and they were much more affordable than a carpet! #score 
I love displaying student work in the classroom, and really missed having a home for work last year. Although I do not have space to house a full-class display inside my room, I did add 8 squares above the mailboxes. They'll be perfect for showcasing work from small groups and work that only a few students completed! Of course, I'll still have a full-class display in the hallway, but I love having a less formal/more "just-for-us" display inside the room. :)
Also, our word wall is up (even after this tragic fall), and I cannot wait to receive my class list. My kids' names will be the first words on our word wall. :) You can check out how the word wall went up here.
Kagan cooperative learning will be a huge part of of our classroom, so I am prepping our cooperative learning desk labels. These labels are an easy reminder for students of their number, letter, and table!
Next up - There is a lot of furniture in my new classroom, so I've had to get creative in arranging to maximizie the amount of space students have to move around and learn. One of my favorite moves was placing cabinets back-to-back, and covering them with black butcher paper. This area will be perfect for word work, a sorting center, or anything with magnetic numbers/letters!
With no storage space in our school, going desk-less wasn't an option this year. I'm in the process of turning my desk into a writing center. I'll definitely have more pictures as it progresses, but right now, I'm loving these Work on Writing posters by Kristen Smith at A Day in First Grade. I printed them two-to-a-page, and they are perfect reminders!
Well, friends, that's it for now! I'm hoping to finish up by Friday afternoon, so I can take Saturday as an 'off day' before Open House on Sunday. I cannot wait to meet my sweet first graders; they are going to be wonderful! :)

Sunday, July 27, 2014

My Year in 5th Grade

In April 2013, I interviewed for my first teaching position. Student teaching in 1st, I *knew* that I would be a primary teacher. Primary Land was for me. Hands down. No other option.

The morning after the interview, the principal sat me down and offered me a 5th grade. As a first-year teacher, I accepted the position because quite frankly, it was a job. In reality, I was devastated. It was easily 6 weeks (around the end of June) before I could think about 5th grade without crying. Friends, I completely understand this sounds ridiculous and dramatic, but I'm an extreme planner...almost obsessively. I really don't love surprises, and I really do like straight lines. So, this 5th grade curve ball, was devastating.

I stayed this distraught until mid-June, transitioned to ambivalent until August, became hopeful after the 3rd week of school, and was swept-off-of-my-feet in mid-September. 5th grade was made for me. As someone who loves to learn, my desire to learn was satisfied. My inner traveler was fulfilled as I introduced kids to countries and cities they had no idea even existed. The word-nerd in me could rap with the best of P Diddy and Jay Z (maybe I'm taking liberties here). This was it. 5th grade was my home - a place where I could be the best me. It was a place of amazing growth and learning. My biggest lessons this year -

  • Relationships are important to me. Friends, this is honestly, my biggest take-away from this year. I've always enjoyed having a few close friends and being friendly with many others. Honestly, though, before this year, I would have been very comfortable teaching in my own little world, by myself. I never really though I needed people before. Naive? Yes. Ignorant? Yes. Prideful? Probably. But, it's true. I find being around people exhausting. If you met me in person, you'd never know, because when I'm "On" it's game time. Rarely have I so intentionally invested in a group of people, in the way I interacted with Jill, Kelly, and Dianne - the 5th grade team. This group of women allowed me to be all-the-way me and so willingly accepted my quirks. They taught me to laugh at myself and they taught me to be more flexible than I ever wanted. And, they taught me to be fun. They pushed me down the halls in a rollie chair, they fake-punched me (requiring me to fall on the gym floor) during an assembly, they dressed me as a minion, they taught me all about free-pie Wednesday. They taught me when I try something that is spontaneous and outside of my 'box', I can be fun. This year was amazing because of these women. It wasn't the learning or the administration or the books, it was Jill, Dianne, and Kelly who loved me, invested in me, and showed me how important people are.
  • 5th graders are still little, but they want to be big so badly. I loved my kids. Loved them. But, they are not big yet, and they shouldn't be treated like they are. When kids turn'big' there is a feeling like they need to be taught 'hard lessons' and 'learn the hard way' and 'shutdown quickly.' If we consider them little, we are willing to give second chances, willing to take time to explain, and willing to say 'You're right, and I was wrong. I'm sorry.'  How do I know 5th graders are still little? Their hearts can be crushed by us [teachers] in a single call-out, in a single hallway-conversation, in a single note home. We should keep our 5th graders little. It's better for all of our hearts.
  • An excitement for learning can be orchestrated. When you give me a costume or a microphone (i.e. Expo marker) or an auctioneer's voice or a tall chair, I can convince any 5th grader to read any book and be excited about it. Easy peasy. Done. I've got you've covered. 5th graders want to see that you're absolutely, ridiculously excited. When you've done this, you've won their hearts. Remember, their hearts are still crush-able or mold-able or win-able.
  • 5th graders smell, and giving the "Your bodies are changing" talk does nothing. Nothing. Also, around mid-October 5th grade teachers become immune to the smell only to be reminded of it by teachers who do not teach 5th grade. 
  • The testing pressure is real. Student teaching in primary, I had no idea. None. It may be different in different schools (and goodness, I hope so), but the pressure to perform on standardized state tests is significant. It negatively impacts our classrooms, our teachers, and our students. Words such as "On the test in May..." "On KPREP...." "When you take KPREP" came out of my mouth this year, friends, and I felt like a traitor. I felt as if everything I taught before these moments was void. It made makes me feel gross and frustrated and I want to see the alternative. Accountability is necessary, absolute necessary...but it's can't be like this. 
  • 5th grade is a really interesting social experiment  and teachers are privy to observe it. There may never be another place where so much awkwardness, odor, desire to fit-in, and curiosity exists. From this social experiment, 5th grade teachers have the best stories, the best sayings, and the most reasons to laugh. 

After I stopped crying and fell in love with met my 90 kids, 5th grade was phenomenal. It was a challenge (please note - challenges are my favorite!). It was exhausting. Many days, it was beyond frustrating. Ultimately, this year was both satisfying and fun - two things I never expected or even wanted to say about 5th grade. And one day, I would love to return.

Early in June I had the opportunity to interview for a classroom at my dream school (outside of the Ron Clark Academy) - a brand new (only 2 years old),  Light-House school with a young and energetic staff, fantastic leaders, and in my hometown. Signing my contact Friday, I'm comfortable saying that I'll be moving to 1st grade for the 2014-2015 school year.

If there is something I learned this year, it is that change can be phenomenal and it is the best learning tool. I promise I have shed zero tears this year, and I am truly thrilled. Without a doubt, I will dearly miss 5th grade. I'll miss the content, the sassy-ness of the kids, their smell desire to be big...but I am happy for 1st in this moment.

It is going to be wonderful. I am at a school where every teacher I've met has said to me, "You are going to love it here." What a statement! Friends, I'm so excited. I feel like I'm a first-year teacher again and am terrified, but this time, I already know it will be great. There will be a learning curve and some failed ventures, but 1st is going to make for a joyful, loving, and happy 2nd year.

For my friends in Intermediate Land, I'd love for you to stay tuned-in for my adventures. I still have several more intermediate resources in-the-works and several lessons I'd love to share throughout the year. Plus, tech tricks transcend all grades, right? Primary friends - get ready! It's going to be a whirlwind of a year, and I cannot wait to share my 1st year in 1st with you. :)

So, here is to learning and challenges and positve change

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Reading Response Letters & On Demand Writing

Hi, friends! With training in my new district starting Monday, I've been spending a lot of time at Panera polishing the resources I used throughout the year to get them ready to share with you! Today I wanted to share my most recent resources and give you the opportunity to win them for your classroom! To learn more about these resources, click on the links or pictures below. :)

Teaching fifth grade for the first time, I began implementing reading response letters (replacing book reports) and I was completely overwhelmed by the amazing results! Writing back and forth, I formed a special ‘reading bond’ with my students. From these letters, I knew their likes, dislikes, struggles, and tendencies as readers. I was able to recommend certain books for them, help them identify their ‘just-right’ book level, and I could encourage them to think more deeply about the text they were reading. This resource is my favorite resource yet, and includes all the materials and tips you need to implement reading response letters in your classroom.
Teaching writing to 90 5th graders, my teaching cohorts and I were desperate for a more equitable and faster way to assess student writing. Students wrote at least one On-Demand piece a week and the grading was killing us. These rubrics were developed to facilitate the feedback process, as well as allow students to see exactly where their piece needed tweaking and where their writing was spot-on. A companion to my On Demand Writing Prompts resource, these rubrics are standards-based and Common Core aligned for 5th grade.
Rather than introducing or creating ‘class rules’, these "We Believe" statements are ideals my class holds about our classroom, our work together, and the world. Short, sweet, and easy to remember, these phrases have tremendous power. Within the first few weeks of school, we discuss (as a class) the implications of these statements asking “How will my actions reflect these beliefs?” This neon set was made upon request of some sweet followers based on my original set that uses a white background (saving ink) and non-neon colors.
Assigning students table numbers, as well as, a partner letter (A or B) is an easy management tool. These editable desk labels allow for simple material distribution, an easy partnering tool, as well as, an effortless way to call on groups of students. I've included premade labels show in the 8 colors below, as well as, editable labels to meet the needs of your class!
All of these resources have been classroom-tested, tweaked, and approved! I'm so excited to share them with you and your students. I'd love to give you a chance to snag the resources that would work best for your classroom. Pin any of the resources shown above (from the links I've given you in the Rafflecopter) for a chance to snag them. I'll choose and announce 4 friends on Monday! :)

For right now, have a wonderful evening! I'll see you all tomorrow for some BIG news.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

5th Grade Reading Logs & Book Series (Wild Readers Make Plans)

Happy Thursday, friends! Today marks the second-to-last week of our Reading in the Wild summer book study. If you are just joining us and missed the first week (Wild Readers Dedicate Time to Read), second week (Creating a Workshop Schedule that Works for You), third week (Building an Excitement for Reading), 4th week (Curating a Classroom Library), or 5th week (Conferring: What's the Point?) make sure to check them out!

This week's hosts are Deb at Crafting Connections and Kim at Finding Joy in 6th. They are the sweetest ladies, so make sure to stop by and say, 'Hi!'
In Chapter 5, Miller focuses on the steps readers take to plan and organize their reading. Many times students have never done this, so we (as the adults) must model and guide students through this process. Modeling after Miller, our school accepts the 40 book challenge for Intermediate Students. At first  students are positive that it is not possible. One of my 5th graders actually told me, "I've never finished A book. I can't finish 40." In reality, the number 40 matters a whole lot less than the goal. Some of my students never made it to 40 books (66 of my 90 met their 40-book goal), but they did read 26 books, 30 books, 35 books in a single school year. They were so proud of themselves, and so was I. They set goals, they tracked their progress, and they made tremendous strides towards becoming life-long readers. As students finished books, they would record them on this Reading Log, along with a rating out of 5 stars. 
When conferring with students, we would often pull out this log, check their progress, and talk about any books they had finished since the last time we met. After Winter Break, we had a more formal reflection period as an entire class. Students took the time to look at the reading logs and complete this reflection form. They graphed their reading for the fall, set goals for the Spring, and told their classmates about their favorite read so far. We discussed how we've grown as readers, our favorite books, things that have surprised us about reading, and general observations. It was really neat to see how the kids' perception of a ‘reader’ has evolved. The entire conversation was so encouraging. 

Switching gears within this chapter, Miller also asks the question, "How can students' reading experiences, interests, and goals lead them to the next book, and then the next? How can unmotivated readers develop reading plans than build momentum and increase engagement?" She goes on to discuss that books in a series are a powerful tool for building "readers" in the classroom, and I completely agree! In my classroom, our Book Series shelves (see below) were the most visited. With books in a series, students are more confident because they are familiar with the characters, as well as the writer's style. While there may be many surprises within the plot, there is more predictability and safety for students. Plus, it is motivating for students to finish a book because they know another fabulous one awaits!
As you can see, we housed a lot of series and, many times, several copies of a series. My classroom library was the only library my 90 5th graders saw, so a single set of Diary of a Wimpy Kid or I Survived wouldn't cut it. Thankfully, Scholastic offers series for awesome prices and you can snag them with bonus points! Below are some of our favorite series from the year. The Lightning Thief and A Boy at War were more popular at the beginning of the year, while Alex Rider and The 39 Clues caught on in March-ish. My girls were loving The Secret Series and my struggling readers found a 'just-right' series in A Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Dork Diaries. As you start to build your libraries this year, I would definitely encourage you to check theses series out. They offer a great way to 'hook' students and naturally allow students to have a reading plan. Plus, series books are great for building a community of readers!
So, friends, how do your students make plans for their reading? How do you check-in throughout the year? I would love to hear about what works for you and your classroom! If you're a blogger, I'd love for you to link up your posts/ideas. If you're not a blogger, that's great, too! You can read/follow and comment. We want to hear your advice, thoughts, and ideas for the classroom, too. The more teachers we have joining, the more amazing our classrooms will be this fall! Next week, we will be reading Chapter 5: Wild Readers Show Preference.