Adventures in a Classroom Library

During the last year, I had a class filled of readers. Any chance they got, they were delved into a novel, picture book, fact book, anything that they could get their hands on. As I watched them riffle through our class library, I became aware that it wasn’t as user-friendly as I had once anticipated. Shelves of books, shoved in tightly, with a basic organizational structure, did not appeal to their reading needs. As a class, we decided to find a new way to organize our books. It was a massive undertaking, days filled with chaos, but their organization process and reasoning of why a book should go in a specific category was fascinating to observe.

After the books were neatly organized into bins, where titles and cover pages could be observed, the access and ability to find such diverse books in our classroom made reading that much more enjoyable. However, after a few weeks, the books became organized again, bins filled with varieties of genres, and I became to feel like we were back at square one.

Upon returning to school this year, and spending much time online seeing how other teachers organized their libraries, labels and stickers seemed to be the best way. I created labels for every bin, with colour-coordinated stickers on each book according to genre. Green stickers for series, pink for fiction, and orange for non-fiction. On each label outside of the bin a sticker was placed with a code so students knew where each book was to be returned. This has eliminated books being placed in the wrong bins.

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I also ensured to have a “lost” bin so students had somewhere to put books if they couldn’t locate the correct place. Additionally, a “hospital” bin was also needed, so we could stay on top of keeping books in good condition.

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I think the biggest change that I made was giving up my personal “teacher” space. I had an L-shaped desk that took up the majority of a corner in my classroom. When I reflected on how much I was actually at my desk throughout a day, which is very limited, I realized I could make better use of the space. I want my classroom to encourage reading, and for students to have a place where they can feel at home and comfortable. I found bean bag chairs on kijiji, and had my handy boyfriend build me a wonderful reading bench.

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Although my classroom space isn’t perfect, seeing my students lounging and reading makes it pretty close!

*Making labels can be a tedious task, and I am more than willing to share mine with anyone. If you would like the file, please comment below or contact me on twitter*

Wild About Reading

As part of our school initiative on literacy this year, we dove into examining the book Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller and Susan Kelley, as it’s purpose is to instil lifelong reading habits in our students. The book is filled with tips, strategies, and stories about the ways in which the goal of lifelong reading can be established. As I read through the chapters, highlighting key points to refer back to, I thought that sharing these points may be valuable to others. They are the ones that stood out for me, and the strategies that I want to implement in my classroom. You may agree, or after reading, you may find ones that I missed. Regardless it’s a starting point, and hopefully a way to inspire you to encourage a love of reading with your students. Enjoy!

Chapter 1:
Kids need to build a stamina to read. When assigning 30 minutes of reading at home, ensure that they know it can be done in chunks, for example, 15 minutes before dinner, 10 minutes after dinner, 5 minutes before bed.
Mini-lesson – Bring a book everywhere for a “reading emergency.” Discuss with students time on the weekend when they were bored (i.e. waiting for a doctor’s appointment), and highlight how these few minutes of time could be used for reading.
Reading Itinerary – Throughout a week have students record where and when they read. “Focusing on reading habits for one week increases their awareness of their own reading behaviors and opens dialogue between readers using their observations as a launching point” (Miller & Kelley, 2014, p. 18-19).
Fake Reading – keep an eye on students who you notice to be fake readers, keep observations of them, have a conference, and try to determine whether it is a habit or a book related problem.

Chapter 2:
Read-alouds are important classroom activities that help build community, expose students to a variety of genres, support developing readers, and demonstrate that reading is an enjoyable activity.
Mini-lesson – Have students bring in their favourite read-aloud to school. Place them in groups, as they reread their favourite book and share the story with others. This helps to build community, and encourage book talks. This could even be applied to a reading buddy activity.
Box Draw – Increases excitement around classroom books, as you place interested students’ names into a draw to “win” the book to read. Be sure to establish rules surrounding these draws (see pages 57-58 for examples).
Checking out classroom library books – use the online organizer Booksource’s Classroom Organizer as a way to keep track of your books and which student is reading what book.

Chapter 3:
See if your principal will allow students, staff, or visitors to share their book recommendations during morning announcements.
Participate in the twitter chat #titletalk to learn information about instructional practices, resources, and suggested books to read.
Mini-lesson – Book Commercials: Have a select student sit in the teacher’s chair, write out the title and author of the book they’ve read, give a brief summary without any spoilers, and describe the kind of reader who would like the book. The teachers asks if any other students have read it, and what they’re impressions were.

Chapter 4:
Students initially need to set reading goals, especially over holidays, in order to ensure that they have a reading plan. Upon return, they can reflect on their goal, whether it was attainable, and to help identify the types of books they enjoy reading.
If students are struggling to finish books, recommend short stories and setting small goals in order to help them achieve success, and build stamina.
Mini-lesson – Have students share their must-read book lists and share why they believe these books are “must-reads.” This information can be shared on a classroom blog, or displayed in the classroom.
An outline of summer reading tips are provided on pages 154-156, and offer suggestions for encouraging reading over the summer break.
There was one point in particular that really spoke to me in this chapter:
“While the Common Core text exemplars collect a list of worthy literature that all students should read, I question the premise that any reading list meets the needs of all readers. Creating a list, anchored in a time or viewpoint driven by one group’s opinion of what literature is meaningful, marginalizes the personal aspect that we bring to what we read” (Miller & Kelley, 2014, p. 160).
I think that this is an incredibly valuable point to bring up around the ideas of a set list for novel studies!

Chapter 5
Encourage students to read from a variety of genres. Although it’s okay that they read fantasy books all of the time, challenging them to read from a new genre can help develop new skills and a new love for books.
Looks for ways to bridge the gap between school and life reading. The authors suggest changing the term “name” on forms/sheets to “reader” or “writer.”
Documenting books students are reading and the general level of those books can be valuable when recommending new books of them to read.
Mini-lesson – Challenge students to read forty books from a variety of genres throughout the school year. “Encouraging students to read what they want while exposing them to high-interest, engaging, quality texts of all kinds fosters their engagement and provides the diverse experiences they need to find texts that will meet their reading interests and needs both today and tomorrow” (Miller & Kelly, 2014, p. 192).

The appendix of the book is filled with chart, graphs, and resources to use to jump start your class to develop habits of reading in the wild.

Is Failing Worth it? A Student’s Perception

Last week during class, I was working through a Rachel’s Challenge lesson with my students that was all about goal setting. We discussed goals they have set in the past, long term and short term goals they might have now, and the things that constitute a good goal. Then I asked them the following question: Do you agree or disagree – it is better to set lower goals than to risk failure by setting higher goals?

As they discussed in groups, I wandered around the classroom listening to what they were saying, their ideas, and I was honestly quite surprised with what I was hearing. I brought the students back for a class-wide discussion and a large majority of the students agreed that setting a lower goal is better than risking failure. It left me to wonder why.

Our discussion revealed that students believe that failing is a bad thing. Failing makes you realize you are not good at something. The words they used to describe failure were all negative. Why do they believe that failing is always something bad? How can we help students to redefine what failure means to them.

As I was baffled trying to put a positive spin on the word, one student shared this: “But if you fail you can learn from it and try again.” This was exactly the point I was trying to make. Failing is an opportunity to rethink and re-examine what happened, and to attempt to try again. It is an opportunity to learn and grow. We need to help our students understand that when you fail, you don’t give up. You reflect, you learn, and you try again. We need to redefine what it means to fail. It is after all a “first attempt at learning.

Coding: The Next Generation

“We live in a world that is changing more rapidly than ever before. Today’s children will face a continual stream of new issues and unexpected challenges in the future. Many things that they learn today will be obsolete tomorrow. To thrive, they must learn to design innovative solutions to the unexpected problems that will undoubtedly arise in their lives. Their success and satisfaction will be based on their ability to think and act creatively. Knowledge alone is not enough: they must learn how to use their knowledge creatively.” Mitch Resnick

When thinking about setting up our students up for success in the future, what kind of skills do you feel they need? A few ideas come to mind: How to problem solve, how to work cooperatively together, how to persevere, and how to think outside of the box. Keeping these ideals in mind, has caused me to reflect upon my own teaching in the last year. Do I provide opportunities for these skills to develop to my classroom?

Through my master’s course, I have been exposed to a lot of the current research in the learning sciences, and am continuing to find ways to challenge my own thinking. If the research says students need opportunities to play and discover, how can I ensure I provide these in my class?

Today, my students participated in the Hour of Code, a global movement designed to introduce students to computer programming and making it possible for all students to learn the basics of coding. I initially showed my students a couple tutorials and then just let them play. What happened next was something I dream of as a teacher. My students were 100% engaged, they collaborated and helped one another out, they shared their skills and taught each other, they problem solved, they persevered, and they were creative! However, the most powerful piece of this lesson was when it ended and the responses I heard:
“This was the best class ever!”
“Oh my gosh, that was so much fun!”
“Ms. Petley, can we please do this again?”

Do you need to know how to code in order for your students to learn? Model learning together. Model problem solving. Let them experiment and teach you. Let them be creative. Let them code!

Helping each other out during the #HourOfCode

Helping each other out during the #HourOfCode

We participated in the #HourOfCode

We participated in the #HourOfCode

References
Resnick, M. (2014). Give p’s a chance: Projects, peers, passion, play. Constructionism and Creativity conference, opening keynote. Vienna.

The Power of Creativity

Yesterday was International Dot Day and my class eagerly participated in the event. We began the morning by reading the story, The Dot, by Peter Reynolds. We discussed what the book meant, and the power of creativity and believing in yourself. Students were then given the opportunity to create their own dots. Using the app DooDoo Lite, students were thoroughly engaged in the work that they were completing. They were all unique and meant something to the individual student. Students then wrote a blog entry about what their dot represented, or what it meant to them, and their responses were incredibly powerful. Here are a couple examples:

Today was international dot day . My dot {shown below} is a meaning of Peace . A world without pain or sorrow nor is anyone unhappy. The world I just described below Is a happy world that my dot resembles. The lines are laughter waves.

Today is International Dot Day! My dot is about happiness. Also It is about the colorfulness in the world. I want people to be inspired by this dot to never think negative but positive. Well that’s all I have to say. Bye- Bye for now!

All too often it is easy to underestimate the power of art and the abilities of students to share their thoughts. I think at times because they are so young, we question whether students can really understand a concept or make it their own. This task proved to me that when students are given the freedom to express themselves and their thoughts, their responses can be more powerful than ever imagined.

If you want to read more of my students responses check out their blogs.

Below is a compiled video of their dot creations for International Dot Day.

Inspiring Student Questioning

Sometimes I forget what the first week of school is like; the endless questions, the establishing of routines, trying to make connections with every student, and the feeling of exhaustion when I leave the building. This week has been all of that and more!

Yesterday I set up my classroom blogs with my students. The energy in the class was booming, questioning were flaring, and excitement was all around. How do I do this? How do I do that? The questions continued, organized chaos was surmounting, but levels of engagement in my students were the highest I had seen all week. This led me to question what is it about blogging that has my students so engaged?

I am not sure what the answer is to that question, but have come up with two ideas or reasons why kids love to blog:
1) They are using technology that they love to use. When we embrace a tool that students have access to outside of the classroom, we show them that we value it. We begin to bridge the walls between the formal and informal learning environment.
2) Students are able to make connections to the real world. The idea that someone on the other side of the globe could be reading what my students were writing had them excited more than ever before. They are eager to share what they know and make connections to others. It makes learning real!

This morning I received an e-mail indicating that I needed to approve a post one students had written. As I read it, I couldn’t help but be proud and excited about her inquisitive question: What are you teaching the world?

If you have a moment of spare time, please click here to respond to her question. I know it would make her day, and inspire further powerful questioning to continue.

Who Knew 9 Year Olds Would Love to Tweet?

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For the past year I have solidly become an addict of twitter to build a professional network, and have experienced first hand the great abilities of it, the connections one can make, and the endless learning that is present. This year I decided to create a twitter account for my class, as a way for my students to share their learning and make learning “real.”

As I took on this endeavor of tweeting for the first time today I was amazed with the level of engagement and excitement in my students and thought I would share a little advice and observations that I saw in my class:

The Process: I opened our class twitter account on the smartboard, gave a quick low-down on what twitter is and our account, and then began to explain how to tweet. For our first tweet, I wanted the students to work together in their groups to collectively figure out how they would decide what to tweet and come up with a precise 140 character phrase. I provided them with this tweet form as a way to organize their thoughts.
It was great to watch them working together, debating the “best” way to say something, erasing their sentence when they realized they missed a word, and observing the general excitement among them.

Once each group had a finalized idea of what they would share, they came up to my class computer and typed out their tweet together. Most of them didn’t know how to make the hashtag (#) symbol, but besides that it was relatively painless. Their faces beamed as they watched in real-time, their tweets appear on the smartboard. It was like they were performing magic!

Where to go from here? My plan from here on is to start small with a “tweet of a day,” which will occur at morning and lunch recess, and the end of the day. I want the students to use their tweets as a way to reflect on the things that they have learned and also to share exciting things that are happening in their school life. I have left the sheets out for the students to use whenever they would like, on their own, with a partner, or in a group.

I initially questioned how to get my students excited about twitter and the idea of tweeting, but as I began talking to them about it, it became apparent to me that I didn’t need to at all. Kids love using technology! They love to teach their parents about it, love using the tools their older siblings use, and love things that are current in society. Why not allow the classroom to be the platform where all these tools can come to life and students can experience learning in a whole new way?

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