Thursday, April 30, 2015

"I Read to Write"Book Review!

When Zaner-Bloser asked me to preview their book, "I Read to Write:Responding to Sources", I was kind of wary. I am not a huge fan of workbooks. But you know teachers find it very difficult to say no to anything free.:)

It was a nice surprise though, AND my kids enjoyed them. Which of course is the most important part.
For those of us who have to give our kids standardized tests, this is a way to prepare them that goes down easier than worksheet after worksheet.

Here are the features I like:

  • Paperback, thin, and colorful!
  • They come in grade levels 2-6.
  • It covers three genres, Science, Social Studies, and Math.
  • The text sources really are high-interest, my students actually enjoyed reading them.
  • There are "sticky notes" on the side of each page. Wonderful way to teach my students how to take notes, a skill they will need for life, not just for testing.
  • The Read!(Text)Think!(MC and Open Response questions) Write! format.
  • TE has printable mini-lessons on academic and domain-specific vocabulary (Including Vocabulary lists and Flashcards) which can be found online.
  • Printable Graphic Organizers of all types (Compare and Contrast, Pro and Con, Main Idea, etc...)
  • Kid Friendly Rubric for students in the back of the book and one for the teachers to use when, (or if), grading
  • At the end of each genre the student chooses whether to write a narrative, article, or opinion essay, all with guided help via graphic organizers. (And you, of course). This lends itself to student choice, and the student is more invested. Of course, you can adapt the writing to fit your classroom.

I didn't use it as "test prep", although it can be used that way. We enjoyed the stories, practiced vocabulary, and wrote about interesting topics. I also let them take the books home and use for HW assignments.
Kid's Thoughts
"I think that "Read to Write" is amazing! It is a great way to learn things about history, Math, and Science and write about it!"

"I love "Read to Write!" It is a great way to review what you learned in class!"

If you are interested in checking out "I Read to Write", see the information provided by Zaner-Bloser below:

“I Read to Write” is now available nationwide and can be purchased in packages of five Student Editions ($29.95) or in a Next Generation Assessment Classroom Value Package ($175.00), which includes 25 Student Editions, a Teacher Edition and practice exams. Priced at less than $6 per student, schools can outfit an entire classroom for less than the cost of a few cases of printer paper. To learn more about the program and to request a free sample, visit

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Importance of Good Principals:Creating a Staff That Works With You!

"The Importance of Good Principals" is the title of an article in the NY Times.

I've been told that I would make a good principal. I wouldn't. I want to work with children, and I am not the most organized person in the world. You have to run an entire school, an entire school! Because I have taught for 30 years, I wanted to offer my insight into what I believe makes a good principal. I have been fortunate enough to have worked under some great ones.And while they may not have all the qualities I list, they have had many of them.

Open Door Policy
I stand at my classroom door and greet my students every morning. If they need to talk to me about anything, they know they can. If it's not really important, they might have to wait awhile, but they never feel as if they can't approach me.
Be approachable. When the lights are off in the office all time, or the door is closed, and you're the only one in there, what message do you think is being conveyed? If a teacher has a problem, or needs help, they probably wouldn't come to you because the "Do Not Disturb" message is loud and clear.

Treat Everyone the Same
Everyone has their favorites. I think it's part of our DNA. As a teacher, I know there are kids in my class I like better than others, for whatever reason. But, I try my best not to let the other kids know it.
A divide is created when there are rules for one set of teachers, and a different rule for others.Teachers not only resent you, but they resent the "favorite" teachers as well.

Answer Emails
If I'm not mistaken, a teacher has a 48 hour turnaround time to answer parents when they are called or emailed.
I realize principals are busy, and I can't imagine the volume of emails they must receive, it must be hard to choose which ones to respond to. But I think an email from a teacher, a person working with the kids in the school, should also have a turnaround time. The worst part is when a teacher's email is completely ignored, never to be answered. Message conveyed, "You are not important enough for me to take a minute to answer your email."

Make Teachers Part of the Decision-Making Process
There's nothing worse than having someone ask for your opinion, and then do whatever it is they were going to do anyway. I would prefer not to be asked.
No, actually, since teachers are the ones who are actively working in the classroom, they should be asked. Not only asked, listened to. Not only listened to, but taken seriously. Leadership should understand that many teachers know what they're talking about when it comes to their students.

Do Not Patronize
When a student writes an apology letter, I tell them the words mean nothing to me. They are just words on a paper. The words have meaning when their actions back up what they have written.
"Thank you for all the work that you do!" and "You are the best staff ever!" and all the other tired platitudes that are thrown about, are meaningless when the words are not supported by actions.Show teachers that they are appreciated in the way they are treated.

Care About Your Staff
I had a principal who stated at the beginning of the year that our families came first. This was the principal I worked under when my Dad was dying of cancer. Not once did he question my extended leaves to help my Dad who lived in another state. He always said, "Do what you have to do."
Show concern for your staff, their family, their illnesses, or celebrations. Let them know you care. It's important that all the staff be treated this way, not just the "favorites."

Understand Teachers Have a Voice
Imagine how much easier a principal's life would be if every member of the staff did exactly what they were asked to do, every time they were asked to do it? No disagreements, just affirmative nods.
It will never happen. Teachers have a voice, especially when it is in the best interest of our students or we feel our rights are being compromised. Teachers should not be "punished" because they choose to speak up, or refuse to accept the status quo. I know many teachers who just "go along to get along" because they are terrified of losing their jobs or fear being "put on the list." Respect the teachers who dare to speak out, listen to them, learn from them.

Monday, April 6, 2015

What Do "Regular Kids" Miss Because They're Not "Gifted?"

The other day I was at a workshop and the presenter introduced a QR Code Treasure Hunt that he used in his middle school classroom.  He used it with his gifted kids.
One of the attendees asked if it could be used with any kids.
He responded it could, but he doesn't use it with the "other" kids until later.
I wondered why he would need to wait until later, especially when using it with middle school kids.
I use QR codes with my 5th graders.

The other day, I read a blog post about a poetry project.
Many of the comments were from excited teachers who were ready to jump in and participate with their "gifted" students.

I don't have a problem with "gifted" students and/or classrooms.
I was considered a "gifted" kid in a gifted school environment.
I see  nothing wrong with providing them with a challenging environment.
That's not my point.

My problem is when the "regular" kids are not given a chance to do these things because it's automatically assumed that they can't.
Or worse, why bother because it's going to be more challenging teaching them, as opposed to the gifted student.
I know I have kids in my class who can do, and those who can't.
But I give them a chance to "can't."
And the same ones who "can't" one thing, excel at something else.

We can't automatically assume that when things are challenging, our "regular" students can't meet the challenge.
It's not fair that while some build robots, the "regular" kids are just reading about it.
While some write on their blogs, others are practicing grammar on worksheets.

Too many times, we relegate challenges to our "gifted" students, leaving our "regular" students to the mediocre, mundane, routine of classroom life.
I tell my kids there is nothing wrong with struggling, it's not making an effort that's the problem.
Let's give our "regular" kids a chance to struggle if they need to, they might surprise you!

 photo credit: Дешевый телефон via photopin (license)