Saturday, May 25, 2013

End-of-Year Portfolios

It's the time of year to finish each child's portfolio.  We have been collecting work all year so now it's a matter of choosing the pieces that each child wants to include in his final first grade portfolio to represent the year's work.  In writing we include a piece of narrative, a report and a persuasive piece.  These will go in the orange portfolio folder that is kept in the cum file.  It's interesting to look back at the kindergarten work and see how far the students have come.  Specific pieces are added at the end of each year and then at the end of fifth grade the portfolios are given back to the children.  Fifth grade teachers say that the children are fascinated with looking back at the work and often walk down Memory Lane, remembering writing some of the pieces.  Parents also seem to really appreciate the packet when it comes homes. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Summer Activities to help get ready for Second Grade

I work with amazing colleagues and one of those is Carrie McLeod, a second grade teacher.  She put together this incredible list of Internet games and worksheets for children to use over the summer to warm up to second grade!  Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Persuasive Mem Fox Essays

To bring our Readers' Workshop Author Study of Mem Fox together with the persuasive/opinion writing we have been doing in Writers' Workshop, the children wrote persuasive essays this week about their favorite book, character or author.  Some of these young writers still tend to make connections instead of using text evidence for their reasons, but they are moving in the right direction.   Enjoy some of their writing.

I love Mem Fox because she wrote one of my favorite books, Harriet, You Drive Me Wild!  Do you know why?  Because Harriet reminds me when I was little because I was messy too.  My other reason is that Harriet was pesky.  In school I am pesky too.  My other reason is it is happy and sweet at the end because Harriet is on her mom's lap and her mom said, "I love you Harriet." Then they picked up the feathers and started to laugh.  See I told you I love, love this book because you cannot take your eyes off adorable Harriet.

Have you read a Mem Fox book?  I have read lots of her books.  My favorite is Possum Magic because I like Hush.  He is so cute.  I like his mouth and his little pink nose.  Another reason I like Hush is because Hush is afraid of snakes, just like me.  Hush goes on adventures with his Grandma, just like me and my Grandma went to the mountains.  Now you can see why I like Hush so much?

My favorite book is Feathers and Fools.  It has a sweet ending because the baby peacock and the baby swan become bffs.  I like the baby swan because he did not beat up the peacock and they become animal friends forever.  I like this book because it has happy and sad.  It has happy at the end and sad when they all kill each other.  I love, love, love Feathers and Fools

I have read so many Mem Fox books so I want to tell you about one.  And it's my favorite.  The name of the book is Feathers and Fools.  Shall we get started?  By the way it's about peacocks and swans.  Okay. now shall we get started?  So "in a rambling garden long ago and far away there lived a pride of many different peacocks. Nearby in the rushes and reeds of a clear blue lake..." Now you see how I like how Mem Fox puts her words together.  I like how Mem Fox always makes it funny because you can't really kill someone with a feather! I also like Feathers and Fools because its happy in the end when they become friends.  Instead of killing each other, they say similarities instead of differences.  That's why Mem Fox rocks. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Connected From the Start

I have been sitting in on interviews for teachers who want to teach at my school this week.  One of the questions we generally ask is how the teacher uses technology in the classroom.  The replies generally are a list of the technology that they have -  anything from Smartboards to ipads for each student.  Rarely does a teacher really explain how she uses the technology that she has or how that technology has made a difference in her connectedness or instruction, but yesterday one of the teachers said, "Well I've been reading this new book and it's made me rethink how I'm using my classroom blog.  It's by this teacher named Kathy Cassidy.  The title is something about being connected..."  Woo hoo!  She gets extra points!  In fact, I think there's a good chance we'll hire her!  Can't wait to sit down with her and discuss some ideas!

As I have been reading Kathy's book, I too have been rethinking how I use the technology I have in my classroom.  Sometimes I would just rather complain about what I don't have and what I do have that doesn't work.  It's a constant frustration but Kathy deals with that early on.  She didn't start with a million dollar grant and a technology genie that granted her every wish either.  She started in the same way that I am, with a little of this and a little of that, lots of curiosity, and probably a better disposition for working around problems.  Of course, she always seems to see the glass half full and turns "mistakes" into just another learning opportunity.  Her honesty and openness have made me to rethink how I am connecting my own class.

So... since I started reading Kathy's book...
  • I have purchased a mini ipad because I got tired of getting out of my comfy chair with my paper copy of Kathy's book to go to my computer to check the live links!  I have now read several books on my little mini ipad (something I never really thought I wanted or would use) and find it really is quite convenient!  Who knew?
  • I added my name to a Skype project and have connected with a first grade teacher in Brazil!
  • I use Blogger for my class blog and I have figured out how to add the blog to my iphone which has made blogging so much simpler.  I carry my iphone everywhere so that I can snap a quick picture and add a few words.  Parents really have almost instant access to what is going on in the classroom.  (I have worried that some of my colleagues might think I'm texting friends throughout the day instead of blogging, but I hope they call me on it so I can teach them how to do it too!)
  • While the children are not allowed to have their own blogs in our county, Kathy's book helped me move to letting the kids do some of the blogging on our class blog.  We are in a unit on persuasive writing, so I let the ones that wanted, blog their letters.  They have been so amazed at the comments they have gotten and it has really helped them understand that they are writing for an audience.  You can see what they have been blogging.  I also learned about the hashtag #comments4kids on Twitter and have been spending time at night commenting on other children's blogs which has been quite entertaining and informational.
  •  I reacquainted myself with Twitter and found the hashtag #1stchat - which has been such a great way to see what other first grade teachers are thinking and saying.  And that's just the beginning...
I dare you to read this book and not find a million ways to get connected!  That's not a challenge.  It's a guarantee!

A Work Over Time

Each year we choose one student's work to showcase on our final standard-based bulletin board. Since this class has been together for two years we had the option to review both the kindergarten and first grade portfolios before making a decision. It really was exciting to go through the work and see how much each child had grown.  It was very difficult to choose a single student's work to showcase. We chose a student that has shown such good progress-the type of progress we expect when students are exposed to a Readers and Writers Workshop every single day.   Below is the general commentary on the student's progress.

A Work Over Time

All the right ingredients
This student entered Kindergarten with a big smile and all the right ingredients.  He came from a supportive nuclear family and had been exposed to a wide range of experiences with numbers, letters and sounds. 

 Mix and stir
This adorable little boy came to Kindergarten with the ability to retell a familiar story at a Level 4 on the Sulzby Scale and so with rich and repeated read alouds, he quickly grew in his ability to retell.  At the same time, he was putting letters and sounds together.  He came with a strong vocabulary, so it was only a matter of time before he was able to put letters and sounds together to write stories on paper.  By the end of Kindergarten he was reading above the expectation.

Frosting the cupcake
As a first grader, this little live wire began to read chapter books and enjoyed talking about what he was reading.  In Writing he easily took in the basic structure of narrative, informational and persuasive writing.  He understood strategies and craft and began adding them in his writing.

Adding the cherry on top
First graders embrace deeper reading and written comprehension assessments in the second half of the year, and this very bright first grader has breezed through this transition.  He reads a broad range of genres with accuracy and fluency.  As he has developed as a writer, his natural  sense of humor has become evident in his writing.  He uses craft in his writing that make his pieces engaging to the reader.  One of the most interesting things about him is that he is also a very strong Math student.  He is the total package.

We present a graph on the bulletin board that graphs this student's reading levels through his first two years of school.
The bulletin board also shows four pieces of student work.  The first piece is from early kindergarten
and includes this commentary on the work.
Beginning Kindergarten Commentary


By September of the student’s Kindergarten year he was able to draw a picture and write about a small moment.

The time I went to Orlando I went on a boat to get there.

In this early piece he writes about his trip to Orlando.  He can already spell a few sight words such as the, to, Mom, Dad, me, and on.  He draws a picture to match his words and labels Mom, Dad, me, the wind and water!  He hears sounds in words and is able to write the sounds that he hears.


Nicky entered Kindergarten able to retell a familiar fairy tale at a Level 4 on the Sulzby scale.  This means he could recall the events of the story but did not tell the story in “story language.”  He did not use detail in his retelling and was not yet able to tell the story in a way that sounded like he was reading it.
The bulletin board includes two additional pieces with commentary at the end of Kindergarten and the middle of first grade.  By the end of first grade, the original writing for the following story was included, along with commentary.

Space Hamsters
One time there were four hamsters.  Their names were Leo, Mark, Jack, and Snacky.  They were special hamsters.
“COOL,” said Leo.  “But what’s that?” said Mark. “That’s a warning light,” said Jack.  “I want a snack,” said Snacky.  “What’s that lever for?” said Snacky.  “Don’t touch that!” said Leo.  But he touched it…
“NO!  We’re not ready to go to Venus!!!” said Leo.  “How do we steer?” said Mark.  “I want a snack!” said Snacky.  “I think I know how to steer?” said Jack.  So he tried and he did it…
And he stepped on the gas pedal and he wasted all the gas!  They screamed, “Ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah!!!”  “I wanted a snack for this whole trip and now I’m going to die!!!  So now, can I have a snack?” said Snacky. “NNNNNNNNNNNOOOOOOOOO!!!” said the others.  BOOM!!!  “AHAHAHAHA…”  “Wait a minute.  I think we’re alive,” said Snacky.  Jack felt a tap, tap, tap and he screamed.  “Ah ah ah ALIEN!”  said Jack.  He jumped into Leo’s hands!  It was another space hamster!
“Oh, hi,” said Jack.  “What’s up?” said Leo.  “Hay!” said Mark.  “What’s your name?” said Jack.   “Giovanni.”  “WWWWOOOWWW!!  Nice name!” said Jack.  He was sarcastic.  “Where’s your spaceship?” said Mark.  “Over there,” said Giovanni.  “Have any gas in it?” said Leo. “Yup!” said Giovanni.  “Yay!” everybody said.  “Let’s get on and go!” said Jack.  “Okay then, let’s go,” said Leo.  So they lifted off!

Late First Grade Commentary


As we come to the close of first grade, this student’s narrative portfolio piece is characteristic of his fiction writing.  He has imaginative characters (space hamsters) and settings, and he adds his own personal touch of humor ("Snacky" is a space hamsters that repeatedly asks for a snack!)    The piece has a definite problem and solution.  He does a nice job of moving the story along with dialogue and punctuates the discourse correctly.  He even uses the vocabulary word sarcastic correctly!  This first grader uses onomatopoeia and all caps to show the character is saying the words LOUDLY!  He even uses several revision strategies.  He uses a variety of punctuation including an ellipse to build suspense.   When you look across the two years, it is AMAZING the writer he has become!


As this bright young man leaves first grade he is a strong reader, reading  at a DRA level L, which is an end of second grade level.  He enjoys a variety of genres.  He can talk about what he reads with enthusiasm and depth, and always with a smile.  He enjoys life and his friends and has a broad range of interests!  Keep an eye on this little reader because the sky’s the limit!

Harvesting our Carrots

Today we harvested our carrots.
 We were thrilled at the number of carrots we had from our two seed packs and single row of planting.
The children were each given a carrot to look at, smell, draw and record in their Science journals.

We cleaned the carrots and finally it was tasting time!  Yum!


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Favorite Mem Fox Book

As we are preparing to write persuasive essays about our favorite Mem Fox book and character, the children decided on their favorite book today.  On an index card they wrote and drew a picture on one side of the card identifying their favorite Mem Fox book, and then wrote one reason why the book is their favorite on the back.  We had to move the children from reasons such as "I liked Guess Who? because it's about a witch and my birthday is in October" to deeper more meaningful reasons!  It's not easy, but as we discuss using the text as evidence for our reasons, the children move closer to reasons that make a difference.

I think this may be the first year that Feathers and Fools has been a class favorite.  It's a dark story about peacocks and swans that fear their differences and end up killing each other.  Peace seems forever lost.  Then two little eggs hatch, one swan and one peacock,  who have no memory or experience and walk away as friends.  The kids just seemed to "get" this book.  Think we'll revisit it again before we write about favorites to see if we can draw out even more of the deeper meaning.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

A Teacher is Easily Persuaded

We have been writing persuasive letters and opinion essays.  During this unit we have been encouraging students to write to family members but also to adults at school and even to powerful people in our community and country.  What I want students to learn during this unit is that they have great ideas and that they can use their voice and their pen to change minds and to make a difference.  While I haven't suggested that the children write to me, this week I have had two letters left on my desk.

The first was from Hailey... and it warms my heart.

Dear Mrs. T,
I think we need more writers werk shop because some times I have to think first.  And wen I think of something to write about its time to clean up.  And we like only have 30 minnits left to write.  We need more time in writers werk shop.  Please.
Your writing loving student,

So I wrote Hailey back in a new Writer's Notebook that I bought for her to keep, encouraging her to write all day long, even after she leaves school.  I explained to her, that writers, like her, just have to write and so they carry their notebooks with them and jot and write all day long.  Just love how she's thinking.

The other letter came from Cohen.  To frame his letter you need to know that, like many schools, we have tightened security this year.  I now carry a key on a lanyard around my neck (like a latchkey kid!) that is a key to my room because rooms must be locked at all times.  You also need to understand that we are an inclusion class, so besides the normal comings and goings, we have two different speech therapists, an occupational therapist, three different ESE teachers, a classroom Guidance teacher, a Social Skills teacher, a teacher of the Hard of Hearing, and three different RtI teachers that knock to come into our room on a daily basis.  Our locked door is more like a revolving door.

Dear Mrs. Timmons,
I get anoid hearing knock knock all day.  Can we get a doorbell?  Instead of knocking on the door all day, we could hear ding dong all day long.  I've seen another class with one.  We could put a sign that says please ring the door bell and weed never hear knock knock again well maybe at our house but the point is we wouldn't get anoid so much.  Please can we get a doorbell?
Your best student 

So you probably won't be surprised to learn that I am going out to Lowe's today to see if I can find a doorbell... and I'll have that student make the sign that says, "Please ring the doorbell"!        

               Our new doorbell!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Mother's Day Persuasive Essays

In the middle of our persuasive unit comes Mother's Day.  What a wonderful opportunity for the children to write about why they love their moms or why their moms are the best.  In some ways this was an easy assignment and the children had no problem putting examples and micro stories into their reasons because they know plenty about their moms.  We still required an opening opinion statement and at least three reasons with examples, details, micro stories and then a final restatement of the opinion for closing.  You will notice however, that some of the children had a little difficulty moving from a "letter" to an "essay."  They sometimes wanted to write "Dear Mom" instead of "My mom..."  The children entertained us with "Mom" stories and made us laugh quite often.  It was such a fun project!  I hope the moms enjoy the essays as much as we did.