Friday, June 28, 2013


I'm taking a little break from blogging this week to enjoy beautiful Colorado. My husband and I are here visiting our daughter. I'll be back to thinking about teaching and book studies on Sunday.

Edited on 6/30:  I posted this from my phone while on the road and couldn't see that the photo was too large!

Revisiting Guided Math

I am so happy that Tina at Crofts' Classroom is hosting a summer book study of Laney Sammons' Guided Math.  I read the book and participated in a book study last summer, but after attempting to implement guided math during this past school year, I'm ready to reread and make guided math work even better in my classroom next year.  However, due to traveling in Colorado without reliable internet, I'm going to revisit a post I wrote last summer for chapter 1.  Here's last year's post with some thoughts  I've added.

I had to become reacquainted with math 2 years ago when I returned to the regular classroom after years of reading intervention, and I discovered I loved it!  Last summer I followed an online book study of Deb Diller's Math Work Stations and implemented math tubs in my classroom.  The kids loved them and were always disappointed when we couldn't do them.  This year I want to really implement guided math, so this summer's book study of Guided Math by Laney Sammons is perfect!  Head over to Primary Inspired for all the details!
Chapter 1 covers the framework of math instruction including guided math.  It was reassuring to read that small group guided math does not have to occur every day.  I was worried about how to fit in all those groups, particularly if our class sizes continue to increase. (Getting to everyone enough times each week was a real challenge in guided reading this year!)  The schedule suggested is very flexible and can be easily adjusted to meet each classroom's needs.  The reflection questions at the end of the chapter asked us to think about our current practices in our classroom.  Here are my thoughts.

What worked this year:
  • Math stations:  Because I didn't have a lot of math materials, these took some time to create, but it was so worth it!  I love putting together new stations!  Two sources I rely on for quality activities are Donna at Math Coach's Corner and Lory Evans' Common Core workstations.
MATH STATIONS - Common Core - Grade 1 - OCTOBER
From Lory Evans
  • Organizing manipulatives:  I put all of my manipulatives in labeled plastic boxes so they were easily accessible for lessons and for students to use during independent work.
  • Calendar:  I created a calendar routine for my Smart board.  I tried to vary the activities a little bit each month and added a lot of number talk opportunities.  If we ever missed calendar time, I heard about from the kids!
  • Focus on numeracy:  As primary teachers, we all know the importance of a print rich environment, but we've never really focused on numeracy.  This year, I had a math wall and I displayed math anchor charts.  It was a small step, but I wanted the kids to know we valued math as well as literacy.
  • Math talk:  Kids were regularly given a chance to explain their thinking to others.  I need to do more, but it was a start!
Numeracy and math talk are so important!  This past year we made and displayed many math anchor charts just like we do in language arts.  I still want to create a permanent math word wall.  I am also reading Laney's book Building Mathematical Comprehension and just hosted the chapter on vocabulary.  (Check out my post here.) I definitely want to spend more time working with the language of math.
My goals:
  • More small group guided math. I'm still struggling with this a bit.  I did a lot more work in small groups, but I know I need to do more!
  • Utilize math journals:  We used journal prompts regularly, but I want the kids to use the journals to record their thinking and learning during lessons and activities as well. Our district also uses Exemplars, a problem solving program, and following some of the procedures from this program really helped my students communicate their math thinking.
  • Use individual math toolkits:  I attended a workshop by Kim Sutton who advocates that the students build a supply of math tools to keep in their desks.  I also want to use her number line.  These kits were lifesavers!  It saved a lot of time because I didn't have to pass out supplies like counters every time we wanted to use them, plus the students always had tools at their fingertips when working.  This year we kept 2 color counters, a number line, a 100 chart and a part-part-whole mat in our kits all year.  This year I am thinking about adding dice and coins.  I also want to follow Kim's suggestion and add small chalkboards made from poster board and contact paper.
  • Authentic assessments and record keeping.  Whoa, still need lots of work in this area!,
  • A new goal for this year: Utilize technology more.  We use our smart board all the time, but I want to see my kids use technology tools for problem solving and to share their thinking.
How does/will guided math work in your classroom?  I'm looking forward to hearing other thoughts on this book and how you are implementing the ideas in your classrooms.
Please come back and read my new post on chapter 2 on July 2.
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Saturday, June 22, 2013

Building Mathematical Comprehension Chapter 3

I'm supposed to packing for our trip to Colorado tomorrow, but I wanted to share just a few thoughts about Chapter 3 before we leave.
I love that this chapter refers to one of my favorite books on reading: Comprehension Connections by Tanny McGregor.  The schema activity using the lint roller is one of my favorite lessons to do at the start of each year.  (I also love her reading salad lesson that shows how much of reading is thinking!) This chapter also led me back to Debbie Miller's book Reading with Meaning.  Debbie makes a very important point when she reminds us of the importance of planning our think-aloud and modeling lessons.  I have books full of sticky notes reminding me of think-alouds and teaching points I can make.  Now I need to do the same thing for math lessons!
This year, as I introduce reading strategies, I plan on also modeling that strategy in math so my students can see that these are not just strategies for reading.  I like to create anchor charts with my students, but since they are usually on chart paper and not always the most attractive things, I created some smaller versions that can be displayed all year.  I hope to add each strategy to this set when I get home.
Click here to download connections posters
Now I need to go finish packing.  I'll be reading Chapter 4 at a campsite in the Rocky Mountains!

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Friday, June 21, 2013

Bloglovin and Feedly

Wow, so many bloggers have been posting about switching to Bloglovin so I figured I would jump on the  bandwagon.  However, being the indecisive type, I have also been trying out Feedly, so I have a follow button for both readers now!

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For more information, visit  Bloglovin and Feedly.
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Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Post for Father's Day

Daddy's Heart

I have to confess: I was a daddy's girl!  He was strict, but I never doubted that he loved me and was proud of me.  Sometimes that pride was a bit embarrassing.  When I received my scholarship to Penn State, he carried a copy of the letter around for WEEKS, showing it to anyone who showed the slightest interest!  (Of course, now that I've been on the check-writing side of college tuition, if one of my kids had received a full-tuition scholarship, I probably would have posted the letter on Facebook!)  .  My mother reminds me quite often about the time I shamelessly used my daddy's girl status to wheedle out a new coat.  We were out shopping, and I spied a pink ski jacket.  My mother said I didn't need it as I had a coat and we had just ordered my band jacket.  But knowing my dad loved me in pink, I decided to show it to my dad.  Next thing I knew we were at the checkout counter, buying the jacket!
Books have always been a part of my life!

My dad was a high school history and economics teacher.  Growing up I never thought much about what kind of teacher he was.  I knew he was thorough as I took his economics course my senior year. (Small school and he didn't have a lot of respect for the other economics teacher at the time!)  After I graduated with my teaching degree, I remember thinking for awhile that he was terribly old-fashioned and needed to modernize his methods.  But as I grew up, I realized his methods worked for him, and more importantly, he cared about his students and his subject.  He was passionate about history.  I never saw my father read a novel, but he read biographies, books on the Civil War and World War II and history textbooks.  He never really acknowledged the fact that for awhile in the 70's our school district changed the name of all of the history classes to culture classes, US Cultures instead of US History, for example.  It was History to him; none of that "hippie" stuff for my dad!  He passed that love of history on to me, and history became one of my favorite subjects.

My dad and I off to an awards ceremony in high school.
From time to time after I graduated I would meet someone who had been in one of my dad's classes and they would share their stories about what a good teacher he was.  One story that stands out came from a young man who had cerebral palsy and had been in my father's study hall.  He shared that he was a bit of a clown in high school and usually got away with it due to his handicap.  Not with my dad!  He said my dad warned him several times about talking and clowning around, but when he didn't stop, assigned him detention.  The young man, now a lawyer, said it was the first time any teacher had actually treated him like a "regular" student, and he would always be grateful to my dad.  (I shared this story with my dad, and he said the other teachers were horrified that he gave poor D... detention.  His response was "Poor D... deserved it!)  We lost my dad almost 5 years ago. (actually we lost him before that due to Alzheimer's.)  The funeral home was packed.  Many of those who came to pay their respects were former students and colleagues.  He touched so many lives in his almost 40 year teaching career.  One of the members of the honor guard sent from the American Legion- daddy was a veteran of the Korean Conflict- told my mother as he presented her the flag that he had volunteered to part of the guard because he had been a student of my dad's, and that my dad had made such an impression on him.  Like many others I talked to, this gentleman, who happened to be African-American (very much a minority in my little hometown in Central PA), reported that my dad always treated him fairly and showed he cared.  What a legacy!
My dad in Korea

I can't say that I became a teacher just because my dad was one, but I think the fact that he valued education so much played a huge role in my decision.  I can only hope that my students will remember me as fondly as the generations of students in my hometown remember my dad!

My dad with most of the grandkids the summer before he passed away.

Now I'm off to spend Father's Day with my wonderful husband!  I've heard that girls tend to marry men like their fathers- I know I did!  Ron is a wonderful father, husband and teacher.  I have been very blessed to have both these men in my life.

My husband!

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Saturday, June 15, 2013

Get Your Math On! Building Mathematical Comprehension Chapter 2


Welcome to Chapter 2 of Building Mathematical Comprehension!  In this chapter, Laney explains the importance of vocabulary instruction in math and ways to help students master the vocabulary they need to be successful in math. Most of us know that students can increase their vocabulary through lots of reading.  But this won't work as well in math as most of the words students need to know in math won't appear often enough in their reading, and it is often difficult  to infer the meanings of unfamiliar, content-specific words. So in order for children to be successful in mathematics we must provide direct instruction of mathematical vocabulary.
Many of you are probably already familiar with Marzano's work in vocabulary development.  I've summarized his characteristics of effective instruction and the six steps for teaching new words.

How do you decide what words to teach?  The ideal situation would be for teams of teachers to examine the standards for their grade level and identify the words that students must know to be successful with the concepts.  Some districts/states provide vocabulary lists which makes it easier to make sure you are teaching  words that align with your standards and objectives. My district is moving to a new lesson planning system next year and our curriculum is written in units of study.  Key vocabulary is provided in each unit plan.

Here are some key ideas from the chapter:
  • Importance of discussion -Students need to be able to use their new words to explain and describe their thinking and observations during math.  After reading Deb Diller's Math Workstations book several summers ago I followed her suggestion and started adding math talk cards to some of our work stations.  These cards serve as a reminder to students to use their new math vocabulary.  For example, early in the year we review the terms more and less, so in a comparison station, there may be a card that reads:

I have _____ cubes.
My partner has ____ cubes.
I have ____ more/less than my partner.

  • Writing in math- Journal writing, first modeled by the teacher, allows children to describe their knowledge and explain their strategies and thinking.  They can also reflect on their learning.  We have been using the Exemplars problem solving program in our district, and one of the things that I love is that is stresses the importance of explaining your thinking and using math vocabulary.  One of the tips we learned was to have students highlight all of the math words they used when finished.  You can easily tell who really understands the term and used it correctly to solve the problem and who is just writing words they think the teacher wants to hear!  Journals can also be used to record new vocabulary.  Students can record the word, write a definition in their own words, draw a picture and then give an example.  I want to try this next year!  I envision modeling it as a whole group activity at first and then gradually having students create their own journal activities.  I loved the idea of creating PowerPoint presentations for the words also.  We are getting an Ipad for our classrooms next year, so I want to explore apps that might be appropriate for vocabulary presentations. I was inspired by this photo on Pinterest to create these cards to use while modeling how to record new vocabulary.

  • Math word walls-Although I had a lot of math anchor charts in my room that displayed key vocabulary, I did not have a word wall dedicated to math.  An effective word wall would display not only the word but a graphic representation.  I plan on using the card below for my wall next year.     I never thought about playing the same kind of word wall games with the math wall as I do with my high frequency word wall, but games like Be a Mind Reader and Wordo would be just as much fun with math words!  There are tons of resources for word wall activities out there; here's just one link I found.
Vocabulary Cards

  • Using graphic organizers- All of the graphic organizers we are accustomed to using in language arts and other subjects can be used in math.  I particularly like the idea of creating a concept map for a number and asking the students to show ideas about the number.Check out Donna's Wanted poster!                                        
    Math Coach's Corner
  • Games- Students love games!  Some examples that Laney provided are:
    • Vocabulary charades
    • Make My Day
    • Math Hunt
    • Talk a Mile a Minute
    • I Have, Who Has?   My kids loved "I Have, Who Has?" games.  Here is one I created for practicing adding and subtracting 1 or 2 and using the terms more than and less than.
  • Literature- Don't forget about all the wonderful literature out there that can be used for math!  I loved Laney's idea of having the students create charts or multimedia presentations of the math terms used in the book. My favorite books specifically designed for math instruction are Stuart Murphy's wonderful Mathstart series.
Wow, this is the longest post I've ever written (probably too long!) but this is such an important chapter filled with great information.  I'm anxious to hear your thoughts on math vocabulary instruction.  Please link up or share with a comment.  Please visit Beth and Sonya to read their posts on this chapter as well.

Thinking of Teaching

Click here for the book study schedule!

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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

My Life in Books

We are getting a new receiver installed in the master bedroom for our satellite TV this week so I spent most of the day cleaning and preparing to rearrange the furniture. Lately our room has become the place to stash things when the "public" areas of the house need to be cleaned so I had a lot to do.  I had boxes of photos that need to be sorted and put in albums, 30+ exercise DVD's  (I should be ripped by now, but I think you actually have to USE them to see results!) and a box or 2 of miscellaneous junk.

But the thing that blew me away was the number of books I had!  I was amazed at how many books were crammed on my poor sagging bookshelf.


 As I pulled the books off the shelves to box them up, I realized that these books represented many different stages of my life.  Some of the books were copies of my childhood favorites like Heidi and Little Women that I had purchased for my girls.  My very well-loved and dog-eared copy of Gone with the Wind was there.  (I discovered Gone with the Wind in junior high and instantly fell in love.  I reread it and watch the movie every couple of years.)  Then there were several picture books that belonged to my children- the book about a little dancer that my youngest daughter loved, a pop-up version of The Night Before Christmas, and other "special" books that I wanted to keep safe.  I found myself tearing up a little as I remembered snuggling up and reading these books to my three now grown children.  I even found my tattered copy of Dr. Spock's baby book!
Then there were the books that represented the different interests I have had throughout the years.  A book on yoga poses was shelved next to a book on Barbie collectibles.  Next to them were a couple of diet books.  Although most of my craft books are in my sewing room, a couple of quilting books found their way onto this shelf.  On one shelf I found the upper elementary/young adult fiction purchased while I was a literacy coach to help me become familiar with what the "big kids" were reading.  There were several books I read during a time when I was trying to get in touch with my spiritual side.  I like to read series books or related titles by an author so I had a shelf filled with the Mitford series by Jan Caron, the quilt series by Jennifer Chiaverini and the historical fiction of Philippa Gregory. That shelf also housed my "guilty pleasure" books- all of my Nora Roberts and other romance paperbacks!

A sample of what was on my bookshelf!
These books all tell the story of my life as a reader.  As I browsed through some of the books, I could remember reading the story for the first time or what I was going through in life that made me choose that particular title.  As teachers, I think it is important that we share our reading with our students and talk about the choices we make.  Of course, I'm not going to share with my first graders that I like a good semi-trashy romance novel now and then, but I can talk about how I have favorite authors and genres.  I can share that I choose some books so I can learn something and choose others just for enjoyment.  If we want children to become life-long readers, we have to show them that WE value reading and make time for books in our lives.

Now, I'm back to my cleaning or I won't be able to sleep in my bed tonight!
Happy Reading!

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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Building Mathematical Comprehension: Chapter 1

I'm linking up with Beth and Brenda for their summer book study of Building Mathematical Comprehension by Laney Sammons.

As a former literacy coach and reading specialist, this book made so much sense to me.  As someone who taught through the "reading wars" (phonics vs. whole language) I was one of the teachers who eagerly bought into teaching reading strategies as advocated in Mosaic of Thought and later in Strategies that Work and Reading with Meaning.  I've taught the reading strategies for so long it's just second nature to ask questions like "Does anyone have a connection?" or "What are you visualizing-picturing in your head?"  Why not ask them in math class as well?

On page 30 Laney writes "...students who are confident of their mathematical abilities are much more willing to tackle problems, communicate mathematically with others and think critically about math-related ideas."  I think this is one of the biggest hurdles we face in math instruction, students who are not confident about their math abilities. I really believe much of this is learned.  I can't tell you how many times I've heard a parent say "Well, I was never very good in math,either."  I saw this happen with my own children.  My son did struggle with math and became very vocal about it.  My second child also had some trouble, but more from lack of effort!  By the time my youngest daughter was in 4th grade and math got a little bit more difficult, she was convinced she couldn't do math either even though she hadn't had any problems up to that point, just because she had heard so much negativity from her brother and sister!  So I have made it a point in my teaching the last couple of years to make math fun and make every student feel like a "mathematician."

I love the adaptation of Keene and Zimmerman's planning template for strategy instruction!  I will be copying these pages (pages 39-41) to use when my team is planning our math lessons.  I really want to introduce my team to the idea of Math Huddles discussions where students work together on a problem and apply the strategy or share the strategies they used while solving in small groups or independently.  I first heard this term in Laney's book Math Stretches, and have tried to incorporate planned math discussions into our math block.  I know I need to more, but I was really pleased with the math talks I had with my class this past year, particularly when we were doing our Exemplars problems!  (By the way, I love Math Stretches!  Here's a link to the K-2 version and a link to a post I wrote last summer.  Laney also discuss Math Stretches in Guided Math, chapter 3.)

I am loving this book so far!  I just finished Chapter 2 so I am working on my post for that.  I'm one of the hosts for the next chapter so please come back and link up June 15-20.

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Monday, June 3, 2013

June Currently and Get Your Math On!

It's June!!! 4 more days of school- 2 and a half with students.  Even though this has been one of the best years ever and I love my sweet little class, I am ready for summer!  I'm linking up with Farley at Oh Boy 4th Grade to share my June Currently.

Listening:  I have no idea WHY, but my husband bought a Native American flute and has been practicing or watching YouTube videos on how to play it.  I love the man dearly, but he's driving me crazy!

Loving:  I found out this week that our wonderful PTA is providing the funds for me to go back to Confratute  at UConn in July! Confratute is a  gifted and differentiated instruction conference hosted by Joe Renzulli and Sally Reis Last summer was amazing and I am SO excited to be going back.  Here's a link to a one of my posts about Confratute last year.

Thinking:  Before I can really relax and enjoy my summer, I have to have a nuclear stress test next week.  Although my blood pressure is fine now with the medication, my cardiologist still wants to check things out.  I have a leaky valve that he thinks will eventually need repaired.  I do not want to find out I need another heart surgery!  I'm trying to not stress about it, but it's hard not to.

Wanting:  These last few weeks of school have wiped me out!  I know I need to exercise more, but I have been way too tired.  But I got my bike out and am ready to start taking morning rides.  I also thought about trying some pool exercises instead of just floating around on my lounge float!

Needing:  I think housecleaning was on my last Currently!  Needless to say, not much has been done since then!  Time now for heavy duty cleaning, closet reorganization and maybe some of those decorating ideas I've been pinning!  (I love Pinterest!)

Vacation:  If I have a good book and a iced coffee, cold beer or margarita, I'm happy in my own backyard.  But I really want to get away from Texas for awhile.  Colorado is on the agenda for the last week of June, and I can't wait!  Then I can read and have my drink while viewing the beautiful Rocky Mountains!

Upcoming:  I am super excited about hosting a chapter for Brenda and Beth's (Primary Inspired and Thinking of Teaching) book study of Building Mathematical Comprehension by Laney Sammons.  Get a copy of the book and join us!

 Click here for the schedule!


Also, don't forget about the writing linky!
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