Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!!

Wishing all of you a very Merry Christmas and much
LOVE, PEACE, and JOY in the New Year!!

(hoping you have a bigger smile on your face than Archie does!)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Watch & Learn

One of my favorite old movies is Rear Window.  Jimmy Stewart's character is immobilized with a broken leg and takes up looking out his apartment window at the neighbors.  Not in a creepy way.  He just happens to put together enough clues to solve a murder.  In our society it is not considered polite to stare!  But let's think about watching others in regards to our teaching.

We are all certainly well aware of the teaching strategy of modeling for our students.  Most of us, especially the VISUALLY oriented learners learn by watching!
When was the last time you watched another master teacher at work?
I'm going to another school soon with a group of teachers to view a master teacher in our district.
I have no doubt we will see and learn things that we will all want to try-out in our own classrooms.  Are you in a rut?  When was the last time you tried something totally new?
I bet you will find your principal would be more than willing to free up some time for you to visit another teacher's classroom either in your own or another school.
Something to consider.

Now quit looking at me.  I've got things to do....

Monday, November 29, 2010

It's That Season!

May I just say that I highly recommend Germany & Austria during the holidays!
Just returned from a whirlwind week of travel, and yet feel ready to tackle these
last few weeks before Christmas.  Here's  hoping you do as well!  It seems to be the time for
reflecting, setting goals, and appreciating the simple joys of family and home.
Keep in mind the gift of what you do for a living.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Bathed in Oral Language

At a recent training I appreciated the statement that we should be,  "Bathing our students in oral language."  In order for our students to write something great, they need to HEAR something great!  We must remember to give our students the tools to practice their craft.  This should involve reading high quality literature with students; modeling the writing process for them; and allowing time for oral processing through conversation.

And now,  Off to sharpen my pencils!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Fasten Your Seat Belts!!!

Nearly a MONTH between posts is simply NOT acceptable Miss McCrary!  Since no one is talking TO ME, I'll talk to myself!  Is anyone else hanging on by their well-manicured TOENAILS???  Between trainings, testings, parent conferences, grades, meetings, and is your PLANNING coming?  That's the part that I feel suffers when I'm flying by the seat of my pants.  You too?  I'm working on getting hold of my time management.  My new mantra is ONE DAY AT A TIME.  Take a deep breath.  What must you accomplish TODAY?

I've gotta go breathe now.  And blow my nose.  Then sleep.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Warm Up Your Writers

How do you get your students' creative writing juices flowing?

In the classroom, my most common problem is students who are UNWILLING to write.  These students have a variety of reasons not to want to write.  They might be afraid to share, afraid to make mistakes, or have simply convinced themselves that they have nothing much to say.

So, of course, the writing teacher's job is to navigate a way around these challenges.  We need to provide a nurturing environment that allows students the freedom to create.  We need to help students tap-in to all of the stories and experiences they've had, and write about them.  For some, we might even have to help students build experiences to write about.

In the early days, before I get so deep into encouraging students to generate their own topics, I try to free up their WILL TO WRITE by giving them some irresistable topics to write about.  I always start with this old favorite:

In a very animated way, I suggest...."What would you do if it started raining while we were at school? And it kept raining and raining all day.  More rain than you've EVER seen before.  Buckets of rain.  So much rain in fact, that the principal comes on the intercom and tells everyone to evacuate the building.  The problem is the water has risen to the top of the building.  So your teacher has to break out the window with a chair and everyone tries to swim out.  The top of the school building is the only place you can actually stand and not be under water."  Then I start asking, "What would you do?  Can you swim?  Would you try to help others who can't swim?  Would you find a flotation device in the classroom?  Would you build a boat on the roof top and go looking for your house?" And on and on it goes.

By now,  hands are WAVING wildly because their imaginations have been tapped.  So I acknowledge that they are dying to tell, but they are to WRITE their response.  I tell them to allow all of those ideas to just flow from their mind and travel straight down the arm, into their hand, and come out through their pencil!  I think the wilder the story, the more fun and outrageous, the better the chance to get buy-in.  Tailor it for your specific age group.  Other fun ideas include designing an amusement park ride, designing a video game, getting out of a terrifying situation, what to do with a million dollars, etc...

Try it!  See what kind of results you get.
I've gotta go it's beginning to rain!  Yikes!!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Educating In A Multicultural Society

An interesting blurb I found on another site.  Something to think about?

As technology continues to shrink our world, teachers must realize that they are educating students as citizens of not only a multicultural society, but a multicultural world. In fact, if we students, as future leaders, are to transform our world, then teachers have to teach for social change.
Sometimes, it seems that individuals would rather associate multiculturalism with songs, dances, foods, and other "safe" symbols than situate the word within the context of unequal power relations.
Do we have the confidence to let students teach themselves and the intuition to identify and capitalize on learning moments in the classroom when students can learn from each other? Teachers need to create spaces in which teachers and students can exchange ideas candidly. I have learned most from my interactions with my teachers and other students--and I have learned least from one-way transmissions of "knowledge." Passive learning is ineffective and short-term.

Are your students ACTIVE learners?

It's getting late...will go ponder this thought before bed...

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Talk Talk Talk and more Talk

I love to talk!  If you are a teacher it's highly likely that YOU like to talk!  But don't forget to let the students in your classroom TALK!  It is essential that the students have the opportunity to communicate  orally.  Arrange meaningful conversation opportunities.  If your students are English Language Learners
this is doubly important.

Take a look at this piece of an article I found regarding ELL learners:

"Language involves four skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing. Oral skill is learned through listening and imitating. Then by repeated practice and exposure one learns to speak one’s language.
Usually children are able to express emotions, feelings, intentions and reactions very easily in their mother tongue. They are unable to do the same in English language. They have little practice in English. Controlled and guided activities are not provided to the learners.
The children will be able to develop oral skills in English by practicing the wide range of skills mentioned below.
1. Class room English
2. Telling Stories ( Story Telling)
3. Creating situations for dialogue
4. Language games & activities
5. Use of language in social gatherings
6. Conducting Interviews &
7. Telephonic Conversation."

Don't forget about your ELPS flip chart (Texas teachers).  It is full of ideas!
I have things to do now, please come back sometime soon!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Anchor Lessons - Anchor Learning

Well, it's that time of year.  Your lessons at the start of the school year are probably centering around the anchoring of key reading skills.

It is important to introduce key reading skills to students right off the bat.  These might include, Main Idea, Author's Purpose, Inferencing, Drawing Conclusions, & Summary, among others.  

Ideally,  most students will come to you with some previous experience with these topics.  It's important to reinforce these skills and provide visuals that will help readers throughout the year by giving them something to which they can refer as the year and lessons progress. 

Here are some samples from actual reading and writing teachers' walls.  Maybe you can grab an idea or two:

Excuse me while I go make a poster.  Good day!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Is Teaching an Art or Science?

My creative nature impels me to see teaching as an art.  Though some might disagree and take a more scientific approach to teaching.  Have you tried analyzing test scores lately?  That is a fairly mathematical exercise.  Of course like anything else in life, there is certainly a blend of both schools of thought in education.  Even an artist will readily share, I'm sure, all of the technical aspects of their craft including perspective, dimension, and on goes the list.

Have you read, "Mosaic of Thought," by: Ellin Oliver Keene and Susan Zimmermann?

In the book's epilogue, a teacher is compared to a sculptor.  The following statement is made in regards to "Teachers we admire."

"They are not carpenters but sculptors.  They are after the mystery implicit in the stone.  They guide their students on a search for the mystery and ponder with them as 'troubling human confusions' are revealed.

These teachers create the environment and provide the tools students need to read deeply and thoughtfully, so they can contemplate ideas alone and with others, and write persuasively about what they read.  They are teachers who embrace the wide range of responses their students give to the same text, and challenge the students to read books they believe they cannot.  They relish every day with children and recall why they went into teaching in the first place.  They are teachers who know that what matters most is the joy of learning."

Something to think about?

Must go plan for Monday now...See ya.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Lots To Think About

This was my mind before I attended an excellent training for educational facilitators today:

This is my mind following the training:

Teaching is truly a never-ending learning experience.

It's Friday.  Time to play.

Have you ever played with Wordles?

Go play!
(link on side bar)

Can you imagine how many ways you could use these
as a teacher?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

"Today you are you,
That is truer than true.
There is no one alive who is youer than you."
-Dr. Seuss

Go out there and put ALL of YOURSELF into your teaching!
Let your students know that they've hit the JACKPOT getting
YOU for a teacher!
(Thanks for sharing Meg! No doubt YOUR students have struck gold!)

Difficult Text

Those of us in the business of teaching reading are commonly faced with struggling readers.  This is nothing new.  We have a absolute myriad of strategies that we offer to help these literary wanna-be's (at least we hope they wanna be)!  But when was the last time YOU struggled to understand text?  Personally, I've felt like a fairly competent reader for a very long time.  Sure, sometimes I get off- track and have to re-read passages.  Sometimes a word must be looked up in the dictionary.  I LOVE Dickens, so that old-English alone has its own set of challenges. But this past summer my reading skills got a workout, when I decided to read, "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo."  I didn't know much about it before reading it, but I did know that it was a national best seller with 2 follow-up novels and movies in the works, etc...  I also (disclaimer...disclaimer...!) am not even suggesting you read it.  It had some rough parts that some would certainly not enjoy (I'll leave it at that).  But my point is this...(finally)...I had to read and re-read and look back and look back some more.  It took me a very long time (100 pages?  more?) to get into it.  At times I SERIOUSLY considered putting it down and stopping.  After all how hard should one have to TRY in order to enjoy a book?  But then it happened...I started liking it.  I started REALLY getting curious to find out what was coming next. 

Then, a light went on!  Just like my struggling readers!  It was somewhat painful.  Not so fun, but in the end WORTH IT!  Isn't this the message I'm trying to relay to my reading students?  In the end it's WORTH IT?!  I place a huge amount of value on modeling the behaviors I want to see in my students.  Of course I model the writing process in a variety of ways, but sometimes I just sit down and work alongside them on an assignment.  There is value in knowing what it FEELS like to complete an assigned task.  Perhaps I haven't given them a reasonable amount of time to complete it.  Maybe it's too easy.  My point is...struggling with this book, gave me such great EMPATHY for what my struggling readers are feeling.  I felt it was such a great accidental gift.  Another way for me to connect with and relate to my students.  Of course I will be sharing my struggles with them! 

I loved it when a teacher friend to whom I had recommended the book reported the same struggles and wanted to ditch the book in the worst way.  But she too, STAYED THE COURSE, finished it and ended up LOVING it!  Gotta run now...picking up 5th graders and taking them to lunch!  Ta Ta!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Vocabulary Journal

The teaching of new vocabulary is SO important and can be overwhelming.  SO MANY WORDS, and SO LITTLE TIME!  No doubt you are using a variety of methods when it comes to introducing new vocabulary.  Have you tried a Word-of-the-Day?  I like to post a word each day that my 4th graders will learn and place in their vocabulary journal.  Of course the days of simply writing definitions are gone.  We all know that this is not the most effective way of learning and "owning" new vocabulary.  So in our vocabulary journals I try to give a variety of tasks that will give students more "experience" with each new word.  They write the word and definition and use it in a sentence.  They come up with synonyms and antonyms for the word.  Next, I have them construct a Verbal Visual Map on which they will, again, write the definition, as well as draw a picture to illustrate the meaning. Finally,  they create a quick visual of a personal experience they've had with the word.  Here's an idea of how it might look:

Another thing I like to do is encourage my students to USE their "new" words in their daily conversations.  I keep a poster on which I tally incidences of students using our daily words in everyday conversation.  Then a popcorn party or other reward is chosen after so many tally marks.

What are YOUR vocabulary teaching strategies?  Please share!

It's Saturday.  I'm taking a nap now.

Collaboration is a Gift

Resist the urge to be the "Lone Ranger" at school.  Planning alone, and working in isolation give you limited perspective.  I completely understand the desire to be left alone more than you know.  It takes some effort to get in and share and receive ideas.  In my early teaching years, back when there was not, at least in my experience,  much in the way of collaboration, I used to consider myself sort of a "free-lance" worker.  My thinking was that I used space in a school building and followed basic district regulations in order to practice my craft. I doubt that many think that way these days. There are so many rewards that come from brainstorming with other teachers.  It's rare that I attend a grade-level team meeting or teacher training without picking up SOMETHING that I want to try.  Is that your experience too?

If you haven't read the book, "Comprehension and Collaboration, Inquiry Circles in Action", by Stephanie Harvey and Harvey Daniels, I highly recommend it. In a chapter about the benefits of collaboration they state, "In well-structured groups, we leverage each other's thinking.  We learn more not just because we all bring different pieces of the puzzle, but because, through talk, we can actually make new and better meaning together.  You may have experienced this, or even sought it out.  When a problem arises, we have an instinct to gather a few trusted people and talk things through, hoping to find the best solution or course of action.  Similarly, in school, when kids think together, their understanding can deepen."

So, if you are not already the King or Queen of collaboration, will you try it? And encourage your students to try it as well?  Once this week?

I've got to go find someone to collaborate with online!  See ya later alligator...

Monday, August 23, 2010

Why Puppets?

My dad has always been good at building just about anything.  It occurred to me a couple years ago that I needed to have something built by my dad that would always bring him to mind, especially since he was
in his late 70's (now 80).  So I came up with a simple plan on paper for a puppet stage.  I've always loved
puppets and toys and knew that somehow, I'd figure out a way to make use of it in my classroom.  So one
summer on a visit with my dad in Tennessee,  we shopped at Home Depot for the makings of a puppet stage! And together we built it.  You'll see a picture below.

So now I'll fast-forward to the puppet part.  I had seen songs, raps and poems written to teach reading and other skills.  So I decided to write puppet scripts that would teach reading skills.  Last year was my first year to try to put these into practice.  I was at a heavily bilingual school, so I had a teacher friend who translated my English scripts into Spanish.  So we were able to perform the shows in both Spanish and English.  I held auditions and chose 3rd, 4th and 5th graders to work the puppets and to serve as host and hostesses.  The kids basically ran the show.  We invited the whole school and they came to our show (which was located in a classroom) one and two classes at a time.  There was music playing that related to our topic as they entered.  Our hostesses seated the classes and began the show.  There was a hostess flipping pages on a flip chart during the show so that "audience members" (students) could read along. Students left with bookmarks and magnets to remember the lesson by.

The skills that I have scripts for so far are:  Text Structure, Main Idea, QAR, and "What Does Real Reading Look Like?"  I plan to add several to this list in the coming year.  Classes could present these shows for themselves, or just sit and read the scripts together using puppets in a less formal way.  I will download the scripts on this site at some point and I will try to make the "Text Structure" show available soon by video link, as it was filmed.

Sorry for the abrupt ending.  Sort of.  It's Monday.  I've got LOTS to do! C ya...

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Why I'm here

After 18 years of teaching, there is so much "teacher information" rolling around in my head that frankly, I'm having trouble keeping it all straight!  I thought a blog would be a perfect place to PLACE IT.  This way all I have to do is click on my desk top and, VOILA, it will serve as my "external brain."  The one IN my head is dwindling at an alarming rate! I plan to share my favorite web sites and videos.  I will also be sharing classroom tips, thoughts on educational philosophies, and some things that are just simply FUNNY to me.  I hope other teachers will join in the conversation, make comments and share their ideas as well.  I will continue this later, I'm going to be late for my, "day before school starts pedicure!"


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Well let's try a first post!