Saturday, April 16, 2016

Diving Deep into POETRY!

Ahhhh...spring! April is here and with it, we got SNOW! Not exactly the fresh face of spring here in Wisconsin that we were hoping for! Still wearing hats and mittens after spring break was a bit of a shocker, but the weather is starting to look up!

In addition to the hopes of spring weather, April also brings us state TESTING month! In 4th grade, we have 7 and a half hours of testing to work around! YIKES! We did not want to lose too much momentum with our instruction, so it was a perfect time for our reading and writing poetry units!

Poetry units are so great, because kids can pick up a new poem or anthology at any time, without losing plot or character development. So, this unit has been a wonderful thing, as we lose blocks at a time of different subjects due to our state testing schedule.

We always launch our poetry studies in reading. We blogged about how we did this last year in 5th grade, as well! This year, we are fortunate, because the Teacher's College released new curricular calendars for poetry! We are Teacher's College district, and we were so excited to dive in and see what TC had to offer! We were pleased to see that their ideas did match up with what we already believed for poetry. We combined their ideas with some that we felt our kiddos needed and developed a rich, creative unit!

Teaching kids how to read poetry is so much fun! Poetry is full of inferences, imagery, and creative sentence structures. So many kids try to tackle it the same way they tackle a chapter book! And they run into trouble! To start this work, we spent two reading blocks just immersing ourselves in poetry. What did we notice? What did we like? What stood out to us? What confused us? We had a grand conversation about our initial thinking. We logged in on an anchor chart.
After our immersion, we teach them how to annotate and read a poem right away. We chose a Langston Hughes poem for this work ("Dream Variations"). When Kate and I were planning it out, we were a little hesitant on choosing it. We were worried that they wouldn't "get it." We questioned our choice and had a more literal poem on standby ("Since Hanna Moved Away" by Judith Viorst).

We read the poem all together, and we only told them that Langston Hughes was a famous author. Then we sent them off, independently, to try to capture their thoughts. After about 5-7 minutes (or when they started to get squirrely), we had them get into groups of about 3 to compare their ideas. Kate and I moved between groups and kept catching each other's eye...we couldn't believe what they were discussing! 
Following this group share, we came back together for a final grand conversation. I kid you not, this was one of those "goosebump moments" in teaching for me. Their interpretation of this poem left me speechless. I was even on the verge of tears at one point. #unbelievable #proudteacher #loveourstudents
If you follow us on Twitter, Kate periscoped this conversation. All of these were THEIR words! I still can't believe how well they did! It really helped us to reflect on when we doubt their capabilities...DON'T! They will always surprise you with what they can do and handle! Give them the challenges! They will RISE to the occasion! 

After this, we created a new anchor chart of all the different things we can think about or look for when studying poetry.
We did this, initially, but then went back and revisited each of these skills (and more) in our mini-lessons.

We give our kids a lot of choice in our room. One of the ways we try to incorporate their voice, choice, and personal learning styles, is how the respond during independent time. We have a lot of kids that struggle with organization. For them, we have a packet full of templates that they can use to track their thinking. Many of our kids know their own learning style and preferences so well that they create their own. They use everything from Google Slides, to Docs, to Google Keep, to regular old sticky notes or journals.

So, we continue to support them as they explore mood, tone, themes, and speaker point of view! We absolutely LOVE conferring with kids during this type of exploration. Each kid approaches a poem differently and interprets it in their own way. We also find that "share time" is incredibly crucial during a poetry unit. Kids not only want to discuss their poems with others, but they need to! They have theses ideas swirling around in their head or they found the most perfectly hilarious poem and they absolutely MUST share it with a friend!

We are going to be using all of these skills in analyzing poetry to help them write their own poetry anthology tied to a theme! Check back later for a future blog post! :)

In the meantime, we hope your April is sunny, and that your room is filled with the sweet sound of engagement and LOVE of poetry! Happy Poetry Month!
Happy Teaching,


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Wrapping Up Historical Fiction

We made it! What an amazing unit that was! The kids impressed us with their passion to learn new information and how they could connect the "dots of history" from book to book! We just finished up our Historical Fiction unit in Reader's Workshop. You can read about how we launched it HERE

This unit has been so much fun! We loved meeting with the book clubs each day. To help manage our time in Reader's Workshop, we used a rotation system for this unit ONLY. Now, we are not "centers" teachers. That being said, in a book club unit, kids will talk FOREVER if you let them! Not that that is entirely a bad thing, we wanted to make sure they still had time for independent/choice time during this unit. Due to this, we created three, 15-minute rotations to support this work. This allowed for book clubs to meet every day. It also limited the noise level in the room to not have every club meet at the same time! :) Below is an example of a daily rotation chart:
This was made in a simple Google Slide Presentation. We had a different slide for each day of the week...why, you might ask? Because we met with groups on different days. You might notice the letters in the book club rotation are black and some are red. The red letters are the groups that meet with an adult that day. We are fortunate to have 3-4 adults in our classroom during our Reader's Workshop block. This allows us to have much smaller groups to provide much more tailored support. Some groups meet with us every day. Some groups meet with us every other day. And a few group only met with us twice per week. It was all based on the individual needs of  our students. You might also notice that Group B meets with an adult for two rotations every day. They are our neediest ELL readers that benefited from extra vocabulary and graphic organizer support each day.

Topics we tackled in this unit included: Character development and tracking, Theme development, Power struggles, Secondary Characters, Literary point of view, Character Perspective, and even Connecting nonfiction topics to our historical fiction texts. Kids created double timelines to show where their books fit within the actual historical timeline.
Kids tracked their thinking in multiple ways throughout the unit. We provided them with a packet "template" that had various ideas, etc. They could house their sticky notes in there and find helpful graphic organizers. Some groups chose to use it daily. Other groups created their own way of tracking their ideas. Some through Google Keep, others through Google Slides, and even a few through Google Docs. We allowed them to choose the best way to document that met the needs of their groups/individual learning styles.

Again, we also utilized Google Forms as a formative assessment check-in system. About every week and a half, we sent out a new Google Form that targeted a skill we had been learning about. This allowed kids to have time to come across a part in their book(s) where this might be applicable. So often, when we teach a new skill, kids aren't at a perfect point in their books to apply it. This gives you that "guarantee room" to have had it come up!
A sample of one of the Google Forms we used. 
The nice thing about Google Forms, is that we set it up to have every weeks' responses go to the SAME Google spreadsheet! This allowed us to view our unit in one glance. It also allowed us to score the responses right in the spreadsheet using a simple 4,3,2,1 system. This let us sort them lowest to highest (or vs. versa), and immediately pull strategy groups or have immediate 1-on-1 reading conferences with kids to address needs!
We always give kids multiple days to complete the form, as well. Due to this, we encourage our kids to type a "draft" in a doc first. If they don't finish in one day, they can continue the next. If they try to type it in the Google Form directly first and don't finish, as soon as they close their computer, they lose their work! Word of caution to prevent tears/frustration! :)

To wrap up our unit, in addition to the Paper Pencil Teacher's College assessment we use, we give kids the opportunity to show their learning in any way they would like to using a Learning Model style. Now, this was the first literacy Learning Model that our students completed. The format is very similar to our Math Learning Models, but definitely requires more typing! I started it off by providing every kiddo with a copy of this GOOGLE DOC:
I also shared with them my own example that I made using emaze.

Powered by emaze
We went over the expectations on the rubric with them, answered questions, then the kids then got to work! I have to say, we were super impressed with their final products! Here are a few kid examples:

This was such a fun unit! We had a blast, and so did the kids! How do you teach Historical Fiction? We'd love to learn from you!

Happy Teaching,