Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Mrs. Kostynick's 1st Grade - 2nd Visit

Mrs. Kostynick sees me peeking in the window, and comes to the door.  "Come on in!" She invites me.  "We're having an exciting day.  We're just getting started on writing some poetry of our own."  I take her up on the invitation and step in.

Mrs. Kostynick shows the kids an example of the special paper they will work with today.  It has an oval in the middle and a whole lot of blank space around the edges.  In the oval, they'll write their topic.  All around the oval, they'll write words and phrases that describe or represent the topic. 

She encourages them to use their senses and to "think like poets".   Once they've filled the page with images and ideas today, tomorrow they'll pull their thinking together into a poem.

"Let's try this together." She suggests, and prompts them to quickly generate ideas and turn them into a poem about their SMARTBOARD.  It is obvious that they've had previous exposure to the wonderful vocabulary of this work, like REPETITION, ACROSTIC, FREE VERSE and SENSES. 

As they brainstorm ideas together, Mrs. K listens to their ideas and provides just enough scaffolding to lift them up when they are close, but not quite hitting the mark.  Every one of these first graders is so excited to contribute, and Mrs. K both helps them stretch their own thinking, and gives them just the right amount of boost to touch what is still slightly out of their grasp.

In little more than 10 minutes, starting from scratch, they've finished composing.  Blake turns to me midway through and says, "We're really good at this.  We write really good poems!"

Our Smartboard
Touch, Touch, Touch
Looks white as snow
Special Pens
Magical Eraser
Work, Work, Work
Play games
Making Patterns
Marking Learning Fun

When it is time to begin their independent work, I am tickled to see that many students are able to pull out a LONG list of possible topics that they have previously generated.  This is not only an incredibly handy and efficient reference, but also a hallmark of a classroom where writing is a routine to count on and plan for!

Thanks for making writing such an absolutely predictable and routine part of your first graders lives, Mrs. Kostynick!

2nd Grade Persuasive Letter Writing Samples

 Below are some samples of 2nd grade Persuasive Letter writing from January and February.  2nd grade students are writing about things around our school that they would like to see changed.  All of the posted samples have the same selected audience - the principal!   Enjoy!

January 21,2011 

Dear Mrs. Yates,

You are a great princpal.  However, stations in the morning are too short because this moring when I got to my locker they said, You may clean up at your stations and walk quietly to class.  Thank you."  So could you make stations longer?

Your Learner,


Dear Mrs. Yates,

We love to slide.  However, we need more slides with tops.  Because we have to stand in line all the time.  It is annoying and wastes recess time!  People might get into fights.  Thanks for your time.


 January 19, 2011 

Dear Mrs. Yates,

Could you think about changing the rule that you have to sit where you are in line for lunch to sit where you want?  So we can sit by our friends and so we can sit by 1st grade because I have a friend in 1st grade that I'd like to sit by.  It's not fair that 3rd and 4th grade get to sit where they want.

Yours Truly,

January 18, 2011

Dear Mrs. Yates,

Can you cahnge the rule at luch time?  Because the kids do not think it is fair to sit in certain spots at lunch time.  And they want to sit by their friends at lunch time. So, can you please change the rule at lunchtime?


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Mrs. Flatau's 1st Grade - 2nd Visit

Mrs. Flatau’s kids are preparing to write their very own HOW TO books.
                                                                           As I enter the room, she is instructing them to “turn and talk” to their neighbor about "three things that you are an expert at doing".  There is clearly LOTS of expertise in the room, because suddenly the room is a buzz with conversation.
As she brings the kids back together, she makes the day’s focus even clearer by sharing her own ideas and asking the kids to help evaluate the quality of them.  “How about FLYING AN AIRPLANE?” 
The kids recognize she knows little about this, and therefore would not be well equipped to write about this topic.   When she asks, “How about MAKING SUPPER?”  her kids agree that she does know a lot about this topic, but she helps them to realize that it might need to be narrowed, since there are SO MANY ways to make supper.  Possibly she could narrow her topic to “How to Make Grilled Chicken” or “How to Make Spaghetti”.   
One student suggests she might be an expert on putting her son to bed, and she agrees, saying that she could actually write a very LONG book on this topic!  The whole class laughs, I think they must share an inside joke on this little glimpse into Mrs. Flatau’s life at home.
Today the job of the students is ONLY to brainstorm topics that they consider themselves to be experts on, and to record them as a list, on some special brainstorming paper. 
When the students get to their tables, they are immediately engaged with the task.  What fun to think about and document all of their various areas of expertise.  They are experts on everything from making peanut butter sandwiches, to jumping off the dock, to riding a skateboard. 
Mrs. Flatau moves comfortably around the room, learning more about their areas of expertise, and helping them to narrow their topics when needed.   If students gets stuck, she uses what she knows about their lives, gently prompting their thinking and moving them forward.
I watch them excitedly scratching out their lists.  What an important process this is, not only in preparation for finding the right topic to write about in future days, but also for helping each child recognize and celebrate how many things they can help others learn to do! 
Stay posted . . . these young writers have LOTS to teach us in their HOW TO books!

Mrs. Anderson's 1st Grade - 2nd Visit

Mrs. Anderson just starts to sing! 
She sings about the writing workshop, and her kids join in as they pack up their previous activities and migrate to the risers.  The lyrics to the song are on the SMART board.  I smile to myself, imagining the influence these powerful words might have on her children as they prepare themselves for the writing time. 

When they are gathered, Mrs. Anderson beams at them.  She has a new poetry book and she is SO excited to share it.  It is written by first graders, just like them, who’ve been working to become poets, too.    
Lately, Mrs. Anderson’s kids have been working on free verse poetry.  To get started, she reminds them, you need a BIG IDEA. . . something that matters to your heart.   She directs their attention to a brightly colored anchor chart with supporting ideas about poetry writing.
Back at the tables during work time one student tells Mrs. Anderson he wants to write about his cat.  When she pushes him to tell more about the cat, he gets very sad, and eventually tears fill his eyes.  His cat is dead now, and he misses the cat.   
Mrs. Anderson, working hard to honor the boy’s feelings and also keep the writing on track, comments on his emotions and tells him that some writers do their best work when they are feeling very sad.  But, you might want to take a walk and try to think of a happier topic, if this one just seems too hard to write about.  After taking a short walk and thinking it over he eventually decides that  he will write about the cat.
I am moved by his decision and by this poignant demonstration of how personal and profound the act of writing can be.  As  I watch this young boy face a strong emotion and look for the words to commit it to paper  I can’t help but reflect on all of the great authors I’ve read in my lifetime.  I realize that has been  their willingness to take risks and their ability to capture life’s emotions, both ups and downs, that makes their writing so enticing.   
Thanks, Mrs. Anderson, for making room for poetry, emotion, risk taking and choice in your writing workshop!   Thanks for encouraging your kids to find topics that “really matter to their hearts”.

1st Grade - Free Verse Poetry - SPORTS (Anderson)

Boom, boom, boom,
Dribble, dribble, shoot,
Stop for a drink
and go back in.

Throw it, pass it,
Catch it, Touchdown!
Stop for a drink
And go back in.

Mrs. Syverson's Kindergarten - 3rd Visit

It is early Monday morning and Mrs. Syverson starts her mini-lesson by checking in with her students about what they accomplished the previous Friday while she was out.  She chooses a few kids to share the “ALL ABOUT” books they have begun.  The topic is penguins, and BOY do these kids know a lot about penguins!
They are using special new paper for their all about books.  It has room for two separate pictures on each page, and supporting text alongside each one.  They are to write a single penguin fact by each box and then draw a picture with details tosupport the fact. 
Mrs. Syverson leaves no doubt that she is excited about what the kids accomplished on Friday when she was gone.  Today, she instructs them, they will need to add more penguin facts to their book.  Several students share ideas for possible facts, and Mrs. Syverson reviews with them the list of ten penguin facts they have previously listed on chart paper.
Bringing the content of their penguin study together with the power of non-fiction writing is a perfect illustration of an integrated curriculum.  Elementary school teachers are constantly at the mercy of time, and forever wondering how to “fit it all in”.  Bringing writing together with the content areas in this way is just plain smart! 
I watch these young writers at work asking themselves the important questions required to create their "ALL ABOUT PENGUINS" books . . .  What have I learned about penguins?  How could I communicate my learning in the form of a written fact?  What details can I add to my drawing to best support the fact I have written?    
Pretty powerful thinking for 5 and 6 year olds, early on Monday morning, wouldn’t you agree?

Miss Elker's Kindergarten - 2nd Visit

Miss Elker’s students are having a special day in writing workshop.  Today they are reviewing the entire selection of all of the narrative pieces they have created.  Then they are to select one piece to “fancy up” and one piece that they would like to share with the class.
I am tickled when I see the large collection of narratives many of the students have created.  They have been prolific little writers, indeed.  A few students appear to be giving great thought as to which of the stories they will share with the class.  But others need to spend only a second on selection, knowing at a glance which of the pieces they wish to share with their peers.
As I move around the room, many students pull me in, drawing my attention to a piece of work they are particularly proud of. . . It is so important for all of us, I think to myself, to remember to take time to reflect; to take time to notice what we could improve on, to make plans for improvement, to recognize the ways we have grown over time, and most importantly to celebrate the things we are proud to have accomplished.
These little ones are so proud of their work – it is a blessing to have the chance to be part of their celebration of good work!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Kindergarten Narrative - 22 1/2" Walleye (Guehna)

I went fishing.
I caught a 22 1/2" walleye.
It was almost time to go home.

"Brianna, it's almost time to go home!" said my dad.

We packed up to go home.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Mrs. Guehna's Kindergarten - 3rd Visit

Mrs. Guehna is conferring with Mason when I arrive.  He has just finished one personal narrative, and is having a hard time coming up with a topic for his next.  This is a dilemma for Mason and his teacher.  Hmmm. . . what to write about next.

As they walk through some possibilities together, suddenly Mrs. Guehna lights up and begins to point at the ceiling.  Mason looks up too, and slowly a smile spreads across his face. He begins to nod in agreement.  Hanging from the ceiling is an amazing paper creation. It is an airplane made from construction paper and tape.  Mrs. Guehna later explains that Mason had made this plane the previous day during playtime - completely on his own.  Obviously it something he is very proud of and a good possibility for a writing topic.

I step closer to examine it and Mrs. Guehna encourages me to take it down.  Mason, who sometimes holds back, comes over immediately and starts to tell me about the plane.  The wheels, he informs me, were the hardest part of all.  I take his picture with the plane, and then he is off to the table where Mrs. Guehna helps him to do some more planning about this new writing project.

At share time, she tells that he already has TWO pages planned for what he can write about the plane. 
Long after I am gone from Mrs. Guehna's classroom, the yellow paper airplane hanging from the classroom ceiling stays with me.  It reminds me of the importance of giving kids room within our curriculum to pursue their own passions and insterests. 

Yellow construction paper and tape . . . 22 cents!  Giving students the time, love and encouragement to find their own ways to take flight . . . PRICELESS! 

Thanks, Mrs. Guehna, for helping Mason take off! 

Mrs. Hausrath's 3rd Grade - 2nd Visit

 It's been awhile since I checked in on Mrs. Hausrath's kids and their research projects.  When I do today, I am so impressed with the progress they are making. 

These third graders have gathered a minimum of three resources and done several pages of webbing to organize the facts and information they've found.  Now, some are taking the information from the webs and organizing it onto notecards to formulate the beginnings of paragraphs for their report.  Others have completed the notecards and are composing the first drafts in their writer's notebooks.

Students across the classroom are all different stages in the process.  Each of them works from a completely unique set of resources. Mrs. Hausrath takes it all in, moving calmly around the room, interacting with individual students, getting them back on track when needed, answering questions, helping to find additional resources. 

There is some quiet conversation between kids, but everything is focused on the work.  These kids are engaged!

When you stand back and watch, there is no doubt . . . learning is happening here.

Mr. Kingsbury's 3rd Grade - 1st Visit

Mr. Kingsbury's asks his kids to get out their "responders" and their is an exicted buzz in the room.  The kids reach into their desks and pull out remote control like objects.  One by one they "check in" on the screen until Mr. Kingsbury can see everyone is accounted for and is ready to roll.

Today's lesson is about writing a strong lead, one that "hooks the reader".  Mr. Kingsbury wants the kids to think about some examples and then evaluate whether they are or are not strong leads.  To do this, he uses examples from books around the room, opening the first page and reading the first sentence.

After each example, the kids are asked to use their responders to register a "yes" or "no" answer as to whether they believe the lead is a strong one, one that makes them want to keep reading, or not.  After every one has responded, the data is displayed on a bar graph.  Some of the leads are obviously strong, some get more mixed response.  Always, Mr. Kingsbury has a few students share their thinking. . . What about the lead made it strong (or not so strong).

Next, it is time to put the responders away and get out their writing projects.  It is time to move from analyzing the leads of others, to writing leads of their own.  It is time to practice "setting the hook".

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Kindergarten Narrative - My Book (Elker)


My Book

By  Gracie Edwards

Today I went to school.
We learned about penguins.

Then we went to the lunch room and we ate nachos and I ate peas and milk and strawberries. 

(Miss Elkers kids are working on adding details to their writing and their illunstrations.  Gracie added lots of detail about what she ate and check out the detailed illustration of kids at the lunch table.)

I went to my sled and it was fun! 
So, I kept on sledding.

Kindergarten Narrative Cover Page - To The Basketball Game (Elker)

To the Basketball Game

By Levi

(Check out the word BASKETBALL and just imagine yourself as a kindergartener "listening for sounds" acrosss the word, left to right!  This is a BIG task and Levi did amazing work!)

(He's just getting going with the story, but I wanted to share the amazing work on the cover page. . . )

Miss Elker's Kindergarten - First Visit

Miss Elker's kindergarten students are taking on an entirely new task today.  They are making covers for their narrative writing.  This is an exciting undertaking for sure!

Miss Elker presents a mini-lesson using a variety of familiar picture books as mentor texts.  She shows them to the students and they talk about the title selection and the other features of the book covers.  There is so much to be learned, I find myself thinking, about just the cover of a book. 

The biggest job is select a title for the writing.  Miss Elker explains that the title of a story is not a big long sentence about the story, it is short, just a few carefully chosen words.  Wow!  This is tricky, I think to myself.  Kindergarteners have had lots of mini-lessons on stretching out their stories by adding details.  Trying to get kindergarteners to expand their writing bit-by-bit is a  huge job.  Now, here comes the title- breaking all the rules and asking just the opposite of them.  

Next comes the really fun part of the cover . . . getting to write that special word BY followed by the student's own first and last name.  This is huge!  This is signing their work like a true author.  Good thing they've been working so hard at learning to spell their last names in the month of January.

At the end of the writing workshop, when all of the new covers have been stapled to the top of the stories they belong to, Miss Elker's students meet on the risers to share their work with one another.  There is much to be celebrated, and everyone hopes today is their day to have the spotlight!  

Shine on young authors, your work is amazing!

Mrs. Barthel's 3rd Grade - 3rd Visit

Mrs. Barthel's class is "into it" when I enter the room today.  They are well into their research projects on animals.  The growing sense of pride and ownership in "their animal" is evident throughout the room.  Everyone is anxious to tell what about the topic of their research.

Students are using  highlighters to mark important facts as they find them. Mrs. Barthel has helped them to construct several pages of blank webs in their writers notebooks.  The webs help provide a well organized structure for recording the important information as they find. 

Mrs. Barthel's students are engaged with topics of their choosing,  doing what Schmoker calls "close reading with highlighter in hand", they are utilizing graphic organizers, and recieving clear feedback from their teacher.  Watching this classroom in action today leaves little room to question why non-fiction writing is such a high yeild strategy for increasing student achievement!  

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Don't you have other things to be doing?

We are having data and collaboration meetings at HOTL this week, so my ability to get into classrooms is much more limited.  I hope to be back soon, though!

Someone asked me last week. . . "How do you have the time to do this, anyway?  Don't you have other things to be doing?"

My answer, "Of course, there's no time for this.  But I really believe it's important so I want to make time!"

This project has become a way for me to give back and pay tribute to the hard work the teachers and students in our building are doing every day.

It gives me a chance to "get in the trenches" with all of the hundreds of other writers in the building.  It forces me to take the same kinds of risks that students and teachers are asked to take every day. It reminds me of how much courage both writing and teaching can take.

I won't be able to devote my evenings to blogging forever.  But for now . . it is a labor of love worth my time and effort.


Do you recognize this little guy, on the left?  


SPACEMAN is a writing helper in the kindergarten classrooms at HOTL.  SPACEMAN is painted on an old fashioned carved clothespin.  He and his friends live in the supply cups and baskets on the tables of the kindergartne classrooms.  The job of SPACEMAN and his friends is to help kids remember to put spaces between their words. 

When placed on a paper at the end of a word, SPACEMAN can help a child figure out just how much space to leave before beginning the next word. 

Thanks for helping to make our writing easier to read, SPACEMAN!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Mr. Christopherson's 3rd Grade - 2nd Visit

Mr. Christopherson’s students are in the early stages of their research papers on animals.  They have chosen the animal they will research, and today he has been helping them understand and think about a variety of types of sources they might use for their projects.

Now, the time has come to create the WEB they will use to organize their thinking while they do their research.  He gives everyone a large, bright orange piece of paper, stressing the important role this web will play throughout the entire research project, and cautioning that they will want to take care to store it in a safe place until the conclusion of the projects.
Mrs. C goes to the board and begins to demonstrate step by step how to portion the paper into the sections of a web, and then how to label each section with a note related to content they will place there.  He gives them explicit categories for sorting their information;  “What does the animal look like?”  “ Where does it live?”  “What does it eat?”  “What about the babies or young?”  “Who are the enemies of this animal?” etc.
As Mr. C demonstrates the students follow closely, preparing their papers.  When they are done, he challenges them to think about where they could store this web so that they will be able to easily access it each day.  This is the first research paper of this type for these students, and the web will give them clear support and direction on how to sort through and record important facts from the sources they choose for their research.   
Just as it is essential for us to carefully teach children how to organize their desks, their tables, and their lockers through modeling and example, we must teach them to organize their thinking.  Thanks, Mr. C, for taking the time to do just that through use of a graphic organizer.  Graphic organizers are one of the “big shovel” strategies, proven to be highly effective for improved achievement.