Making Thinking Visible

Making Thinking Visible
Making Thinking Visible

Arts Integration

Arts Integration
Arts Integration
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3 Amigas = Tons of Fun! A Trifecta of Authors, Resources & Freebies!

This month's Teacher Talk Featured Authors are three amigas! Deann Marin of Socrates Lantern and Retta London of Rainbow City Learning, both organizers of TBOTEMC's monthly Teacher Talk blog link up and Tracy Willis of Wild Child Designs, Teacher Talk's Featured Author Editor. They secretly wish they could've taught together but are separated by geography. Here they are, united in spirit

Read about this creative threesome, their products (shhhh...there's a secret sale going on!), and their freebies below. 

Hi, I'm Deann from Socrates Lantern. I taught SPED for many years and for most of that time I taught emotionally handicapped middle schoolers. My heart went out to them, mostly because of their tough and unfair homelives. Eventually, this took it's toll on me and burnout was inevitable. Since I have double certification, I can teach both SPED and Regular Ed. My dream job opened up when I was offered a 6th grade ELA/Social Studies position and got to co-teach with my best friend. Creating exciting lessons that would turn kids on to ancient history and make it come alive was my new challenge. I so loved seeing the excitement on their faces when they wrote and acted in plays, held debates, trials, and brought in mud bricks to school to make a class ziggurat. 

Now I'm retired and a full time teacherpreneur. I just had my new website built and am so excited to share my knowledge and products with everyone. I'll be starting an email series soon and would love to have you sign up. You'll receive entrance to my FREE resource gem library!

I'm Tracy from Wild Child Designs. My 24 year teaching career has been varied and fun. I've taught k-8 music, directed choirs, taught grades 2-6 and newcomers, and I've been a literacy coach. Currently I teach in a self-contained fifth grade classroom. Jon Muir taught us that all things in nature are connected. If you tease out one thread of a web, all organisms feel that vibration. I believe the nature of learning is like that, too. Deep down, we're all wild children. My passion is connecting core subjects and the arts into rigorous and fun projects. At my blog, Wild Child's Mossy Oak Musings, I write about project-based learning and math, reading and writing workshops. Currently, implementing Visible Thinking Routines and reading about creativity research make my little teacher heart beat faster. 

My subscribers enjoy a monthly freebie for their upper elementary and middle school classrooms!

Hi friends! It's Retta. Forever a teacher, I am enjoying retirement here in Michigan. My blog and TpT shop are both named for Rainbow City, the classroom I shared with m third, fourth, and fifth graders for many magical years.

During my classroom years, I loved really getting to know my kids as people and learners. I found that the empowerment of my students was the key to reaching and teaching them. Project-based learning and authentic assessment are my passions in the classroom. Out of the classroom now, I love volunteering in the schools and staying in touch with what's important to teachers and to kids. I enjoy sharing the lessons and units that made a difference for m own upper elementary students, as well as developing new ones that make a difference for yours! Grounded in research and kid-approved, resources from Rainbow City Learning offer creativity and fun, served with rigor and attention to learning standards.

As a Teacher Talk blogger, I get to peek into classrooms across the country and explore new ideas in education. Collaborating with other teachers is inspiring. I look forward to talking with more of you on social media sites!

Best-Seller Resources

Some of our best-selling resources are pretty perfect for April's Poetry Month. Even better, we've put them on sale this week,  just for you!

This resource is a gorgeous art project, poetry writing, descriptive language and biography poppy-licious project. I've used it to counteract the Standard Testing Blues. It kicks off our Poetry Month festivities. Click picture to view!

My Poetry Portfolio contains 11 of my favorite poetry forms with templates and examples to get your kids excited about creating poetry of their own. It's perfect for use as a 4-6 week unit, or use it at intervals throughout the year! Click the picture to view. 

Don't you just love the smell of spring in the air? When I think of spring, I think of poetry. What better way is there to teach this genre than to take a group of kids outside, have them lie under a tree and write a poem. This resource will inspire your students, just as it did mine!

Our Favorites

We know, we know. Teachers aren't supposed to have favorites, but we couldn't help ourselves. These faves are also on sale for this week!

I love Storybook STEAM because it is rigorous and fun. The mini-poster prompts invite students to think outside the box and to plan a project as an individual or a group. It uses classic tales and adds problem solving and critical thinking to the mix. Teachers say,  "Incredible resource!" Click picture to view!

Have you ever gone to sleep and dreamed about lesson plans? This resource is dream-created. Students learn about Piet Mondrian & plasticism, view Mondrian-inspired examples and explore the fractional amounts in each painting. Decimals and percentages make an appearance, too. Using fractional parameters, students create their own Mondrian-inspired artwork. Students love this and teachers say, "We used this PBL unit in math, and it's the kids' favorite project all year (and mine!)." Click the picture to view!

This is what you've been looking for because it's the end of the year, and you've run out of steam. You're ready for summer, but you want to reward your students with something meaningful and special. This is a unique resource offers awards with thought-provoking growth mindset statements from various philosophers, artists, scientists, historians, psychologists, writers, and more. There's an award to fit every student!

Last, But Not Least...FREEBIES!

We love our students and our resources, but we love teachers, too. These are our favorite freebies...because we love you!

Looking to settle your ELA classes down as they come into the room? Do you want to reinforce concepts taught in class? These FREE 5 Minute English Warm-ups that come with complete lesson plans, as well as worksheets and a writing prompt will be your new best friend!

This product sample, Raise Your Hand Poster with friendly Dot Dudes will encourage your students to find their own special voices and the confidence to speak out.

Small-group instruction is a powerful teaching tool. It's also a challenging tool to implement. This freebie will help you plan and organize your small group teaching. Click picture to download!

Before we say, "Adios, amigos," we hope you'll visit with us again. You can find us lurking at Starbucks, face-timing in the pedicure chair, and hatching plans to take over the world... or, you could just check out our social media links below. 

Deann of Socrates Lantern

Tracy of Wild Child Designs

March Is Reading Month: It Doesn't Have to Be a Circus!

Every February, I begin to brace myself. The "March is Reading Month" committee begins meeting to plan the month for our school. I get a tension headache just thinking about it. It's not that I don't love the Cat in the Hat, the reading activities, and the intent behind the month-long focus.  I love reading. I love helping my kids learn to love reading. But, I've noticed a trend in the planned celebrations over the last few years.  The teachers are working hard, and the students are not. The whole month feels like a never-ending circus, and I feel like a demented clown.

Don't get me wrong. The celebrations and special events are great entertainment. Some common March happenings are that every teacher decorates his or her door according to a favorite book. Some of the doors are Pinterest-worthy works of art. Prizes are bought and given out for meeting reading goals. Volunteers dress up as book characters and visit classrooms. Other community volunteers visit classrooms to read books to students. Sometimes, local celebrities come to read.  It's fantastic fun! Over 24 years of teaching in different school districts, the most I've seen students do during the month of March is to read across a reading calendar. 

Again, let me say it: There's nothing wrong with celebrating reading in these ways. But I have to ask...
One of the ways I've coped with the upheaval of March Is Reading Month is to make my students and their learning the center of the celebrations. If we have to decorate our door, my students decorate it, using it as a reader response activity.  It doesn't look like a Pinterest-inspired door, but my kids learned something. 

That reading calendar? I turned it into a Reading Genre Book Challenge.  We discuss how we want our reading to be as balanced as our diets.  It's normal for readers (adults included) to focus on a couple of their favorite genres when selecting reading materials. This challenge helps students break away from their reading trends to try something new. They use the month to earn a total of ten brag tags, one for each genre. They chart their success in their data notebooks, and spend time reflecting on their preferences and how they change over the course of the challenge. 

Another thing that really stresses me out about reading month is that when all of the special stuff is added into our schedule, I have a hard time keeping my instructional oars in the water. So over the years, I've learned to find ways to incorporate our day-to-day learning goals like persuasive writing, literature critique, using direct quotations as evidence, and comparing and contrasting texts.

Every year, my students and I hold an election. We review the major mentor texts that we read over the entire school year. We discuss them. We share our opinions about our favorites and our least favorites.  Then, we vote to elect our Book-of-the-Year for room 9. 

The Brainstorm

 My students create a huge mind map about all of our mentor texts for the year, up to March. We draw arrows to and from text titles to show connections. They write and talk about their connections, and then write a persuasive essay to defend their choices for the Book-of-the-Year Award.  

Some of our titles this year and in past years have included: Perloo the Bold, Tuck Everlasting, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Pictures of Hollis Woods, Bridge to Terabithia, The Poetry of Langston Hughes, Coming Home, My Brother Sam Is Dead, Between the Lines, and A Long Walk to Water.

We sit on the floor, surrounding the butcher paper and revisit each text. Our discussions focus on the characters and the themes we think are important in each text.  

I end the discussion by asking students to choose one mentor text that they wanted to nominate for our Book-of-the-Year Award. Usually, every book is chosen by at least one student.  They returned to their seats to do a flash write about their choices.

After my kids have written their persuasive nominations, they'll practice reading them using whisper phones in order to be less dependent on their texts when they orally defend their choices.  By the last week of March, we present our nominations. Students design paper party props like top hats or tiaras, gluing them on straws or popsicle sticks. They come dressed to walk the red carpet and give their persuasive speeches. I acted out the paparazzi role and take picture after picture of them. Finally, we vote. 

Once we've chosen our Book of the Year, we make covers of all our nominees and display them with our persuasive essays on our bulletin boards. I share photos of them walking the red carpet on the same bulletin board display. 

The best part about all of these activities is that my students are doing most of the work. I'm still teaching to our learning standards, but students are engaged and having a blast...and there's not a circus clown in sight.

You can find some of these student-centered ideas for March Is Reading Month below. Just click on the pictures.  

Pssssst! Hey friend! If you haven't subscribed via email to my blog yet, make sure you do! Every month, my subscribers receive a freebie in their mailboxes, exclusively for them. It's not too late  to subscribe for February!

This week, I've teamed up with some fantastic teacher authors. Their posts are filled with teaching goodness. Check them out below!


I'm All Ears! Small Group Instruction in Reader's Workshop

Edward knew what it was like to say over and over again the names of those you had left behind. He knew what it was like to miss someone. And so he listened. And in his listening, his heart opened wide and then wider still. (page 103)
Kate DiCamillo, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

It had been a long day.  I was teaching my third guided reading group in my reader's workshop block. I was tired, cranky and congested with a sinus infection. My kids had been especially energetic; I think kids can sense a teacher's weakened state.  They sniff it out the way vampires sniff out fresh blood. My students seemed to be feeding on my depleted energy.  I just wanted the day to be done. 

I wrote the teaching point for my guided reading group on my easel, and began to teach the reading strategy, but Andy would not put his hand down.  I tried signaling him that I'd get to him after I was done.  It didn't work. Finally, I just told him that I wanted him to wait.  

"But, I have something to share!" he moaned. 

"Okay, Andy. Make it quick." I replied.

"I'm thinking that 'Daybreak in Alabama' is connected to that article you had us read on newsela! You know how he says in that poem that he's gonna put black and white hands touching each other? I think the poem is kinda like his dream for Selma. Because the poem is set in Alabama, like the march."

I blinked a couple of times, as I listened to Andy. I think the hair might've stood up on the back of my neck a bit. There might've been goosebumps on my arms. In my mind, I heard the angel choirs singing the Hallelujah Chorus, and a small voice whispered, "You forgot to listen, Tracy."

When teachers plan for small group instruction, either guided reading or strategy groups, active listening is the most important thing they can do to prepare.  So often, teachers are conditioned to talk about what they are teaching.  We write the teaching point on the board, and use an "I can..." statement. We say things like, "How am I going to fit grammar in?" and "I've got to teach syllabication." 

These are important things to do, but we can't lose sight of the fact that we are teaching students, not subjects. Hyper-focusing on the subject makes small group instruction teacher-focused, when it is often the go-to strategy for tier 1 and tier 2 interventions. In order for small group instruction to reach its instructional potential, it needs to be student-focused, and teachers need to be active listeners.

How do we maintain this balance in our instruction? It's doable. Put on a pair of rabbit ears, say to yourself, "I'm all ears!" and keep reading. 

"How's It Going?"

My small group is gathered on the carpet in front of me. We sit criss-cross applesauce, with our books in our laps, our reader's notebooks and pencils on the floor beside us. My teaching point is written for everyone to see, along with an "I can..." statement. 

Before I begin, I ask, "How's it going with your reading?"  My kids take turns responding. Sometimes we pass a beanie baby around, and they massage it as they talk about their reading. Something about holding a puppet or a beanie baby is hugely motivating for my students. They participate more readily. As my students talk, I listen and jot down notes on a recording sheet. 

I'm listening for future teaching points, strategy break-downs, comprehension struggles, and comprehension "a-has!"  This is a formative assessment for my students.  It takes about 3-4 minutes, but it's time well spent. 

Other days, I might be more specific with my opening question. I might ask, "What are you wondering about?" or "What have you been thinking about as you read?"

This portion of the guided reading/strategy group lesson leads me to more small group lesson needs. Or, if many students express the same need, it leads me to more whole-group mini-lessons.

You're Not a Bluebird or Red Robin Forever

So, I've conducted a summative assessment (Fountas & Pinnell or NWEA), and I've analyzed the student data. I've used it to help me form my guided reading and strategy groups. I've "listened" to the data. I've used it write lesson plans for my small groups. 

It's important for me to realize that after the summative assessment (week 2 or 3) the data is already old!  In the days of Dick and Jane  the bluebird reading group members would've been bluebirds until they died or went on to the next grade. Maybe, I exaggerate, but small group instruction should be flexible.

Two weeks after NWEA, my learners are not the same.  Two weeks after our last Fountas and Pinnell testing round, my learners have progressed. If I'm not listening to them, I miss the signs that it's time to push harder or be more supportive. Data is only as good as it is current when it informs instruction. That means, we need to be formatively assessing our students at every session.

Recent trends in education have demanded tons of formalized assessment, to the degree that we no longer trust ourselves or our evaluative and observational skills. Every time you interact with your students in their guided reading or strategy groups, you are assessing them. You need to learn how to listen to your own teacher instincts again. 

Take notes. A lot of notes. I use a note-taking sheet that has each group member's name on it. I keep it on a clipboard. I scribble notes down while I'm listening to them at the beginning of the session, and I write again after the session. It's vital that I capture what I saw and heard, and what I think about it. 

Begin by listing what you noticed. Then ask yourself, "What do I think about that?"  When you get used to doing this, it won't seem so awkward, and it'll go faster. It takes me about two minutes for each group.

Equity Does Not Mean Equal

I can thank Lucy Calkins for this little gem. Am I practicing equality or equity when I teach? Equality means everyone gets the same thing. Equity means everyone gets what they need. This concept was liberating when I first encountered it years ago. 

Not every student needs to be in a guided reading or strategy group. Not every student needs small group instruction. No, you don't have to put the high kids in a literature circle. You can, but do they need it? 

I'm not saying they don't receive instruction.  They do. My reader's workshop block begins with a whole-group mini-lesson. In addition, I hold one-on-one conferences with students who aren't currently in a small group. I teach them while conferring. They're usually high or very independent readers. I confer with them a couple of times a week.  I take notes during conferring, too. Those notes help me form strategy groups later on, when those students demonstrate a specific need. 

Edward Tulane knew what it was all about. Remembering to listen to my students has opened my heart... and eyes to their humanity and their learning needs. Listening. It's the most important thing we do as teachers. Don't forget. 

Here are a couple of freebies to help support your reader's workshop block. Click on the pictures to snag them, and may the force be with you. 

If you like what you've read here and want to read about mini-lesson structure or watch a podcast about mini-lessons, try the links below.

PSSSSST! By subscribing to my blog, you're guaranteed a monthly freebie! You don't want to miss this month's REALLY don't. Subscribe today for February's freebie in your email box next week. 

Scaffolding Mini-Lessons for Effective Instruction with IgnitED Teacher & Wild Child Designs

In this January podcast, Michelle Williams from IgnitED Teacher and I discuss the effectiveness of mini-lesson structure. Enjoy!

If you're interested in more podcasts about reading and math instruction, be sure to join us here for live viewing:

The Birthday Girl Brought Birthday Treats For YOU!

Happy birthday to me!!!!! This week, I'm turning the big 4-9. How on earth did I get here? There's something about facing 50 that's making me get a move on some goals that I've been putting off. This week Wild Child Designs is having a store-wide sale. Come help me celebrate my birthday!

                                    Tracy @ 

Pssssst! Have you followed this blog yet? My followers get a monthly freebie! February's freebie is coming up next week. Join me and subscribe.