Thursday, January 26, 2012

New Books Arrived Today!

My new (to me) math books arrived today. They will complement my current collection of math books nicely. I can't wait to start reading. I still have to wait a little while for Opening Minds by Peter Johnston but it should come soon.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Word Work Wonderings

I wonder a lot. Little things can set off a chain reaction in my mind and then I am wondering and wondering about things that I was taking for granted a few days before. This happened recently to me on the topic of phonics/word work/spelling. I had a conversation about these things with my principal and my teammate. The conversation was a good one and we left feeling like we were on the right track but my wondering had been started and I couldn't let it go without more reflection. Here is where my wonderings took me (well, at least so far - I am sure that I still have a long way to go):

Review of Professional Readings on Phonics
My first step was to go back and reread parts of books that I have on these topics. I skimmed and scanned Word Work by Fountas and Pinnell and Phonics They Use, Month by Month Phonics, and Making Words all by Patricia Cunningham. I checked out the Words Their Way series from my public library and skimmed my way through these, too. I browsed the Stenhouse and Heinemann publishing company websites looking for new books or articles on Phonics. This led me to put one more book on hold at my public library - Phonics, Naturally: Reading and Writing for Real Purposes by Robin Campbell. I am still waiting for that book to come in.

Then I did a search of the Internet and learned about a feature that I had not heard of on Google. It gave me a list "personal results." These were links to articles by people I have some connection to in some way on the Internet. Franki Sibberson came up and she had a blog post about this article on books for phonics instruction. I loved this feature and that I got a little bonus learning about how to use Google along the way.

This morning, Choice Literacy's Newsletter came out and the focus this week was on word learning and spelling. I particularly liked the article on Patterns and Punctuation and the link to the Choice Literacy FaceBook page which is featuring a series of posts on Reflections on Spelling Instruction. They have excerpts from various authors on the topic of spelling and visitors can comment and add their ideas.

Reflecting on My Own Beliefs
After doing all of this reading, I began to think about what I believe about Phonics/Word Work instruction.
  • I believe that phonics instruction is most meaningful when embedded in reading and writing instruction.
  • I believe that it can be difficult to only do embedded phonics when class sizes are so large, and therefore a short Word Work time can help.
  • I believe that students should notice words and think about how they work in using an inquiry approach.
  • I believe that I get so caught up in the excitement of reading and writing that I sometimes neglect to catch those teachable moments that are related to phonics.
  • I believe that I have much more to learn about teaching students how words work.
Examining My Practice
My last step has been to examine what I am actually doing with my students to see if it matches my beliefs. My reading workshop includes a daily focus lesson, an independent reading/conferring time, a time for modified Guided Reading groups and literacy centers. After the reading workshop, I have a short word work lesson and then a very short handwriting lesson. My writing workshop includes a focus lesson, an independent writing/conferring time and at times a brief sharing time.

I notice that I almost never embed a phonics topic during either my reading focus lesson or my writing phonics lesson, but that I do embed it in almost all of the other areas.

When I confer with a student during either reading or writing and a word work issue comes up I almost always address it even if it is very brief. This makes the learning very individualized but also very hit and miss. I also embed word work in my reading groups. A recent example is that one group worked on the "tion" word ending because the word "invention" was in their book. That group went on to find more examples of words with the "tion" ending. My literacy centers have several choices that are ways for students to work with words. There is a pocket chart where they work with word families or do word sorts. There are phonics games on the computers and iPads. There are magnetic letters and board games on phonics topics. These are generally connected in some way to the word work we are doing as a whole class. I also have the students use "personal word walls" during independent writing that are placed on each table. They can find many commonly used words on these cards to help them learn to spell them correctly.

The biggest dose of word work comes during our word work lesson. I use the Fountas and Pinnell Phonics series and Month by Month Phonics as the foundation of the lessons that I do during this time. I will add in lessons on topics that come up in our reading or writing as needed. Currently we are working on looking at different ways to spell each long vowel sound.

A new practice that I am trying this year is looking at various sight words during our handwriting time. At the beginning of the year, we focus solely on letter formation during this time but now we are using this time to examine sight words and writing them using our correct letter formation. We begin by doing a "word talk" about each word and noticing what is unusual about it. For example, we recently looked at the word "one". We talked about how we thought it should be spelled "wun" but isn't. We talk about noticing "what looks right" when writing words. I put the words we work on during this handwriting time on a word wall and ask the students to use this to be sure to spell these words correctly from now on.

After writing this (very long) post, I am wondering if maybe we do too much word work in a day. But I know that this is not true. We do lots of word work in very short bursts throughout our day but spend the bulk of our time reading and writing and loving every minute of it.

    Saturday, January 21, 2012

    Math Workshop ~ Follow Up

    It is way past time to reflect back on how moving to a math workshop is going in my classroom. Overall, I am very happy with how things are going but I have to admit that things are not going exactly how I planned. Isn't that often the case, though?

    I had planned to start slowly and begin meeting with one small group each day towards the end of our Math time but that turned out to be more difficult than I expected. I was always so involved with working with individuals that I lost track of time and didn't have time to meet with my new group. I think I was having trouble changing how I used my time each day. I couldn't break out of my normal math routine. So I had to come up with Plan B.

    Plan B was to do Everyday Math on Monday through Thursday and then spend all of my math time on Fridays meeting with small groups to do Math Exchanges type work. This is going very well. My class and I really look forward to Fridays. We do three rotations during which I meet with 3 different heterogeneous groups of 4 students. My Educational Assistant (who also happens to be a certified teacher - I know- how lucky am I?) also meets with 3 groups during these rotations, too. This means that we are able to meet with almost all of our students every Friday. We rotate through the groups so that we eventually see all of the groups.

    While this is going on, the students not meeting in a group with one of the teachers do other math activities. We have various centers that they can choose from including computers, Everyday Math games and other math games. We have a parent volunteer who comes in and helps manage these centers and answer any questions that might come up. So far it is running very smoothly.

    The best part for all of us is the discussions that we have when meeting in the small groups. The kids just jumped right in and were willing to tackle tough problems together right from the start. One of our most recent problems was:

    Jill has 10 cookies to share with her friends Mary Beth and Dee. How many cookies will each friend get?

    As the first group and I read the problem together, one student immediately started shaking his head saying this won't work. The other students ignored him at first and counted out 10 blocks to begin dividing up the cookies. It didn't take long before the conversation started. They couldn't figure out what to do with the "leftover" cookie. Each group that I met with had the same issue and then had such wonderful discussions to figure out what to do.

    Some groups simply refused to cut the cookie into pieces. They just left that cookie out even when I questioned them and tried to get them to look for other solutions. One student said that cookies just crumble when you cut them so you should just leave that cookie out.

    Another student used the fact that the names I used in the story were teachers from our school. She decided that I should just give the extra cookie to my daughter, Abby.
    One student (the student who was shaking his head when we read the problem) counted out the blocks and saw the leftover cookie and immediately cut it into 3 pieces.

    One group quickly decided that the leftover cookie had to be cut into 3 pieces but had lots of discussion about how to cut it in a "fair" way. They drew lots of variations that they decided weren't fair (or "fare" as they spelled it). Finally someone in the group thought of cutting the cookie like a "peace sign" and they were all satisfied that this would be fair.

    The discussion in our small group times are very lively and the students learn so much. I, too, learn so much about them as mathematicians. Another great thing is that this type of thinking and sharing is spilling into the rest of our math time during other days of the week. This will help as we try to transition to more of a workshop feel every day of the week. Below are some examples of kids thinking about a problem that was trying to determine which number is bigger, 23 or 15 and then they had to determine how much bigger. This student made each number in tally marks to compare them
    and this student counted up from 15:
    The exciting thing is that the students are much more willing to write and draw out their thinking as well as share their ideas with each other. There is still lots of work to do and I want to make all of my days have more of a workshop feel but I have to take it step by step.

    Saturday, January 14, 2012


    I recently took a break from blogging, tweeting and reading blog posts. When I returned to the tech world, I saw a tweet (can't remember who tweeted it now) that finally got me interested in Pinterest because it linked to this Pinterest board:

    iPad Apps in Education
    It was yet another list of iPad apps but this time the visual aspect of it really appealed to me. I have many lists of apps but I never take the time to sort through them and I finally figured out that they just weren’t appealing to me when they were just lists of words. The pictures really piqued my interest.
    Now, I am rather addicted to Pinterest. I use it for both personal and professional reasons.

    My favorite way to use it for school purposes is to create boards of picture books that I use when teaching genre studies in writing. I love being able to see the covers of the books I use. It helps me to remember the book and why I like to use it. The best part, though, is that I have linked to my public library’s page for that book so with just a click or two, I can place the book on hold. No more searching the library site and no more forgetting to use my favorite book when teaching each unit. So far I have created boards for genre studies on pattern books, question and answer books, wordless picture books, personal narrative books and environmental issues books.

    This post was originally written as a comment on Jen Wagner's post about Pinterest and how she uses it for school purposes. Check it out for more ideas for ways to use Pinterest.

    I would to hear how you use Pinterest or if you have any book suggestion to add to my genre study pages. Here is the link to all of my Pinterest boards.