Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Birthday Books ;-)

I am dying to read The One and Only Ivan and use The Nighttime Novelist to begin working on my book - I have a few great seed ideas ;-)

I had an awesome birthday, even though this marks the milestone year of 30. This age frightens me, but to cheer up, I listened to Tim McGraw's "My Next Thirty Years" and remembered the wise saying that you are only as old as you feel.

Regardless of the feelings of doom about my age, I had a lot of fun, saw a lot of friends and family AND got some awesome books as gifts! Plus, I got loads of delicious treats from my culinary-gifted co-workers.

Thanks to Shawn, his mom and my friends at school I was able to get tons of new, exciting books!

A set of grammar books! ;-)

First Read Aloud!

As part of the  #nerdybookclub, I have shared a picture of my first read aloud (last Friday) at school. I have chosen to once again start with one of the most hilarious books EVER: Sideways Stories from Wayside School. The kids are loving it so far, but the humor is a bit over their head sometimes. :-)

The Nerdy Book Club would like to see a picture of your first read aloud too! The deadline is August 31st! Check this out for details: http://nerdybookclub.wordpress.com/2012/08/19/first-read-aloud-pictures/

Not the best picture, but you get the idea :-)

Monday, August 27, 2012

Alternate Assessment. Thoughts?

Our school had quite an experience this year when we received our test scores. Our school has done very well over the past several years in raising our performance index and our students have worked so hard to do well on their achievement tests. For those that are new to this terminology, performance index is the number score that schools earn based on the "level" of the student performance on the state test. There are five levels: advanced, accelerated, proficient, basic and limited. A student who scores advanced gets multiplied by 1.2, accelerated 1.1, proficient 1 and so on. In short, you want more kids in advanced and accelerated because they count more.

There are some students who are best served by taking alternate assessments, which are assessments designed to meet their needs. These students do not take the traditional state assessment. Last year, we had one student who was on alternate assessment. This student did AMAZING and passed all of the assessments, so we were naturally very proud. We were also proud of our overall scores, but lost a little of our spark when we learned that this student's tests for math and reading ended up NOT counting for our school.  In fact, they counted as FAILING, even though this student had passed. Is anyone else confused? (Or confuzzled, as an old student of mine used to say.)

The reason for this nonsense is a rule, dictated by NCLB, that a school district is not to have 1% of their total student population taking alternate assessment. What this means is that some schools discourage alternate assessments, even when there are students that may benefit. The punishment for a school district having a more than 1% of students on alternate assessment? Well, as crazy as it sounds, the school district must put the names/test scores of all of the students on alternate assessment "in a hat", pick out enough to lower the percentage and then discard those students' test scores. Those students' tests then COUNT AS FAILING. The student is still shown as passing to their parents and in their cum file, but for the district? Failing, failing...failing.

How on Earth is this allowed to happen? I'm all for alternate assessment when it is in the best interest of the student. But why are the schools, intervention specialists (who work hours and hours on this assessment) and the students the ones punished for doing the right thing? If we as a nation really cared about what is best for every student, then it shouldn't matter if a district goes above 1%. Each district should allow any student who needed alternate assessment to take one, without having to worry about a limit, if you ask me.

***Further reading on Pages 9 and 10 of this document.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The First Day! 8-23-12

Today rocked! I think we have a great set of new fifth graders this year and MANY of them already seem as enthusiastic about reading as my co-teacher and I are. Meeting students for the first time is always so fun, isn't it?

Today was one of the best first days that I can recall in quite awhile, mainly because of the effort to approach the first day differently. I mean, I tend to always change things up each year, but today's first day was unlike any first day I have had before. Thanks to inspiration from Colby Sharp (@colbysharp), today was a reading explosion in my room! I pounded, screamed, and possibly even jumped around the room exclaiming that reading was THE BEST! The kids couldn't believe it as I walked across the rows of desks shouting "Reading is AWESOME!" Did they think I was crazy? Maybe a bit...but that's okay. I told them that without paying the cost of a scuba diving trip, I was able to go deep-sea diving this summer because of a book I read. I told them that even though I have never met a kid in real life with a severe facial deformity, I met one (a boy named Auggie) this summer while reading Wonder.  I asked them, "Did you know that you could travel to Africa without paying the airfare?" I wanted them to know books take you to exciting, new places.

I have always had good success, on the whole, with getting my students to read more and also enjoy their reading more. But, this summer, I realized that I needed to do more. Thanks to some awesome Twitter friends and Donalyn Miller's (@donalynbooks) book The Book Whisperer, it became clear what I needed to do differently - get them into reading on day one! The idea of letting kids check out and raid my books on the first day initially violated my internal desire for balance and order. After today's excitement, I know I did more on THIS first day of school than I ever have before by simply getting books in my students hands right away and sharing my passion for reading as loud as I could! Sitting in front of them telling them the importance of reading (like I have done so many times) pales in comparison to literally jumping for joy and allowing them to get into the library and start choosing books. My kids handled it well and even though I was "spraying it while I was saying it", no one complained that a few specks of spit headed their way. The final result was over 90% of each class today borrowed a book to take home tonight :-)

After this frenzy, my students were able to read for 15 minutes to themselves - a new routine that I vow to make time for each day. I also was able to pull them together as a group and read Chapter 1 of my first read-aloud of the year, Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar. I will post a picture tomorrow and on Twitter for #nerdybookclub.

I hope everyone who returned to teaching today, has already, or will soon has a great first day also!

If you have never read this hilarious book, check out this great site with a review of my first read aloud: Kids Blog Review of Sideways Stories From Wayside School

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A New Year!

I am so very excited to start this school year (my eighth) and this blog. This summer I have been greatly inspired by many people on Twitter, part of an amazing PLN that I have encountered.

I have been Twitter friends with Mr. Schu (an inspiration to many) for a few years - he once helped me create a Google Docs survey that I used to learn more about my students' reading behaviors. I have never been a frequent Twitter user, up until this summer when I began looking closely at the conversations occurring between Mr. Schu and other members of the Nerdy Book Club. I wanted to learn and share - so here I am. A wave of new ideas for improving my classroom instruction has come my way. I feel like I had found my enthusiasm again! It's easy to feel drained with the focus on state achievement results, and the Twitter universe has awoken the passion for doing what I know is best for my students.

I have read so many wonderful books this summer, such as Wonder by R.J. Palacio, The Fault in My Stars by John Green, and many more. I can't wait to share these titles and more with my students and to let the thrill of reading fly loose in the classroom!

I worked hard this year to organize my books by genre and decided (thanks to wise advice from the Nerdy Book Club) to not label reading levels on my books. It is our job as literacy educators to provide the time to independent read and give the students the freedom to choose their own reading adventures.

I thought I would post a few photos of my classroom and bulletin boards. Here's to a great 2012-2013 school year for everyone ;-)