Our One Best Image

“Do your best” by everyone’s mom in the world.

Do your best! Give me your best effort! These are words spoken to children by parents and teachers alike. But, what is “best”?  If we define it by today’s beauty and fashion standards, we would all feel grossly overweight and substandard. Perhaps, we should stress the word your in those sentences…do your best. After all, everyone’s “best” looks different anyway. As educators, we work daily to help children see the best in themselves, to gain confidence in their learning and put forth their best effort to achieve.

With the fall season arriving so very late here, we recently took our iPads on a walk to capture our “one best image”. This meant talking about what that looks like and how we might achieve that goal. As we were walking, several were excited about this leaf or that leaf and took several pictures along the way. Yet, in the end, the decision of their one best image had to be made. Once images were captured and deemed their best, we created a class book in Book Creator. Here are a couple of pages as examples:

fullsizerender-3 fullsizerender-4 Their simple sentence is their rationale for why this leaf was the best of all the ones they saw. Unfortunately, our area is not rich with fall color and we mostly have yellows and browns, but discerning eyes can look beyond the color at the details…and this, we decided, is the most important part of choosing our best.

Having children closely examine, filter, and discern are all important skills. We hope to do another “One Best Image” in the spring!

Give it a try!

 

Using Mentor Texts for Powerful Writing

I think if you really want to write in a powerful way, you’ve got to read powerful stuff…Ralph Fletcher

I have served as a mentor for new teachers over the years and while I want each of them to grow into the best they can be, I want them to find their own methods and their own voice as they grow as an educator.  I provide a framework,  a model for good teaching, and hopefully, inspiration.  Good mentors can shape who we are and who we will one day become.

In the same manner, mentor texts are an important part of my literacy instruction.  I want my students to read and write powerfully and mentor texts serve as a conduit for both.  Mentor texts are necessary to teach our students to think deeply about their own writing.  Students often need to see someone doing something in order for them to do it themselves.  Watching another’s craft gives inspiration, direction and courage to try. Mentor texts inspires us to read and learn more.

Teaching very young children to write requires a lot of modeling, mentoring and a wee bit of rocket science.  Getting students to add detail to their emergent writing is a daily mini lesson in itself.  Recently, we read Lois Ehlert’s Pie in the Sky.  It has a lot of simple sentences describing what the narrator sees in the illustration, but more importantly, it is simply descriptive.  Using this as a mentor text has been tremendously helpful to my students. My students even refer to the book by saying they wrote, “Pie in the Sky” sentences.  Here are a couple of examples of student work on the iPad.  They used their camera to take a picture of something in the room and then they wrote what they saw.

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Some of my students were sharing their work with their friends and I overheard a few offering suggestions about making their sentences more like “Pie in the Sky” sentences.  Peer editing…in kindergarten.

Mentor texts give our young writers not just a framework or reference, they give them a dose of courage to try writing like the author…not using the author’s words, but courage to find their own words.  They can be road maps for powerful writing.  They show students what good writing looks like.

Here is a Writing Workshop sample from one of my students recently:

Mackenzie

Creating good readers and writers is a critical part of teaching.  Mentor texts provide powerful examples for our students.  Regardless of what grade you teach, your students need your guidance while they learn to write, take risks and stretch their literary wings.

Today we will do exciting new things…let’s get to it!

What’s Your Story?

I think it’s imperative to follow your heart and choose a profession you’re passionate about.-Steve Kerr

success1What’s your story?  We all have one.  Mine is chronicled here on this blog and while it may seem like a love note to Apple and iPads most of the time, it is more about the changes in my classroom as a result of innovation.

Teachers are innovators.  We have to be.  We are often short on time, money, and resources, but we are not short on passion, creativity, and a desire to make a difference.  It is easy to walk down the hall everyday to your classroom, close the door, and go about the business of educating each day.  It is easy to start believing that what you do doesn’t matter and even easier to drift into autopilot.  It becomes easy to reject new ideas and technologies because that brings change and change brings uncertainty and uncertainty brings…well, it brings a degree of discomfort.  And who has time for that?

There is a bigger story here.  It’s your story. How do you innovate?   What if you tried one thing differently today?  What if you said no to “what we’ve always done” and said yes to something you’ve always wanted to do?

Ok, enough about you, let’s talk about me…I’ve said before iPads have been a game changer in my teaching career.  I’ve always believed in my calling to teach.  It is who I am, but that doesn’t mean I am impervious to ruts, routines, and rigor mortis.  Jumping into this project with a “what if” mindset opened more doors than I even imagined.  Stretching, embracing the change, and learning to live in the uncertain was my personal lesson plan.  It was not (and still isn’t) without setbacks, do overs, and what-in-the-world-was-I-thinking moments.  Innovation does not come without your personal investment.  Innovation doesn’t necessarily mean setting the world on fire…I’d settle for setting my students on fire for learning.

Make a promise to yourself that you will try one new thing.  Stir your creative juices and stretch.  Your skin may feel a little tight; but in the end, you will find your story.  You will re-discover what it is that brought you to this profession and you will be better for it-both personally and professionally.

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Digital Letters to Santa

Maybe Christmas, the Grinch thought, doesn’t come from a store.-Dr Seuss, from How The Grinch Stole Christmas

Pages SantaAh…try telling that to a class of 5 year olds.  Ever since the calendar turned to December, my students have been in Christmas mode.  In Grinch-like fashion,  I have been trying to ignore Christmas in the classroom…trying to hold out until next week which is our last week of school before winter break.  My efforts have been met with stubborn resistance.  They want to talk about, read about, sing about and write to Santa.  My steely resolve was usurped…and with apologies to Dr. Seuss, every 5 year old in my class, the tall and the small, was singing and writing without any permission at all!   Mrs. Meeuwse HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming! IT CAME!  Somehow or other, it came just the same!

So, taking advantage of the teachable moment, I turned their desire to write to Santa into a lesson using Pages.  We worked on our writing and then incorporated a drawing from our Whiteboard App.  This activity was easier in small writing groups.  I was able to work with each child on the mechanics of using Pages and how to import their artwork from their photo roll.

Sometimes we have to be willing to give into the frenzy and go with the flow.  Their general excitement was channeled into a meaningful activity that kept them engaged. They were busily writing and talking with their partners about their writing.  I have to admit, even my grinchy self enjoyed the activity. Knowing the fickleness of the 5 year old list for Santa, I imagine we will have several more opportunities to revise, refine, and edit these lists.  This will provide me a few more opportunities to incorporate the writing process.  Having the iPads, we were able to take an age-old activity of writing to Santa and move it into the digital age.

We have 7 more days until winter break.  After all of the excitement, I will definitely be ready for “a long winter’s nap” or at the very least, some Who-pudding and some Who- roast beast.

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Building Reading Stamina with the iPad

Believe me, my children have more stamina than a power station.-Robbie Coltrane

Building stamina in young readers is definitely a challenge.  Their attention spans are short and their energy level is high.  It is important to know children well enough to link each of them to the texts that will sustain their interest, and won’t be so challenging they get discouraged.  Every good English language arts teacher knows that immersing students in reading is far more important than teaching test-taking strategies. Many are also familiar with some of the techniques for helping their students monitor their reading throughout a reading task. Some use specific lessons and strategies for helping students maintain focus and gain stamina as they read, but finding the best lessons and other resources for teaching such skills is often time-consuming and difficult, requiring more hours than teachers have for seeking out new material.

Using iPads has helped increase my students’ stamina even during the short 57 days we’ve been in school.  As students build confidence in reading short, leveled texts, they are more likely to venture into more difficult texts.  I use LAZ leveled reader apps and my own texts that I’ve created in iBooks Author to supplement the reading materials in class.  As students have a few minutes of free time, or they are in the book center, they have high interest texts to choose from on their iPads.  Having these books at their fingertips makes it easy for anytime reading.  Re-reading familiar texts also increases their fluency.

Another way to use iPads in building stamina is to celebrate progress. Without getting too caught up on the number of minutes spent reading, celebrate the time that is spent reading. Share your favorite parts of books read by reading out loud with a partner on the iPad.  Illustrate your favorite parts in the Pages app and share with your writing group.

Spending longer periods of time reading means fewer interruptions and more time reading what you love. iPads provide resources beyond your regular classroom materials to facilitate this.  As your students move into higher grades, having reading stamina will help them navigate the longer texts and assignments.

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Press the Reset Button

Definition of Reset: 1:to set again or anew  2: to change the reading of, often to zero- Miriam-Webster Dictionary

Starting a new school year with young children requires starting anew with our kindergarten curriculum.  It means ending the previous year with children reading and writing and taking charge of their own learning then starting completely over again with children who not only don’t know classmates’ names but some still don’t know MY name.

After 23 days of school, it is easy to think we are in a groove.  Most know routines and procedures and most are figuring this whole school-thing out.  But the key word here is most. It is key because by definition, most is not all.  Yes, I still have some who are still trying to make sense of our day.  I still have some who don’t know where some things go or where to find other things.  As an adult, it is easy to think that after 23 days of school, these children should have it all together.  They should know how to turn the volume down on their iPads, how to find the math folder on the iPad, how to put it to sleep and put it away quickly.  Right?

Ah…time to hit the Reset Button.  They really don’t know how to do those things yet.  It can take up to 70 repetitions for young children to fully make a concept permanent.  It is difficult, at times, for me to reset.  Ending the previous year on such an instructional “roll” and then starting back over from zero is part of the kindergarten teacher territory, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. It helps that those children in the class who do know how to do many things are more than willing to help their friends who can’t.

As we start a new week, it is important to remember it is only our 5th full week of school.  We are 5 years old and while we learn most things very quickly, most is not all. By slowing down and making sure all are ready with these basic skills in all areas, we can then speed up with minimal disruption.  Am I preaching to myself?  Most definitely.  But I’m pretty sure there are others out there who, like me, need to push the reset button and start today, Monday, with a fresh set of expectations.

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We’re Swinging…NOT

Being defeated is often a temporary condition. Giving up is what makes it permanent. -Marilyn vos Savant

I don’t usually post on Fridays because, well, no one generally reads it.  Today, begged for a post and as usual, one of my students delivered one right in my lap.  This student desperately wants to swing on the playground.  We have those belt swings (see photo to left) and the children have a lot of difficulty getting into the swings by themselves.  This child has trouble getting in,  plus she also hasn’t mastered the whole leg-pumping part once I put her into the swing.  I show her what to do and give her directions.  I model and demonstrate, but I won’t push her.  She won’t try if I do.  Her face shows determination, extreme concentration and if possible, she would swing on sheer will alone.  But there are roadblocks…”Mrs. Meeuwse, I am trying to put my butt back where it belongs.” she says.  (And haven’t we all had that problem before?)

I continue to encourage and model and direct her in this important endeavor.    “Isn’t there an app that will teach me to swing on the iPad?”  she asked today.  I assured her she didn’t need the iPad to learn to swing…and frankly, I was a little nervous about searching for a “swinging app.”  “But I’m learning to read and do math on the iPad.  Why can’t I learn to swing too?”  I explained that there are just some things we learn by doing over and over and by not giving up.

While there are so many things my students can learn on the iPads, there are just some things we learn the old fashioned way….by putting our butts back where they belong… and trying.  (Hmm…wonder if this applies to writing Friday blog posts?)

Happy Friday!

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