Friday, January 1

The 3Rs: Rituals, Routines and Rules

After three years as a library/media specialist, I was ready to return to my first love,
the classroom.  And, I was even more excited to return to teaching fourth grade.  With the New Year, I am reflecting on the first half of the school year.  So much has happened!

I'm totally in awe of the remarkable students with whom I spend each day. This inquisitive, thoughtful, delightful group approaches each day with eagerness and willingness.  They exceed my expectations in every way.  One of the reasons for this first half of the year success is the environment of our room.  Each day is based on rituals, routines and simple rules.

We spent time during the first few weeks establishing a culture of kindness. We have three rules: be kind, don't interrupt the learning of others and tone of voice.  These three cover almost any situation that arises.

Next, we learned about Growth Mindset. The students are surrounded by posters and
reminders to change your words, change your mindset. I read Carol Dweck's book, Growth Mindset and it had a significant impact on both my teaching and life.  I spent the summer reading and creating ways to help students develop this approach to learning. At parent-teacher conferences in November many parents shared with me the results they observed at home and it is contagious among the parents as well.

Finally, I created a black and white classroom.  I had always wanted to do this and I was eager to see if I could create a classroom that was warm, sleek and most importantly, encouraged calm and serenity. I had a vision of a space that was organized and free from

Once I arranged the physical space, I invested in all matching clear book baskets, book boxes and chose a font that would be consistent throughout the room.  I considered every detail
and set up the room that was aware of the traffic of everyone.  (The only thing missing is a rug -- I'm saving up for it.)  We keep the room so clean, that students don't seem to mind sitting on the floor. Students know how to line-up, move to retrieve items or supplies, visit their mailboxes, procedures for drinks, restrooms, lockers, turning in work, etc. It runs like clockwork!Visitors to our classroom are considerably impressed by the students' desks.  Each desk is organized and set up the same way.  This is accomplished by providing one small pencil box, colored folders for each subject and the all important WIP folder (Work In Progress where they keep items that need fixing or finishing).  All other supplies are kept in supply drawers, so there is no clutter or mess.  

When students need supplies, they know the procedure to move through the room.  While
this may sound regimented, it isn’t!  The students easily follow the procedures and rituals because it was practiced and consistent.  The time we spent on this in the beginning of the year paid off in a calm classroom.

Students know that at any moment during the day, I may say, "Desk check!" They quickly organize and straighten.  There's no reward; just a feeling of accomplishment.

The combination of organization, rituals, routines and simple rules has created a
place where learning happens not only calmly, but joyfully.  We laugh a lot and celebrate each moment of learning.

We take care of our space and each other.

(More photos of my classroom on  my pinterest page.)


Saturday, February 14

Fourth Grade Book Tasting

I have been reading about Book Tastings in libraries and classrooms for a while, and this year, I decided to give it a try.  I can’t even begin to list all of the blogs, tweets, and Pinterest pins that inspired me. Once I “sampled” all of the amazing book tastings of my PLN, I created my own. My gratitude to others for their inspiration is immeasurable.

My first step was to assemble my own menu for the event.  So many fellow librarians and teachers created a variety of menus and I incorporated many of their ideas to create my own.

Next, I used the idea of a list of adjectives for the students to use. I loved this idea to support the students written work and discussions. I copied it two sided and placed it in a clear frame so everyone at the table could view it.  I also created etiquette signs to remind them of what was expected.

Then, I very strategically chose five different genres for each table that I knew were not popular genres in the library.  I also made sure the levels were on a continuum of reading levels as well as reflecting Black History Month.  All of the books were arranged on a “silver platter.”  I purchased these at the party store – they looked really expensive, but they weren't. 

Each table was set with red and white checked tablecloths and battery operated candles.  This really helped build excitement when the students entered the café! I dressed in a chef’s hat, apron and red bow tie which also helped.  (I was in an especially crafty mood, so I stenciled the name of the café on the apron.)

The one thing that I did that I didn't see on other blogs was how to get this event started.  I created a power point slide show in Google drive to review genres, call numbers, reading book jackets/sleeves, and to set goals for the lesson.  Before we started tasting, we reviewed how to summarize, evaluate, and collaborate.  I shared with the students that I was more interested in them having meaningful discussions and I encouraged them not to focus on finishing. 

Once the students began, I was in awe of their enjoyment and attention to task.  My principal observed the lesson and here’s what he said:

“Every step of the restaurant was planned in detail--menus as activity and assessment, discussion as focus, books in different genres placed on tables that would entice the group of students at each table to explore across genres. The visuals, both on the table and on the Smartboard, and the rules listed in the room, clearly showed what each step was for the students. This allowed the students to focus on the books and not waste time confused about the structure of the activity.”'

I'm so glad I decided to do this! The students loved it, and most importantly, they were excited to try a new genre! 

Kids were excited about reading!
I couldn't ask for anything more!!

Here are just a few of the teachers/librarians who inspired me.
How to Host a Book Tasting with Jo Nase
Fiction Book Tasting
Mrs. Lodge's Library: "Book Tasting"
The Unquiet Librarian: Book Tasting posts
Barrow Media Center "Book Tasting"
Miss Liberry Teacher "Book Tasting"
Tree Frog Blog Book Tasting

Thursday, April 17

Author Visit Success - Ask Questions!

This year our school was lucky enough to schedule Matt Phelan for our annual author visit.  Along with organizing a luncheon and the sale of books, I wanted to prepare the students thoroughly so they could engage with him fully.  We met this goal.

While my initial plan was to expose them to as many Matt Phelan books as possible, I didn’t want to seem as if I were pushing book sales.  Granted, I was excited to share my enthusiasm for Matt Phelan’s books and illustrations, but something seemed missing.  I needed a better plan.

To begin, I created a Google Presentation about Matt and his life.  After a number of lessons on creating a PowerPoint in Google Docs this year, the students were immediately drawn to my presentation.  They were given the opportunity to not only view my work and content, but to offer suggestions. Fortunately, this initial step provided the catalyst to my next step.

Now that I had them excited about Matt and his work, I wanted to explore questioning.  As a former reading specialist and classroom teacher, it seemed natural to provide a lesson on thick v. thin questioning.  I began by modeling, and then we brainstormed a list of questions.  The next step was pivotal.  How do we ask a visiting author questions that show us at our best?

Each grade (K-4) had the chance to practice asking questions.  While this may seem like over-preparation, it is an important life skill, and it was a lot of fun! The students learned how to introduce themselves, and then ask questions that couldn't be answered with a yes or no response.  They learned to lower their hands while the author responded and to be polite and patient listeners.  We worked really hard on our listening skills so we wouldn’t waste precious time asking questions that were already asked.  The younger student concentrated on forming their question in their mouths so they would be ready if selected. 

During Matt’s presentation, the students were focused, attentive and showed their best “Myers Manners.” This catch phrase became our signal to present ourselves in our best way.  When Matt asked for questions, even the Kindergarten students remembered to introduce themselves, lower their hands while he responded and ask deep, rich questions that showed they connected to his work.  Matt was very impressed.

Overall, each grade exceeded expectations, and most importantly, learned how to present themselves respectfully and politely in a public forum. 

By the way, the books sold out and the excitement for reading grew even more.

It was a memorable day.


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