Thursday, July 10, 2014

Summer Slide

I like a break just as much as anyone else, but to hear kids say that they didn't do any reading or math over the summer makes me sad.  I was the kid that ate up the public library's reading contest each summer.  It's interesting how much I found the bookmarks and all of the other trinkets so motivating. I also believe that is how I began to love reading, and I probably wouldn't have read classics like Little Women otherwise.  

I have heard many arguments against summer assignments like "let kids be kids" and "Johnny, doesn't like to read so I don't make him". However, we are doing Johnny and everyone else a disservice.  I have my students read at least 20 minutes a day.  I don't care if it's the back of a cereal box or a comic book as long as they read.  Dr. Seuss was right.  "The more you read; the more you know.  The more you know; the smarter you'll grow."  Think how much farther those that read and practice their math facts are by the end of the summer.  

You can only get better by practicing.  Do we let our kids take a break from piano for 3 months straight or from baseball or other sports? Most often than not, NO!  Then, why do we let them from academics?  





Sunday, June 8, 2014

Do you work in the summer?

“So you don’t work in the summer?”

This phrase and various other versions of it are said to me each and every summer. It is my version of fingers on a chalkboard, and it sends me reeling (even though I try to hide it). Just ask my husband!

While I know there are lots of teachers that sit around the pool all summer, I am not one of them.  I also know lots of teachers that spend their summers nannying, tutoring, and doing other “2nd jobs” just to get by on their small salaries.

So do I work in the summer?  

Before having my daughter, I was tutoring ALL summer or teaching summer school. Now it isn’t full time, but that doesn’t mean I take a break from learning all that I can about what’s new in our profession and various other things related to work.

I read, plan, and create all summer long.  It isn’t stressful like it is during the school year.  I start the summer by organizing my lesson plan book for the year.  Then, I fill in the calendar information, and I start planning the design of my classroom and map the curriculum out for the year.

I spend time reading through the teachers manuals of new programs we are implementing and I even attend workshops and webinars.  I find supplementary materials to go along with what we are learning.

While it’s usually stress-free, it is still related to my career, so I still call it working.  Do I go out of town on vacations and spend some time outside and at the pool?  Of course, but I am never completely away from my work and I like it that way.  It helps relieve the stress of starting the school year, and it keeps me organized.  

So what do I say in response?  Yes, I still work during the summer, but it’s more preparing for the next year (and yes, that entails some R&R mixed in).

I also am creating products for Teachers Pay Teachers.  Check out my summer sale:  


Blessings,
Colleen 

Monday, June 2, 2014

Letting Go of Perfectionism

One thing I love about teaching is being able to stay at home with my daughter during breaks.  Am I off the job? Never, but at least we get to figure out our own schedule.  


Today, we decided to “color” with the crayons she got for Easter.  Being not quite a year and a half old, crayons are a new concept to her.  but she learned quickly how to get color on the page.  When we were done, I had her put her colors back in the box.  


See I am a perfectionist when it comes to a lot of things, even if my house is still a mess.  I like crisp corners on my books; dog-eared pages make me cringe.  I like books to be put back on the shelf spine out.  AND I like my markers and crayons to be put back pointy or cap side up.  


My 1 year old helped me to see that sometimes we just have to let go of the perfectionism and just celebrate that the crayons were returned to the box, and the books have been returned to the shelf.  She put them in willy nilly, but they made it in the box.  



This got me to thinking about my classroom and the things that eat away at my perfectionism or drive my OCD tendencies nuts.  Pencil shavings left around the sharpener.  Notebook metal spirals sticking out.  Classroom library books placed on top of the baskets instead of in them.  Should these things be taken care of? Of course, but they don’t need to ruin my day or anyone elses.  It’s not about having the perfect classroom.  It’s about the learning being done.  


So going into the next school year, I hope that I can put these things into better perspective and not let them bother me so much.  


I think I am learning more from this little girl than she is from me!  She’s so wise ;)




Happy Monday,


Colleen

photo credit: EJP Photo via photopin cc

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Why I Don't Use Reading Logs

Why I Don’t Use Reading Logs


I no longer use reading logs  in my 4th grade reading/language arts classroom.  When I say reading log, I am talking about the ones listing the title, author, and pages read each day.  Why would I not, you might ask?  I have a number of reasons that I will outline here.  I still LOVE the Book Whisperer and what she outlines in her book, but the logs just weren’t working for me and my students.


Reason 1:  It’s not going to help the love of reading.


You either have readers that LOVE reading or don’t.  I have found that my students that LOVE to read just want to read and the ones that don’t aren’t made to like it anymore to have to sit down and fill out the form.  


Now don’t get me wrong.  I was a kid that LOVED to read and found it very motivating to fill out the summer book contest logs from the public library in order to win prizes.  However, the lists we did in school was just a chore and took away from my reading.


Reason 2: They are a paper waster.  


What happens to all those paper logs after the kids are done with them?  They end up in a pile on my desk or glued in a notebook just taking up space.  What do the students do with them after I hand them back?  They end up throwing them away or, at best, recycling them.


Reason 3:  They are a time waster.


What happens to those pages and piles?  They end up cluttering my desk and taking up my time being graded.  Completion grades are a thing of the past anyways, so why grade them in the first place?  Who’s to say they didn’t just make it up anyways?  


So what do I do?


I assign a minimum of twenty minutes a night of reading.  Is it an honor system?  Yes and no.  Do I randomly ask how far they got in their book or what they read about? Yes.  


We have a big talk about how 20 minutes of reading a day will get you farther I also assign Accelerated Reader Goals for each quarter.  The good majority of them meet and exceed their goals.  The ones that do not meet their goals are usually pretty close.  I check in with the periodically throughout the quarter.  I suggest they take notes as they read so that they do not forget details and my accommodated students are allowed to use those notes on their quizzes.  I do give opportunities for rereading and if their books don’t have a test, I allow them to write a report.  AR even keeps a digital record of the books that they have read for me.


Are my reasons bulletproof ? Of course not.  Do they work for others?  Of course.  So take this with a grain of salt, but know it’s ok to not use them.  


Happy Reading,
Colleen

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Trades of Hope

As a teacher, we see families of all walks of life. I work in an area that is one of the most affluent in the country, yet there are still families that have been hit by economic downturn and are still struggling to make ends meet.

However, these families often are able to stick together and make things work without having to split families up. Unfortunately, this is often not the case in many countries around the world. One such place is Haiti. In Haiti, half a million children are orphaned each year not just by death and disease, but by poverty. Many women give up their children to orphanages in Haiti, because they are unable to feed their children on the average income in Haiti, $400.

Being a mother, I could not imagine having to give up a child. As a child of adoption, I know the power of what a family can bring. I am so blessed to be with the family I was adopted into. These things are what led me to a company named Trades of Hope. The motto of this company is empowering women out of poverty and other destitute situations such as the sex trade. Trades of Hope offers fair trade items such as necklaces made by a group of women in Haiti that works to help keep children with their own mothers. Trades of Hope sells their fair trade items in the US so that these women can take their children to work with them or send them to school. We are these women's voices in the US that allow them to sell their wares for fair prices 3 to 4 times their worth in their own economies. We offer them hope of financial stability.

To learn more about Trades of Hope or to purchase incredible fair trade items made by artisans around the world, please visit my website at : http://www.mytradesofhope.com/ColleenZehr

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Defying Expectations







After finishing up a disabilities unit last week, the other 4th grade teachers and I decided to share this moving video (which happens to be a Powerade commerical) with our students.  We had just had another teacher's brother who was born with cerebral palsy come to talk to the students about the challenges he faced and overcame.



Well, long story short, the student, who I would have thought would be the must unsympathetic because of all of the hard knocks he himself had been through, was moved to tears.  I felt really horrible for pegging him as not being able to empathize with either the speaker or Nico in this video.   It goes to show that people will surprise you each and every day.



It's fitting that the title of the video is defying expectations as that is what this student did for me.



Take a minute (or 2) and watch this inspiring video.  You might have a student that needs some uplifting or encouragement.



Colleen



Need a Mother's Day Gift?  Give a gift that pays it forward:

http://www.mytradesofhope.com/ColleenZehr



Thursday, April 25, 2013

Writing Using Illustrations from Picture Books


Do you have reluctant writers in your classroom?  What have you tried?  Why are they having trouble? 

 Often times, I have found that students get writer’s block when they are left up to their own devices.  I know if I am told to “just write” during writer’s workshop, I too find myself having the dreaded writer’s block.  Sometimes I just need that little nudge to get my creative juices flowing. 

Last year, my school began using Lucy Calkin’s Writers Workshop series.  I enjoyed the modeling aspect, because it allowed me to use what was familiar to me to help my students pick out what stories from their lives they wanted to share.  It also made the process more “real”.  Anything that we can do to give our students a connection to their “real” lives outside of school, the better.  This series concentrates on non-fiction writing.  However, the students keep asking me when we are ever going to be able to write fiction stories.  I always let them during Working on Writing part of Daily 5, because they are craving it.  Though, this was not always true for everyone.  So what do I do for those little authors that have trouble writing on their own? 

I cover up the words of fictional books that they already know and tell them to tell the story in their own words.  This can mean a number of things.  They can rewrite their stories to tell a totally different story, or they can write rewrite the story in different words (such as a summary).  I LOVE to see what they come up with and they have something to share with the group just like all of the other authors. 

The beauty of this way is that they can work on summarization and retelling skills as well as their own craft.  One book I have used with my older students in 4th and 5th grades is the True Story of the Three Little Pigs.  It is always fun to see what they come up with.  A story that I have used with my 1st and 2nd Graders is Dr. Suess’ Green Eggs and Ham.  Try using old fairy tales, bedtime stories, and nursery rhymes.  Their twists are often a hoot. 

Often it’s best to start in a student’s comfort zone and help scaffold them to a new height.