Saturday, April 13, 2019

Tried & True Bookmaking: Sewing Contact Paper Book

Although I don't sew much, other than the occasional hemming of pants or jeans (yes, my legs are short) or sewing badges onto my daughter's Girl Scout uniform, my sewing machine does get a lot of use for BOOKMAKING!
First of all, bringing a sewing machine into the classroom is amazing to kids:  it's a machine!! Plus having a hardback book with pages that are sewn makes it valid as a "real book", just like the hardback books in our class library! Since I tend to be lazy and try to eliminate steps, using contact paper saves the gluing step. Watch the video below for simple steps to creating these fabulous books! 

Depending on the pattern of contact paper you find, it makes the end papers look fancy!
This is the what the sewing binding looks like: (just like a "real book"!) 
Don't worry; if you don't have a sewing machine, you can use your trusty long-arm stapler! It is one of my "can't live without" classroom tools!
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Let me know if you try this Sewing Contact Paper book!

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Whole Body Learning

Geometry was a daunting subject for me in high school. So when I started teaching, I was determined to think of a way to teach geometry that was fun and interactive. 
25 years ago, I sewed wide strips of elastic to form giant bands. Students use these bands and their whole bodies to form geometric shapes and angles. (A friend later mentioned that Chinese jump-ropes would work just as well!!) Well, that would have saved me hours of time! LOL Anyway. . . I love the higher level thinking these elastic bands lend themselves to: geometric proofs!
A group of three to four students has one elastic band and as I call out various shapes or angles, they use their body parts to form the geometric term. My one rule is that each student in the group has to be touching the band. This becomes tricky when there are more sides than arms or legs! They have to get creative!
The language and conversation between kids as they explain, argue, and form each shape or angle is fantastic to eavesdrop in on! I sure wish my teachers had done something like this when I took high school geometry!

Another great way to promote higher level thinking and interaction with geometric terms and attributes is Geometry Riddles. You can read about them HERE.
You may also be interested in this fast-paced review game of Geometry I Have, Who Has.

How do you teach students the relationships and attributes of geometric figures?
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Thursday, April 4, 2019

Test Prep Boot Camp

It's almost that time of year: state testing! Egads! I always struggle internally with not wanting to waste precious teaching and learning time on teaching to the test, yet wanting my students to be prepared. 
The good news is that if you teach using a workshop model (Reader's Workshop and Writer's Workshop), much of what is tested is already what we teach throughout the year. And we often ask our students to delve deeper than limiting answers to multiple choice tests. Stamina is one of the most important factors in test-taking. The ELA tests often require students to sit and read pages (screens) of information, sometimes taking over an hour! However, if your kids are used to reading independently for long periods of time, this will not be as daunting for them. Having substantial time to read "just right" texts throughout the school year is a great way to build reading stamina. (The same goes for developing writing stamina during the writing process!)

I know many schools spend weeks, even months on "test prep" but I do not have time (nor the desire) for that! The couple weeks before our testing week is spent on test PREP, not test practice. It is not a time for drill and kill worksheets, but for preparing students for what to expect and how to create a plan of action. In comes Test Prep Boot Camp! Similar to workout boot camp, the teacher is the trainer/coach and it is our job to develop the right muscles and stamina to help our kids succeed.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Conversations about Character

Spring . . . the time of year when the school year feels never-ending; especially when spring break is still 2-1/2 weeks away! Teachers are tired and kids often start regressing in behaviors.  Morning meetings and read alouds focus back on conflict resolution, anti-bullying, kindness, tolerance. 
I'm blogging over at The Walking Classroom and talking about revisiting character lessons. You can read about it HERE.  Come visit!

You can also read more great ideas about bullying prevention HERE or click on the picture below.
How do you teach character values with your students? 

Monday, March 25, 2019

Beyond the Acrostic

Anyone else tired of reading acrostic poetry? It seems as if it is the only "poem" format that my students know and resort to again and again! There are so many other forms of poetry: haiku, cinquain, diamante, bio-poems; the list goes on!
And yes, while I like the ease of teaching a specific format, I really love free verse poetry. Students choose their topic and play around with their lettering and explore using white space on a page to create a mood.
Regie Routman is one of my educational gurus. She has been advocating for authentic literacy practices since I first started teaching. Many of her books, videos, and workshops are what have kept me grounded in my teaching practices. So of course, I was thrilled when she published Kids' Poems: Teaching Third and Fourth Graders to Love Writing Poetry. (She has also published Kids' Poems books for kindergarten, first and second grades!) From Amazon: "Regie Routman shares her delightful selection of free verse poems written by third-and fourth graders that will inspire your third-and fourth graders to think, I can write poems like this too! Regie provides strategies for using kids' poems as models to guide children to write poems about things they know and care about, from eating french fries to secret places and family trips. She describes the way she invites children to study the model poem, beginning by asking kids, What do you notice? She shows how she demonstrates the poetry-writng process to children: thinking aloud and drafting poems about her own life, and then inviting children to write on their own."
Note: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to
Look how this student used capital letters and repetition to emphasize his emotions!
Using photos is another great way to elicit observations and descriptions. You can grab this set of tree photos HERE or by clicking on the photo below. Each photo is of the same tree, taken from different viewpoints.
Students naturally want to write about people, pets, and issues that are important to them. I love the humor and play on words this student uses, when writing about her dog:
And this student varies the font to emphasize how AWFUL she feels electronics are! Although not a popular viewpoint among my class, but WOW, what a powerful observation about kids and adults around her!

Monday, March 11, 2019

Tried & True Bookmaking: Raffia Sewing Book

Next up in our bookmaking series! I love bringing in my electric drill and watching my students' eyes light up! LOL
Don't let the drill scare you; it's actually easy to use (and I'm not all that handy) and makes for stunning books! Materials needed:

  • electric drill 
  • drill bit (experiment a bit; it needs to drill a hole large enough to thread your raffia or yarn through)
  • 2 pieces of stiff paper or cardstock for the cover
  • raffia or yarn
  • scissors

The cover for this book below was two sheets of manila tag, covered with ripped pieces of tissue paper and starch. It gives it a very artsy look (and easy for all kids to do!) Add the raffia to bind the book and they are gorgeous!
The book below was so much fun to make! Instead of two separate covers for front and back, we took one sheet of corrugated cardstock (double the length of of the inside papers plus about 2-3 inches extra). We wrapped the corrugated cardstock around the papers, then folded the extra as a flap. After drilling the holes on the left and hand-sewing the yarn to bind it,  kids sewed a large button and elastic to hook the cover closed. 
 Have you tried having your students sew books by hand? Give the drill a try;  I felt like Rosie the Riveter!

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Building Student Empowerment

It was my first year of teaching and I was a little nervous and very excited about my first parent-teacher conferences. 3 parents out of my 27 students showed up. Three. Other experienced teachers at my school said that wasn’t unusual. What?! Something was wrong. 30+ years later. . . I have 100% parent participation.
How to get 100% parent attendance and participation? A slight shift in the traditional conference: conferences run by students instead of teachers. “When students must report to their families what they're learning—what skills and understandings they have, what areas still challenge them, and where they hope to get to—they must understand their own learning and progress. They take pride in what they can do and take responsibility for what they need to work on. Education stops being something done to them and begins being something that they are leading.” (Educational Leadership, Vol. 71, No. 6)

Although students are initially shy about leading their conference, they develop their leadership skills, build critical thinking and reflection skills. Their families are more connected to the growth of their child and students have more buy-in to their own learning.
My students take charge of their learning through the use of portfolios. They are continuously examining and reflecting on their work, comparing the quality of it to the standards. How to select learning goals and develop a plan of action is explicitly modeled and taught. Their portfolios reflect their progress toward their self-selected goals with tangible evidence such as student work, photographs, and even letters signed by classmates (if they were working on a goal such as teamwork or sportsmanship). It is so exciting to watch and listen to fourth graders lead their parent conferences; sharing their self-report card and proudly discussing their growth! Areas of need are shared as goals, as child, parents, and teacher also give input. Kids are usually brutally honest about their progress (often much harder on themselves than I am!), yet they take pride in all that they have accomplished. Although I allot a few minutes at the end of each conference if parents want to speak to me privately, but they usually do not have questions about grades after their child has shared. Parents always leave the conference impressed with their child’s honest self-evaluation. It is so heartwarming to see each student shine!

As students learn about setting goals, we use this acrostic GOALS sheet and put into the back cover of their portfolios. To grab a copy of this GOALS sheet in color and B & W, click on the image below or click HERE
To read more in-depth "how to" initiate student-led conferences, click on the links below.
For the complete Student Learning Portfolios resource, click HERE or on the image below.
Visit the blogs below for more terrific teaching ideas!

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