Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Student-Led Conferences-My Favorite Way to Meet with Students AND Parents

The conferencing season is upon us.  Forms have come back signed, students are busy organizing their conference portfolios, and eagerly awaiting the chance to share all they have been doing at school with their parents/guardians. 

This week has been jam-packed with self-reflection, goal setting, and thoughtful work sample collecting.  I LOVE experiencing this with my students at this point in the school year.  We are into a routine and they possess this certain understanding of what it means to be a 6th grader.

We began the week with introducing the student-led conference approach to the students.  The "wait a second, I have to be there and talk the whole time?" hit a few of them like a ton of bricks, but the majority are excited to "experience some uninterrupted teacher/parent attention for 20 whole minutes."  I have to admit-this is my favorite part as well.  Seeing each student have the chance to share their thoughts about the school year so far and discuss goals they have set for themselves is thrilling for me.

I then showed them a video of a student-led conference from about twelve years ago.  My favorite quote from my new favorite student was, "Mrs. Beers, you don't look any different than you did twelve years ago."  You made my year, Jon!  Thanks!  Showing the video gave them the chance to see "exactly what they are in for" as I like to put it. 

From there, students began working on their conference organizer.  The organizer allows them the chance to reflect on their strengths in each subject area, identify work samples they are proud of, discuss their classroom management, and establish goals they hope to accomplish throughout the remainder of the year.  It is a very thorough organizer that encourages great self-reflection.

Lastly, the students write an ice breaker letter that they read at the very beginning of their conference thanking their parent/guardian for coming and explaining what they will be sharing for the remaining time we are conferencing.  Finally, we will be publishing the letters on the laptops.

Before the students sit down with a parent and myself for the actual conference, they will do a peer-share with their 6-minute solution partner, so they have the opportunity to have a trial run.  I have found that this helps with the nerves just a bit. 

Here are a few pics of our preparations...

Students working on ice breaker letters and watching a student-led conference video.

Gwen focusing on the classroom management scetion of her organizer.

Lucas working on his ice breaker letter.

Matt and Destiny organizing their student-led conference folders and making sure everything is complete.

Sample ice breaker letter-a friendly, business letter format.  With the varied levels of my 6th graders,
showing examples of EVERYTHING is essential.

I am anxious to hear how conferences go for you and your students. Keep me posted on any tools and tricks that you utilize in your classroom.  Happy November and Happy Conferencing!

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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Halloween Craft...Googly-Eyed Lollipop Spider

I like to think of myself as a creative/crafty person, but I had a few moments of creative-crafty panic this weekend! 

I signed up for the class craft for my son's Halloween party a few weeks ago.  I am happy to do this as it is not one of the "top" items that parents volunteer for.  Snack, drink, decorations, paper products-gone before many even open each holiday e-vite.  Craft and game could go untaken for days...

As a teacher and mom, I am happy to unleash my creative side and provide this for the class.  The one catch is that I will not be able to attend the party, as I will be with my own students, so I have to send in all pieces/parts bagged and ready with specific directions.  No problem, right?!

So we are headed to pick up our Halloween candy and a few other items we really didn't need this weekend from Walmart, and I remind my son, Brennan that before we head home, we have to stop at Joann Fabrics to grab a craft for his Halloween party on Wednesday.  Of course as my daughter overhears this, we will provide one for her as well.

To Joann's we wonderful it was to walk into Joann's Christmas wonderland with not a Halloween decoration to be found.  Same story at Hobby Lobby!  My son actually looked at me and said, "I really love Christmas, but I would love to just enjoy Halloween before we have to see Christmas decorations."  I hear you buddy!  "Mommy would just like to find a Halloween craft, so I don't drop the ball on your Halloween party!"  All the while thinking that his class may be doing a "Winter Holiday" craft instead.

We headed home and I headed to Pinterest.  God bless this site-the class Halloween craft was found and met with great enthusiasm by my son!  After a trip to Michael's for pipe cleaners and adhesive googly-eyes then Target for lollipops, which both had foam crafts available, here is what we came up with...

Pinterest-inspired Googly-Eyed Lollipop Spider

Testing it out for himself...

Lilah packing the lollipops in the baggies-what a helper!

Ready to go!

Brennan's spider-he is ready to guide the class!
While this is the perfect craft for a 1st grade party, I think my 6th graders might get a kick out of trying it too!  I always like to test their ability to follow directions anyway!  Despite my initial panic-I think I like this better than any packaged item I may have been tempted to buy!  In addition, my quest for class crafts will begin sooner for the holiday party...lesson learned. year, as soon as those Halloween crafts and decorations come out on Memorial Day-we are scooping them up!  Happy crafting!  Now off to tackle those report card comments!

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Friday, October 26, 2012

6th Grade Team Building...Pumpkin Day 2012

Today was our 2nd Annual 6th Grade Pumpkin Day at Sharpsburg Elementary School.  It is a day that we as teachers can't wait to organize and and allow our students to participate in.
My teammates are awesome!  Mr. Ziegler takes on the task of getting all of the pumpkins, planning the math work, and preparing the "spooky" basement for complete darkness.  Mrs. Burns teaches our students cursive and how to write a check in order for students to be able to "purchase" their pumpkins and supplies from the "Sharpsburg Pumpkin Shack."  I take on any task that is needed, but mainly play store attendant of the pumpkin shack and photographer.  We are a TEAM-we do what it takes to plan, organize, and implement.
The students did an AMAZING job today and we couldn't be more proud as their teachers.  They teamed up, completed the math which involved calculating sales tax on all items needed for the carving and finding different percentages of their pumpkins based on its weight, dug the guts out of the pumpkin, decided on how to carve, made a creation, and determined who would be the proud owner of a jack o'lantern.  While math skills and organizational skills were essential, watching the students work so collaboratively was the most fun to watch as their teachers.  
Thanks to the students, staff, and my team for such a fun fall experience. I highly recommend letting your students dip their hands into pumpkin goo and seeing the joy that is a slideshow of our fun!  They don't disappoint...HAPPY FALL and HAPPY HALLOWEEN!
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Monday, October 22, 2012

Tell Me Something Good...

I linked up with Rowdy in First Grade for my FIRST linky party ever.  I love the spirit of this blog and thought I could share many good things going on both at school and at home.  Here are just a few:

At SCHOOL: School is in full swing-students are into their routines, we are reading one of my favorite novels, Hunger Games, and we have a number of exciting 6th grade related things to work on over this next week-from student-led conference portfolios to our 2nd Annual Pumpkin Day that involves all kinds of math related activities that come with the carving of a pumpkin.  I LOVE working with my team and allowing our students to work together.  Here are a few pics of last year's event before, during, and after pumpkins were carved!  I am SO excited for Friday to get here!

The pumpkins awaiting their demise...

Students in the midst of carving after figuring out the cost of supplies and writing checks to purchase their pumpkins.

Proud 6th grade pumpkin carvers.

At HOME: My son was in the hospital a few weeks ago for an infection in his lymph nodes-we had a 4-day stay at Cincinnati Children's Hospital.  I am loving that he is back to perfect health and complete normalcy in his crazy 6-year-old boy playfulness.  He is tackling friends in the front yard, riding his bike as fast as he possible can, and just sweet as can be.  I LOVE that!  Here are some pics of my son, daughter, and husband doing fun fall, pumpkin things:

Brennan with his perfect pumpkin.

My sweet family.

Brennan loving every moment of "snuggling" with a python.  YUCK!!!

I love having the chance to reflect on the great things happening, so I am always grateful when something stops me in my tracks to do just that!  It makes me excited for the days, weeks, and months to come, but also reminds me to take time and just enjoy these great moments as a teacher and a mom.  I can't wait to hear about all of the "Good Things" going on with my blogging friends!  Your turn to link up!  If you don't have a blog, feel free to leave a comment about something good happening at school and something good happening at home. I LOVE GOOD THINGS! 

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Friday, October 19, 2012

Teaching Setting

Setting seems like a concept that is so simple to teach-where and when a story takes place.  The foundation for this learning is established before many kiddos even reach school age-as they are sitting in parents' laps reading stories. 

At my house a favorite setting of my daughter's is the castle where the ball takes place in Cinderella.  It is magical in both book and movie form.  In Dora books there are multiple settings where Dora has to travel through in order to accomplish her set task.  My son is currently loving Magic Treehouse Books that begin in a treehouse in a backyard and with the opening of a book spins and lands in some pretty exciting places-an island with pirates was a favorite of my son.

However, at the 6th grade level it is not just a simple understanding of location and time that students need to be able to identify.  At the 6th grade level students are expected to understand the many different aspects of the setting that impact the characters or plot of the story in various ways-a little more challenging.

Where do I begin teaching about setting? This year we touched on setting in the first weeks when we began reading our first novel.  We took a few notes in our interactive Reader's Notebook as reminders and on we went.  In every fiction text we have read since then, we have discussed where and when the story is taking place.  My students understand what it means, clearly. 

This week setting has been the complete focus of our learning.  TO the next level we go...My students need to be able to "analyze how a particular sentence, chapter, scene, or stanza fits into the overall structure of a text and contributes to the development of the theme, setting, or plot."  This is a common core standard that is complex, but broken down-my students have to be able to explain how aspects of the setting impact the feelings and actions of the characters in a story. No longer do my students simply have to identify the main character of a story-instead they must determine how the main character changed from the beginning of a story to the end based on various events using specific details from the text. 

In addition, we began the novel Hunger Games, so we went to the next level with our understanding of setting.  On the board I had an anchor chart with the meaning of setting.   Here is a pic:

I wanted my students to think about how they feel when they are in their favorite place or "setting."  They drew their favorite place and then shared with me how they felt when they were there.  Here are a few student samples:


The students really got into this and had some thoughtful places they liked to spend their time and reasons why.  I then asked them to visualize a place that they did not like to be and asked them to think about how it made them feel when they were there.  They then shared their places and thoughts.  We talked about how we can almost become different people when we go from our favorite place to a place where we don't like to be.  Just like characters in stories.

We then talked about some of the texts we had read and how this has been true for the characters in those stories as well.  When a character is happy and in a place they LOVE, they are one person, but when the character goes to a place that is stressful or causes them frustration, the character becomes a different individual in thoughts and actions. 

Katniss Everdeen, the narrator and main character, embodies this idea in the novel Hunger Games. Within the first chapter my students were already able to make the connection with their learning this week that when she is in the woods hunting with Gale, she is able to smile and feel free, but when she is home, she is stressed about taking care of her mom and sister and all that goes into running a household.  They are eager to see what happens and how she changes again as she heads to the Capitol-a totally different, stress-filled setting, to participate in the Hunger Games.

While they assess today on the concept-I am confident that their work this week helped them better understand the impact of setting on characters in a story.  May the odds be ever in their favor!

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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Effective Feedback to Establish Learning Goals

Currently I am working to help my students establish both reading and writing goals.  This can be a tricky process for a teacher and a student.  Two questions I have pondered in working to help them establish personal goals are:  1) How can I help my students to establish meaningful learning goals as readers and writers? 2) What information/data can I utilize to help guide them down the path of thoughtful goal setting?

Within the first few weeks of the school year I believe I have compiled enough data on my students to truly know where they are in their learning as a 6th grade student.  I know the level they are reading based on each student's DRA and Oral Fluency Assessment.  I can tell you how many words they can read correctly in a minute based on their DIBELs score.  In addition, after working on multiple writing pieces, I can tell you something that each of my students needs to work on to enhance their writing.  A WHOLE LOT OF DATA-for sure.  I may possess enough paperwork on my 6th graders to burn down a small city!

The tricky part is translating this information to my students and making it meaningful to them, so they are a part of their own growth and learning.  Enter-Effective Feedback! Here are a few of the rubrics that I utilized for evaluating my 6th graders on a narrative end of novel projct.  We will still conference after they have the chance to read my thoughts on their work because I want to hear their evaluation of themselves after they check over what they have completed and turned in.

Olivia has an aversion to punctuation like many of my other 6th graders. Her mind is working so quickly, she just wants to get her ideas down on paper.  I need to help her identify when she has a complete thought, so she can punctuate it and make the reader's job more pleasant.  More thoughtful editing will be another tool, so when she is rushing to get thoughts down, she is able to go back and add correct punctuation to her work.

Barrett is an especially thoughtful writer.  He has no glaring concerns as a writer.  He uses correct punctuation, can incorporate dialogue correctly, and adds tremendous detail.  Does it get any better?! My goal for him is to keep him writing as much as possible and in diverse ways to continue to foster his LOVE of writing so he continues to flourish as a writer. 

Effective feedback moves learning forward and fosters students’ independent thinking by guiding them in the right direction.  Students can answer the question, “Am I on the right path?”  This is exactly what I was shooting for when I was evaluating the work my students put into these end of book projects.  While it will take time, time, and more, time-the end result will be my students possessing the ability to determine where they began and where they want to go in their learning.  It is up to me to then guide them through instruction to get there. 

While it can seem so quick and easy to slap a quick score on a paper, enter it into Progressbook, and pass it back into Thursday folders-of which I am guilty...I am truly working to take the time on those essential responses and written pieces to help my students identify the progress they are making and the path of learning they are heading because that feedback is so essential.

Resource used for this end of book project is a FAVORITE of mine.  It has organizers that help to model steps needed to develop the project and rubrics to assess student work: LOVE! Check it out!

Friday, October 5, 2012

There is ALWAYS something to write about...Sub needed for all 5 days!

While I know this is a teaching blog that mostly focuses on my students and teaching, I also find that I have the opportunity to share the events of my family and life through my own personal writings.  In addition, as I expect my 6th graders to keep Writer's Notebooks, I try to set a good example as a thoughtful writer and I keep mine in the form of a blog.  "There is ALWAYS something to write about" is kind of one mantra I share with my students.  Well here's a doozy...

Last Sunday night we headed to bed with one kid recovering from croup-the barky-coughing-that-sounds-like- your-child-swallowed-a-chiuhuahua-kind-of-cough and one kiddo seemingly recovering from a weekend of battling a stomach bug.  On Monday morning after a trip to the pediatrician-our week went from recovering to a bit CRAZY!

The pediatrician took one look at my son, Brennan, and told us that she needed us to head straight down to the Cincinnati Children's Hospital emergency room for what she believed to be viral meningitis.  As this initial diagnosis hit me, I began to tear up thinking, "This is what school districts send home letters to the parents of students to warn them about cases that have been found in their schools."  Oh dear!  While doing my best to keep my composure, as my son was in the backseat, I called my husband to share the news, "We are headed to the emergency room because the doctor thinks his neck pain is linked to meningitis.  I will call you when I have some news."

The entire drive down I am thinking, "We were just supposed to be going to the doctor to get an antibiotic and then go home and snuggle.  This was not in the plan for today."  The doctor thought that there could be some link to all of our playing outside, linked to mosquito bites, leading to West Nile, which can be an onset of viral meningitis.  Good Lord, I spray my kiddos with bug spray excessively, what have I missed?

The check-in at Children's was a little alarming-the doctor had called to let them know we were sent there, so they were ready for us.  My son was immediately issued a mask to wear over his mouth, and once in the room, everyone in contact with us wore a mask.  A little intimidating for a six-year-old, but he handled it like a champ.  Once in the room he was poked, prodded, and poked and prodded some more.  We were sent to radiology to get x-rays, to get an ultrasound, and finally it was determined six hours later that he did not have viral meningitis, but he had Lymphadenitis, and we would be admitted.

After some research and lots of medical terminology thrown our way-we learned that this is an inflammation of the lymph nodes caused by a bacterial infection.  It is triggered in six to eight-year-olds due to a gap in their throat.  It is treated by antibiotics or worse, surgery.  It causes great pain to the neck as well as limits movement of the neck.  90% of the time it can be treated with antibiotics, but 10% of the time, it will result in surgery to lance any sort of fluid pocket that has formed around the lymph nodes.  I do not think I have ever prayed so hard...

Four days and many doses of fluids and antibiotics later, my son was released from the hospital.  No surgery, just antibiotics for the next 7 days, a few follow-up doctor visits, and lots of rest and snuggle time.  I have always adored my son.  He is thoughtful, smart, funny, witty, clever, kind-hearted, athletic, and a joy to be around, but after this, I view him in a completely different light.  After four days in the hospital he says walking down the hallway, "I am really gonna miss this place.  The nurses are so nice to me."  Cincinnati Children's Hospital is an AMAZING place with amazing people, but I will not be missing it one bit!  He is one resilient kiddo and I am grateful to all that took such great care of him this week!  As a thanks, we have a Halloween bucket of goodies to bring to those superstar 6th Floor nurses.  Liz and Lilly, you were the BEST!

I am grateful for all of the extra snuggle time I got in with my sweet boy this week, which I will cherish, but I am most excited to be back home as a WHOLE family, and will be thrilled that my son gets to go back to school, and personally to walk back into school on Monday morning and return to our "normal life" routine.  What a week!  Special thanks to my Sharpsburg family for the prayers and thoughtful gift cards.  You have no idea how much your happy thoughts and support have meant this week!  Certainly, something to write about...

My brave boy learning to play pool in the activity center at Children's.