Monday, September 01, 2014

Homework Assignment

One of my homework assignments for my Intermediate Literacy class is to share about a book that  made an impact on my life. My first go to book idea was To Kill A Mockingbird. I am sure that this book is a common choice for many since it is such a powerful story. My second thought went to a book from my childhood, What Do I Do? 

I have been a reader for as long as I can remember. I don't know when I started reading but I can't remember a time when I didn't read. My mom is a big reader and books, like breathing air,  have always been a core necessity to my existence. What Do I Do?  is a simple book about a young girl, probably a kindergartener. It is a bilingual book so the story is told both in English and in Spanish. I am pretty sure that this was the first bilingual book I owned.  The story goes through a day in Consuelo's life. The story isn't compelling, there is no great plot twist or moral to be taught. The reason I loved the book as a kid was because the main character, Consuelo, looked like me. She was brown like me, she had dark hair like me, her family spoke Spanish, like me, and she did things just like I did. I saw myself in Consuelo. Even though I read and enjoyed everything I could get my hands on, this book was extra special. Here, in this book, was a girl that I could identify with. Sure, there were some differences. Consuelo lived in a big city and her grandparents lived with her. I understood that though because I understood that as a normal occurrence in my Latino culture. It just didn't happen to be the case in my family. Somewhere, as the years went by, and amongst our many moves, I lost this book.

Jumping forward to my first year teaching in public school, the same year that Sabi was born, I took my students to the library for our weekly visit to hear a story and then check out books. As the librarian read a story to the kids, I scanned the shelves that I was sitting by and happened to see this same book, What Do I Do?, on the shelves. I had the biggest physical and emotional response to seeing the book. I was flooded with excitement and memories of reading the book as a kid. I remember feeling so warm and happy inside and I wanted to call my mom RIGHT AWAY to tell her about the book. I checked out the book and took it home to share with my mom and Sabi. I then spent the next two weeks trying to track the book down online because I had to have a copy of my own. I found one and I now have a special place for it on my bookshelf.

Why is this book so important? It is important because Consuelo was a character that I could identify with. When I was growing up, there weren't many stories I could see myself or my family in. Owning and reading this book reminded me that my family was important and just as special as any other family. As an educator, I try to expose all kinds of literature to my students for the same reason. Today, we are so lucky to have a vast array of multi-cultural books available to kids as well as books that address the subject of different types of families and lifestyles.

How about you? What book made an impact on your life?

Saturday, August 09, 2014

FREE Book Site!

We Give Books is a free site with free children's books and lesson plans. So far the books are available for kids up to age 10. Once you have registered, (free) you can access any of the available books on your e-device. The site has links to individual book lesson plans as well as literacy skill specific ideas, for grades k-12. 

The site, I believe is a non-profit site. For each book read online, real books are donated to charities for kids to enjoy in person.

It looks good and it is FREE! 

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Close Reading Lesson

Today I had such a fun time with a lesson that I have to blog about it.

I have played with Close Reading throughout the year. My students have worked on making annotations while reading the text and then how to discuss what their annotations mean. We have also worked on answering text-dependent questions. That is about the extent of my close reading instruction with the class.

Earlier this week, I found a CR resource on Teachers Pay Teachers that looked interesting.  Since I have been treating my classroom like a Common Core exploration lab this year, I decided to try out one of the passages and accompanying review sheets.  I looked over the materials last night to prepare. I also emailed my Reading Guru, Cathe M., to share the resource and to see what her thoughts were. We both thought that the materials looked beautiful. However, Cathe confirmed my thought that the text might too easy for second grade. Also, the resource is set up to use one passage for 4-5 days, with different a different focus for each day. In my mind, it seemed too easy to spread out over a few days. I decided to try it in one day and see what happens.

The Lesson:

The Reading
I started the CR lesson with a review the purpose of a CR. After that, I passed out the text and asked the students to read and annotate the text independently.  This took about 10 minutes.  I read the passage to them for the second read and allowed them to continue making annotations while listening to me. For the third read, we read together as a class. I paused after each sentence to ask if anyone had made any annotations. As usual, I did have to help this process out at the beginning. The first sentence has the word frequent in it. I wasn't sure if most students knew this word so I asked if anyone made a mark by the word.
No one responded.  I then asked what the word meant and no one responded.  Then, I asked "who wants to know what frequent means" and most raised their hands. I reminded them that if they don't know a word to make a note of it so they can look it up in a dictionary or discuss as a class. After that, the rest of the text was easy to discuss. Many students found vocabulary links and content connections to a water cycle unit we did in ELD a few months ago.

Text Dependent Questions
This particular resource has a related page with text dependent questions.  I had the students work in groups of 4 to discuss the questions, to find the answer to the question in the text, and then to write the answer in a complete sentence on the page. This worked out FAR better than I expected. The kids all did their part and they held each other accountable. Phrases I heard were "but WHERE did you find that in the text?", "does that really answer the question?", "we have to add the telling part of the sentence, not just the doing part", and my personal favorite, "That is YOUR opinion. What did the text say? That is what Ms.V wants!"  This simple little activity was a great team opportunity for discussion.

The resource also includes a page related to the text to write a reflection of the passage. Prior to asking the kids to write though, I had them turn over their text and write: If rain never fell from the sky... I then gave them one minute to list as many reflections to that idea as they could think of. After the minute was up, I gave them 5 minutes to share their ideas with their team.

I told them they could add to their lists, if they wanted to. Then came the independent writing. No one groaned and they were all eager to respond. Why? I think it was because they had so much time to discuss and reflect as a class and with their groups.  Everyone had the background information necessary for the assignment. As far as content goes, all the students did well with that part of the summary. Mechanics and grammar were a bit more challenging for some kids.

This lesson gave me far more than I anticipated I would get from it. Yes, the text was on the easy side. I think that the ease of the text though helped move along the discourse. I had far more student discussions with this passage than I have had with others this year. This lesson helped me see the value in using an easier level of text. I wouldn't use it all the time, but I will consider it for lessons where I want the students to have lots of discussion. The writing portion of the lesson was my favorite part. I loved seeing the students so confident at working on this task. The kids knew they had everything they needed in their tool belts to do the job. They seemed proud of their work as they handed it in.

Sunday, September 16, 2012


I have spent the better part of today and some of yesterday working on lesson plans and creating lessons for the Promethean Board to use with my students this coming week.  All of this is done willingly on my part.  I want to be well prepared for my students.  I want to provide good, first instruction for them.  As I was correcting tests this weekend, I was rewarded with pleasant surprises.  The majority of my students are really mastering what is being taught.  My second graders can write!  They are at such a good place now that I can probably go further with them than I can with most classes that I have had.  I even had some funny free response answers on the science test.

This evening, I opened Facebook to see the news of Chicago's Teacher Union Strike.  Now, it seems, that Emanuel is threatening to take legal action.  I made the mistake of reading the comments section. They were just awful, hateful and uninformed.  Once again, teachers are being bashed publicly by people who have no idea as to what happens in the classroom and in the school system.  According to these people, we teachers are lazy, should be damn thankful that we even have a job, don't really work that much, have it easy, etc.  I wonder how many of these commenters work outside of their regular job hours without pay?  How many of them have to run a classroom on little or no supplies, and might have to even (gasp) buy their own materials?  How many of them have to deal with children who are drug babies, work with children (families) in major crisis?  How many of these people are responsible for ensuring a year's growth at grade level regardless of entrance level, language proficiency, learning handicaps, physical handicaps, and more.  How many of these people are evaluated on a weekly, monthly basis, as teachers are?  How many have more work piled on them when their pay is being cut due to budgets?  I could go on and on....

This week I overheard an interesting argument with regard to basing teacher pay on test scores.  Someone asked if we should start basing doctor pay on patient status.  How many doctors can ensure that their patients won't be overweight, diabetic, etc?  Doctors are in control over very little of what their patients do with their lives when they leave their offices.  Teachers have very little control on outside factors as well.

 If I were to get 20 English only students all from stable homes of literate families that were all performing at grade level, I could move them all to at least the next grade level by the end of the year.  If I don't, I am doing something wrong.  (By the way, I am lucky because I only have 20.  Most teachers these days are at 30)  My class roster has never looked like that though.  I usually have at least 75% English learners across the spectrum in language proficiency.  At least 3 or 4 have some kind of learning handicap which has most likely not yet been identified so I have to struggle with the system to get them in for help.  All of the students in my class are living in poverty but a handful are in serious poverty.  Then there are the drug families, the gang families, the kids that move around from school to school due work or legal status, etc. It is tough. I work hard for each of these kids though and I do my best to get them all up a year in growth from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.

I guess I could go to an easier school, one on the "good" part of town.  That would be a bit easier.  I would still have to deal with the sometimes tough district demands but I would have students that were, for the most part, at grade level and without as many issues.  I choose however to stay at my school.  I choose the needy kids.  These are the kids that need a lot of attention.  These are the kids, and families, that are, for the most part, so very thankful for any kind of help or little treat I might give them.  This is the place where I can feel like I make a difference, even if it doesn't always show up on a state test score.

So...back to the strike in Chicago.  I will need to remember to not let the comments from those against the strike get me down.  I stand with the teachers in Chicago.  Good luck to them.  Good luck to all of us teachers who are facing our own battles, even if we are not on the front lines, as our brothers and sisters in Chicago are.  Si se puede!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Spirit and Change

I never really felt like I fit in when I was in high school.  I remember having friends, going to football games, etc but I don't remember feeling excited to be in high school.

My 14 year old started high school last month.  I worried for her.  I worried that she would go through the same teenage adjustments I went through.  The first two weeks were challenging, but now, she seems to really enjoy herself.

Yesterday afternoon i got a fast and furious text from the girl asking me if she could hang out with some girls and make spirit tutus for the rally on Friday.  My first thought was "tutus?"  This from a girl who hates to wear girly stuff?  My second thought was anything to make her feel like she fits in.  So, after $30 of sparkly tulle and other necessary items were purchased, I took her to hang out with the girls.  She had a blast.  Today, she was nervous to go to school in her spirit gear so she brought it along to change in to , just in case the other kids didn't wear theirs.  As we pulled up to school we saw lots of spirit!

This evening, she has a friend over spending the night.  For the first hour or so that I was home, the only thing I heard around the house was fight songs.  The girls were dancing and singing and still full of spirit from the school rally.  I took the girls on a quick trip to the grocery store where they continued their cheers and dances.  It was a hoot!

I am so glad that my daughter has found her way.  I am so glad that she is confident, happy and well adjusted.  I am glad that she is not the quiet, unsure, worried mouse that I was in high school.

I am a happy mom.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Prayer in School

Every morning I like to visually check in with each of my 20 students. I can get so busy with teaching, paperwork and whatever else I need to attend to that sometimes, I may not get to check in with each child. It is really important to check in with each kid. Doing this allows me to get to know each child a bit more and it alerts me to problems/issues I may need to address concerning that child. (vision, home problems, test anxiety, etc.)

Today was the first day of state testing. Before the kids took the test today I passed out "brain food" and let the kids talk with their neighbors and relax a bit. As they ate and chatted, I scanned the room to check in with them. As most of my students were laughing, talking and comparing snacks, one of my boys was in a quiet trance staring at his hands. I was curious as to what he was looking at in his hands. This student performs very high on all academic tasks and I wondered if he had written a list of things he wanted to make sure to remember for the test.

I walked up behind him and I saw that he had three tiny cards in his hands. They were prayer cards. One was a prayer for the day. Another was a prayer for school. The third card, the one he was intently reading was a prayer for students. I watched the student until he looked as if he was done with his prayer (he was reading silently) and then I talked to him about it. He told me that his parents gave them to him and he wanted to make sure that he prayed before the test.
The student then put the cards away in his backpack, opened up his snack and joined the rest of the group in conversation and pre-test giggles.

This scenario from my classroom made me think of the people who are fighting for prayer to be a mandated part of the school day. One of their biggest arguments is that prayer has been taken away from the children. I say prayer has always been in school and will continue for those who choose to do it. My student proved this today. He felt the need to pray, he did so without disturbing anyone else, he didn't ask anyone to join him and then he went on about his business.

I am not one to pray in public. Truth be told, I am not really one to pray in private either. What I saw my student do today though touched me deeply. I thought it was a very sweet thing to do, it was very meaningful to my student and I knew it set him off on the right foot for his test and for the day.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Random Notes on a Roster

Been a long time since I have blogged....sigh...Facebook has taken over my internet life!

School starts on Tuesday. Right now I should be setting up my classroom. Instead, I am studying my class roster. I can learn a great many things from this simple list. I classify the notes into good news, possibly challenging news and "hmm". Here are some of those things:

Good news:
1) I have 20 students. This is great because i will start out with a full class. If I am lucky, I will keep the same 20 throughout the year.

2) 9 girls, 11 boys. Pretty even.

3) 18 out of my 20 are 7 or 8 yrs old. WOO HOO! 2 are still 6. What a difference it makes to have kids start second grade at 7 yrs. I am already exhaling. YES!

4) Only one of my students has a "behavior record."

5) 4 of my new students are siblings of former students. I think I have held them all as babies when they were born. How many teachers can say that about their students? How cool is that? I love working at a school for a long period of time. You get to know the familes, form relationships with them and watch the children grow and flourish. Very, very rewarding!

Possible Challenges:
1) 13 English Learners. 7 of those at the intermediate level, 4 at beginning or early intermediate and one ad early advanced. a little bit of a spread but for the most part close together in english proficiency. This year i have 7 English Only kids. This is the largest group I have ever had. They are the biggest challenge. Despite the fact that they are labeled English Only, you can never assume that they are truly proficient in English. These kids are usually the ones who are low readers or are really English Learners but their parents have not identified them as such, so legally, they don't get the specialized services.

2) One student has a chronic lice problem. Aside from the health issues, lice problems = attendance problems. I will have to handle that right away. Educate the parents.

3) One of my students has a behavior record. LOTS of hitting and kicking and toilet flooding. I will have to take care of that one RIGHT AWAY!

1) I have a Sabina in my class. She will probably be my first and last Sabina ever!

I think this will be a good year. Three cheers for the 2009/2010 school year!