Start Spreadin’ the News…

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Okay, so I’m not leaving today, but soon enough! Next week, I’ll be at Columbia University for the Summer Writing Institute hosted by the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. I’m so excited – this will be my sixth TC institute, and I have no doubt I will leave just as inspired as I have every time before.

Every single minute of the day will be packed with opportunities to refine my craft, and the evenings will be spent exploring the big city that has been calling my name since my very first visit.

I can’t put my finger on one specific reason my small-town heart longs to live in New York City….the brilliant minds, the bright lights, the Broadway shows – could be any of those. I do know, however, that next week will be an opportunity to grow in so many ways, and I can’t wait!

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Scripted Minilessons

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If you asked me to name the most common request I get from visitors to julieballew.com, I could do so without a bit of hesitation. Minilessons. At least once a day, I get an email asking for more specific lessons to go with the charts I’ve posted.

I am fortunate to work in a school district with a robust, thoughtful curriculum, but unfortunately, I don’t have permission to share the curriculum documents with the world wide web. I can however, share lessons that I’ve taught based on that curriculum. Last year, we focused on scripting minilessons. We didn’t ask teachers to script every single lesson, but many of them found that the lessons they scripted went MUCH better. To model this good habit, I began scripting any lesson I taught, whether it was for reading workshop, writing workshop, or a strategy group.

Soon, I will add a new page to my site, where I’ll post some of those scripted minilessons. I’ll be sure to include the grade level in which I taught each lesson, but they are all adaptable for any grade level. I hope this is helpful for you. Let me know what you think, and I will add to it.

Happy summer! ūüôā

Update (6/6/12): Minilessons are up! Click here to see them.


Strategy Rings

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When I confer with students (in reading or in writing), I really like to leave them with some tangible reminder of the strategy I taught them. That way, I have a record of what I taught them, and so do they.

I used to rely on Post-it notes, which was fine in the moment, but it was often difficult for the kids to find them when I came around to confer with them the next time, so I ended up referring to my notes most of the time. This left me wondering if they were really using the reminder at all.

As I thought about this, I wondered if a more lasting reminder system would lead to more transfer of the teaching done in conferences. That’s when I thought of strategy rings. I love the ring system – the rings are relatively cheap (and even cheaper if you use half of a pipe cleaner instead), and they are easy to add to but definitely durable. This system isn’t groundbreaking – it’s exactly what I was doing with Post-it notes, but it lasts longer and is easier for the kids to use.

Every time you have a conference, just hot whatever you teach on a (pre-hole-punched) notecard, and let the student at it to their ring of strategies. This makes it easy to hold them accountable, and they can trade with their partners when revising.

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Mail Call

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I have been getting lots of emails from fellow educators who’ve stumbled across my site. ¬†I love getting these, and I try to answer them as soon as I can. ¬†It’s common for me to get several e-mails with the same question, so it occurred to me that there may be more people with the same wonderings who just haven’t clicked the email button. ¬†So, here are a few questions I’ve received, followed by my responses.

 

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 I love your readers notebook. I really want to try using them next year.  Can you help me explain how they organize it? Do they skip pages to make the different parts? I really love love love it!!!  Do you tab it?

–“Teacher”

I use a four-section reader’s notebook, and I do have the kids count the pages and tab it before we ever start using it. ¬†The sections are as follows (page numbers are based on a 100-page composition notebook):

  • My Reading Life (~15 pages): Identity-building work is done here. (reading timelines, home-run books, identity ladders, last ten books I’ve read, etc.)
  • What I’m Learning (~20 pages): Notes or copies of key anchor charts (as they are retired from the wall) go here.
  • Read-Aloud (~30 pages): Post-its or writing long based on read-aloud with accountable talk go here. ¬†This work is guided heavily.
  • Independent Reading (~35 pages): This section looks much like the read-aloud section, but it is not so guided, as the work is done during independent reading.
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I am curious how you would suggest organizing books for students in class.¬† I am a 3rd grade teacher and I have lots of picture books and chapter books in my classroom library.¬† Right now I have them separated (picture, chapter, non-fiction) in book buckets.¬† However, as I get more titles, the book buckets are filling up and I’m running out of space.¬† I just wondered if you had any other suggestions for organizing. Thanks for your input.

—¬†Karen
This is a great question, and one I get often! I had my books in tubs, divided in a number of different ways. I had some bins by genre (poetry, biographies, historical fiction, space science, etc.) and some bins by level to help students who really struggled with choosing just-right books. (Note: almost all of my books were leveled, but they weren’t all sorted by level.) I also had bins for read-alouds and mentor texts. ¬†These were empty when the year began, and we filled them throughout the year, as I read a book aloud or we used it as a mentor in writing. ¬†Finally, I let my kids have some ownership over organization – this will change your life in terms of keeping the library organized – so I started every year with several empty, unlabeled bins as well. As we launched reader’s workshop, we talked a lot about how readers choose books. These discussions revealed some general preferences in my class, and by the end of that first unit, we had newly labeled buckets for ease of finding those preferred books. ¬†Some of these bins earned labels like “If you like Mo Willems, you’ll love these books!” or “Books about Best Friends” or even “Books with Bullies”. ¬†I will try to dig up my book bin labels and post them as a printable soon!
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Hey, Julie! ¬†Thank you so much for sharing your charts. ¬†I¬†love them! ¬†I just discovered your site on Pinterest. ¬†I¬†have a question…how do you store your charts? ¬†I’m sure¬†it’s very clever and would love to know!

Thanks so much for all you do!
Becky

I use the same storage bags that we use to store big books, and I made (well, I asked my very handy father to make) a small hanging rod for them that I mounted to the wall. I sort them by unit and label the bags accordingly.

Now that I’m using charts as models for other teachers, this preserves them better. ¬†It’s also less time-consuming than the mount-to-a-coat-hanger method I used to use, although that method was definitely better for the time since my kids needed easy access to them.

Below is a picture of my stored charts. Hope this helps! ūüôā

I absolutely love reading your emails! Keep them coming! ūüôā

Happy Easter weekend!
Julie


Thoughts on Assessment (and Weekend Update)

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I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about assessment lately, particularly about authentic assessment. ¬†My school district uses the workshop approach to reading and writing, so students are working at their own level. ¬†Daily conferring happens in both reading and writing, so informal assessment comes naturally. ¬†Working individually with students allows teachers to meet individual needs right on the spot and keep track of how they are responding to instruction. The trick is turning all of this into a number to put in the grade book. ¬†At my campus, we are trying something new in writing. ¬†I am working with teachers to create simple rubrics for each curriculum unit. ¬†When I say simple, I mean 8-year-old simple. ¬†We are limiting ourselves to the five most important things we hope they will be able to produce in the writing unit, and we are making the language as kid-friendly as possible, because the whole point is to share the rubrics with the kids.

These rubrics are ideally introduced on Day 2 of the writing unit. (Day 1 is devoted to immersing in the kind of writing kids are about to do.) ¬†On day 2, we want to push kids to reflect on everything they noticed as they were immersing in the genre. ¬†Then they’ll be introduced to the rubric. (I’m including a picture of a 2nd grade rubric (from Mrs. Scott’s class) here, and I am adding more to the anchor charts page.)

The point of this rubric is not just to show kids one time, of course. ¬†The rubrics are being referred to multiple times every single day. ¬†Because we developed the rubric based on our curriculum, every mini-lesson should be connected to one of the rubric goals. ¬†This will help kids add to their vision of where they are going in this unit. (Like Katie Wood Ray says, if we don’t give kids a vision, we can’t expect them to do any¬†revision.)

These rubrics are also referred to in individual conferences.  A conference should include a compliment and a teaching point.  If the teacher is stuck, they can certainly compliment the student on one goal from the rubric they are really working on, and they can choose a teaching point based on a different goal.

 Finally, teachers are referring to these rubrics during the share portion of writing workshop.  I was in a second grade class last week during the share, and one student read her ending. (The mini-lesson that day was about endings.) After she read that part of her piece, the teacher thanked her and publicly praised her realistic solution (one of the rubric goals).  This not only made that student feel like a writing rock star Рit made every other kid in the class double-check that the solution in their story was realistic, too.
This is a work in progress for us. ¬†I’ll update as our work evolves.
Happy Saturday!
Julie
P.S. – I added a few other anchor chart pictures as well. ¬†I may add another post about those later. ¬†I also reorganized the anchor chart page for clarity’s sake.

Thumbprint Biography

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I might have a new favorite entry in my writer’s notebook! I finished my thumbprint biography last night, and I’m really pleased with how it turned out. I love the idea of doing this with older students, but I’m not going to lie. It took me a lot of trial and error to get my thumbprint blown up on the copier. If I can figure out how to streamline that, I may try to convince a teacher at my school to try this project with me. Here is my finished product:

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