Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Z is for Zest

     Wow, I cannot believe today is the last letter to post. For the letter Z I looked to my students for inspiration.
     I have the privilege to be a teach some pretty amazing kids. My third graders have such a zest for life and dreams that can inspire anyone. They believe that they can achieve success in life and overcome challenges. They are creative, caring, and hopeful. It is truly contagious! They keep me feeling inspired to learn more, try more, and not get bogged down by things I cannot control. What in your life is full of zest?


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Y is for Yay for National Teacher Appreciation Day

Tuesday, May 6th is National Teacher Day. When I think back on my schooling I have such positive memories and experiences,  I am so thankful. I remember each and every teacher I have had with fond memories. No, they weren't perfect, they had their good days and bad. But, overall, my teachers inspired me personally, challenged me academically, and made me feel accepted. I truly have so many teachers to thank.

I encourage you to take time on May 6th to thank a teacher. As a current teacher, I know it would be appreciated and it would mean a lot.

Monday, April 28, 2014

X is for Roman Numeral X

I cannot believe I was having a hard time thinking of something to post for X. Today is my fur babies'  10th birthday.

Ten (Roman Numeral X) years ago my hubby and I adopted the cutest Golden Retrievers ever. They are brother (Lefty) and sister (LuLu). They have blessed our lives in so many ways. They are the children we always wanted but did not have. They are dedicated companions and truly love us unconditionally. They are forgiving friends and adoring fans. Take a look at these two ten years ago.
They love taking pictures, especially LuLu. She will block her brother in any photo to be front and center. Aren't they adorable!? LuLu is my special girl. She is sensitive and so in tune with my emotions and Lefty loves his poppa.

Boy! We have both sure changed in ten years. Here's to aging gracefully and enjoying each day. Happy Birthday Lefty and LuLu. I am off to make their birthday dinner, Spagetti and Meatballs.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

W is for Writer's Workshop

I love writing! Therefore, my students love writing, even the ones that struggle with writing. I have to say I owe it to two things. First, I use anchor books a lot. Thanks to the amazing writers in the world I can find an anchor book to connect to all aspects of writing. Thank you! Second, Writer's Workshop. Writer's Workshop in a nutshell consists of the following:
  1. Minilesson (5-15 minutes) This is a short lesson that focuses on one topic. The topic is dependent on your students need. If you notice a common mistake in their writing, then there is your minilesson. I typically only have a minilesson 2-3 times a week. 
  2. Status of the Class (2-5 minutes) Just a quick sharing to see what everyone is working on. Can be done weekly. It's a great way to provide interest in others topics.
  3. Writing Time- (30- 50 minutes) Students write to their hearts content while the teacher has individual or group conferences. Time can be more or less dependent on the grade. Teachers can incorporate genre specific writing during the week. But the main focus of Writer's Workshop is for students to choose their own topics.
  4. Sharing (5-15 minutes) Writers read what they have been working on and the class can provide feedback. It takes time for students to provide constructive criticism but it is a great time to celebrate everyone's writing.
I appreciate the flexibility that Writer's Workshop provides and the amount of time it provides students to write.

Friday, April 25, 2014

V is for Vocabulary

Over my years in teaching there has been a constant flow of how to best and effectively provide vocabulary instruction. This may seem like a simple concept, but for many teachers (including myself) it often leaves unsure of which strategy is best to use. Add to that, "district" administrators/facilitators providing one inservice stressing that we use the most current and popular trend. Now, the teacher is expected to use this strategy to teach. Don't get me wrong, I welcome the opportunity to learn a new and better way to improve my teaching. But, I don't believe there is only one way of teaching anything.

That's why I typically use Graves multi-component approach to teaching vocabulary. His approach consists of four parts.
  1. Wide Reading- "The more you read, the more vocabulary you learn." I am a total believer! Students should read a variety of texts and at different levels (simple, for fun, and challenging).
  2. Teaching Individual Words- Pre-teach key vocabulary before students read text. Choose words that appear across all types of text or are uncommon to daily use.
  3. Teaching Word Learning Strategies- Knowledge of word parts (prefix, root word, suffix), dictionary use, inferring meaning, cognate awareness (ELL)
  4. Fostering Word Consciousness- Get students interested in words! Graves shared, "If we can get students interested in playing with words and language, then we are at least halfway to the goal of creating the sort of word-conscious students who will make words a lifetime interest."
Within these four parts there is plenty of room for teachers to be creative and incorporate other effective strategies. Please share if you have found an effective way to teach vocabulary, I would love to hear what you do.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

U is for Useful

I am not sure why the letter U was such a toughy but it was. I just got back from a trip to Lowe's with my hubby and saw all these amazing things one can build with the right tools. One of my hubby's favorite catch phrases is, "I just need the right tool." That usually means he is off to Home Depot or Lowe's in search of a new tool. So I thought, as a teacher, what are the tools that I need to get my job done?

Here is my list of teacher useful/must have/cannot live without tools.
  1. Expo Markers 
  2. Sticky Notes
  3. Mr. Sketch Scented Markers (love the colors and scent)
  4. Paper Mate Flair felt tip pens (they don't smear)
  5. Chart paper
  6. Blue pen (only color for attendance folder)
  7. Magnets
  8. Whistle (got to have it)
  9. Smart Board (How would I teach without it?)
  10. Blue Painters Tape 
  11. Glue gun
  12. Highlighter
  13. Popsicle sticks
I am sure I am forgetting a few dozen or so items.

Any teachers out there that want to add to the list? If you're not a teacher, what is your most useful tool?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

T is for Teaching

   I began teaching at the ripe age of 21. I had truly no idea what I was doing and often felt like never returning to that multiage class of 25 students. Which consisted of struggling 1st-3rd graders and English learners. Nonetheless, I worked through the trials and tribulations and twenty years later I am still a teacher. I have improved at my craft over time and have become a life-long learner.
   Teaching is very much a part of me and who I am. I have to say the years just whizzed by and lately it is difficult to remember the faces let alone the names of those I have taught. For me, teaching has allowed me to be creative, a critical thinker, and self driven. Of course, there are the negatives- unmotivated colleagues, school politics, student behavior problems, and everyone seems to know how to do your job. But, given the good with the bad it has developed me into who I am today.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

S is for Shoes (Sigh)

   Oh the power of shoes. They have the ability to make us (me) feel literal emotions. They make me feel happy, excited, confident, comfortable, sexy, and sad. I had to add sad because recently one of my fur babies chewed up a pair. Tragic! So, I thought is there a psychology of shoes?
   And yes there is. Christian Louboutin understands this psychology of shoes very well. His shoes range from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Mind you, I do not own a pair but I know that if Louboutin is selling more that 500,000 pairs of shoes for these prices- he gets the psychology of shoes.
   I don't think shoes have to be expensive to emote such an emotional response. They just have to "speak" to you. Currently, these are my fave. They seem to go with any outfit and are super comfortable. What shoes are you currently loving?

Monday, April 21, 2014

R is for Ridiculous

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The top ten things I find ridiculous. At first when I decided to name ten I wondered if I could actually find ten ridiculous things and immediately found that it was no problem at all. Strangely enough a lot of them pertained to food. Writing the list turned out to be rather cathartic.
1. That absurdly thin line of time between when the popcorn is perfectly popped or completely scorched.
2. Checking five times that the iron is off even though it has an automatic shut off valve.
3. Bacon as a garnish for every food ever eaten in the world of cuisine.
4. My son texting me from his bedroom asking for a drink of water.
5. Me answering the text with an OK and obediently delivering the water.
6. Green and white jelly beans-- I mean really-- for what purpose?
7. Recess being called off because the grass is too wet to play on.
8. Half-skipping out to the mailbox with that farfetched hope that the elusive million dollar check has finally arrived and being met with the usual pile of bills.
9. Leaving the doctor's office upset that the blood test was a little high in glucose and going straight to the store to buy M&Ms for comfort.
10. Neighbors who plant orange trees on the public trail behind the house and post signs that say "no picking the fruit" only to let the fruit drop on the ground to rot.

Feel free to add to the list!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Q is for Quiet

This past week was a whirlwind. Every moment felt like a rush and I was exhausted by Friday. Have you had one of those weeks where all you desire is a moment of... silence? Well, here is to all of us having a quiet moment to enjoy life, reflect, and ponder. Here is my quiet moment.

Friday, April 18, 2014

P is for Physical Education

   In the state of California teachers are required to teach 200 minutes of physical education every ten school days for students in graders one through six. At times, this is a real challenge. Most elementary school teachers (including me) do not have a strong background in teaching physical education and creating lessons is an arduous task. So, when my colleague Annette told me about Adventures to Fitness an online fitness program, I did some research and was hooked!
   It has been a couple of months since my class has started using Adventure to Fitness every Thursday. My kiddos bring a bottled water and sneakers and they are ready for their 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise. We sure work up a sweat and are exhausted by the end. But, we always have a sense of accomplishment. There are five free episodes available for you to try too. You don't have to be a teacher, you can get moving at home too! Let me know what you think.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

O is for Open House

   We had our Open House today at our school. Whew! I'm exhausted. Open House is an interesting thing. For us, Open House is a time for parents to see their child's classwork, projects, and time to visit with the teacher in more of an informal way. I enjoy this interaction so much more than Back to School when I have to make a formal presentation and it might be the first time I am meeting the parents. My turnout wasn't bad- 17 out of 22 students came and my hubby stopped by to meet my students. My students were so cute about meeting him.
   I am not a parent, so I was curious about how parents feel about after school activities like Open House. Let me know you thoughts.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

N is for Navajo Pottery

In third grade we study Native Americans of North America. The Navajo are one of the groups we study and our students are fascinated by how resourceful this tribe.They particularly enjoyed learning about the beautiful art work the tribe created.
Wendie and I tried to capture the beauty of the details and patterns the Navajo pottery by using a variety of beans. Check out how lovely they came turned out.

Monday, April 14, 2014

M is for Math Stretches

   During the summer I participated in a profession book study. A group of teachers interested in improving our teaching of math discussed, created, and collaborated together to gain further insight. I, by no means consider myself a math person, but I do consider myself a life-long learner and that is essential to being a teacher.
   One particular chapter in Building Mathematical Comprehension resonated with me. Chapter 3 dealt with helping students connect math to activities they do daily. I know, I have been guilty of saying or thinking, "When will I ever use math?" But in reflection- I use math all the time! It appears like a simple concept, but one that is not emphasized enough. My original post discusses the chapter in detail and there is a download for you to use. Check it out, click on our button below.

Here is a great video to compel you to open your heart :) to math.

L is for Line Plots

Graphs have become a big part of every day school life. Graphs help us share data and information using visual representations and by exposing students to various graphs they begin to develop "data literacy." Graphs seem like a pretty simple concept but creating a graph is the first step. True data literacy involves analyzing the data and creating meaning. That is the challenging part for my students.
For some fun try a line plot with your students or kiddos. Click on the cover to download- Happy graphing!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

K is for Kids

     Martha and I are what you might call extreme animal lovers. We spend a ludicrous amount of our lunch break talking and laughed about the shenanigans our pets get into. Several years ago my neighbor bought a gorgeous ranch up in Oregon, and she had room for our two horses. So I sent them off to the cushiest retirement any two horses could wish for. But my empty barn looked sad and lonely without any creatures in it and since my own kids(the human ones) were grown, I decided I needed some new kids.
     I've had Janie the caramel colored African Pygmy  since she was two days old. She and her sister Emmie, the black doe, lived their first two months in a playpen in my laundry room. We all took turns filling baby bottles and feeding them.  They were nothing short of adorable and to see my six-foot-two twenty-one year old son asleep on the couch with a baby goat tucked beneath his chin was beyond awesome.
     There is a third doe too and her name is Trixie but because she is a third kid, there are considerably less pictures of her. I can relate. My parents snapped a picture of every breath, yawn and burp uttered by my oldest sister. My second oldest sister only had her picture taken when she was lucky enough to be sitting next to our big sister. I'm still not quite sure if I ever was an infant because there is no photographic proof of it and even though I promised not to do the same with my kids, poor little Trixie lacks a photo history. But she is just as adorable.
     Just like real kids, these kids play rough with their siblings, get cranky when they're tired and fight for Mom's attention. And they are quite noisy too. Emmie and Trixie make unique little sheep sounds but Janie screams when she's hungry. I'm not sure what a banshee sounds like but if they really did exist, they would sound just like Janie. They are a great bunch of kids and I love them.

Friday, April 11, 2014

J is for Jumbles

This past summer Wendie and I worked on creating instructional resources that would really impact our students learning. One are we focused on was mathematical problem solving. We created Math Jumbles that started out as math warm-ups but eventually developed into an opportunity for our students to demonstrate their mathematical thinking and understanding. Math Jumbles, in conjunction with our Critical Crumbs, activities has helped our students synthesize what they know and move towards becoming independent problem solvers. There is a great deal of satisfaction watching them enjoy math and be active in their learning process. For us, these activities do not replace our math directed instruction lesson but enrich our students growth.

Have a looksie and try them out with your students. The sample below is typically for third grade.
Click on the cover to download.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

I is for Inspiration

It was a challenging day today (Wednesday). The kiddos are anxious for Spring Break and so are the teachers or at least I am. I find that student behavior changes as they sense a change in our routine, thus leading to poor decision making on their part.  One way I cope with stress is to talk about it and vent a little. Once I can do that I can move past it and realize that tomorrow will be a better day. I also look for things in my life that inspire me to be a better teacher, friend, doggie mom, and wife. Here are my daily inspirations...

My hubby and my three fur babies inspire me to be more patient, loving, and forgiving. What is your inspiration?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

H is for Highlighter (Yes, highlighter)

2 Smart Wenches is composed of me (Martha) and my colleague and friend Wendie. She is a wonderful writer and teacher, and she has done me the favor of posting for the letter H. I believe her abilities as a writer come across very well.
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Highlighters, Yay! . . . sort of
Kids love to use highlighters. And kudos to the person who invented them-- seriously-- a marker that lets you read through it. Plus they're probably one of the most affordable learning tools. I know that the second the words "let's highlight the important stuff" leave my mouth, my students are scrambling for their favorite color. Blue is quite popular. But as awesome as highlighters are, they take a considerable amount of modeling and training-- or at least that has been my experience.
Early on in the school year my principal walked into observe and I was thrilled at my luck. Instead of the my usual misfortune in timing where she walks in while we're transitioning to a new lesson or even worse when she steps in on the infamous water bottle spill or the ever popular "oh, I forgot my glasses" complaint. Then of course the student stares at you expectantly as if you can just open your magical optometrist cupboard and pull out a new pair. But this time my students were engaged in small study groups where they had to find evidence to support several focus questions in our one of our Reading to Learn booklets. The highlighters were flying and the discussions were going. Unfortunately the highlighters were flying a bit too much. Many of the students had entire pages of pink highlight.
I found though that with plenty of modeling they learned how to be a bit more discriminating when highlighting. Now I tell students to ask themselves to read back what they've highlighted and check the question to see if the information is related.  And persistence has paid off. My third graders will move on to fourth grade much more skilled at finding important key details and relevant facts. Unless, of course, they forget everything over the summer.


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

G is for Garden

This particular garden happens to be a fairy garden. Okay, my secret obsession is fairy gardens. Although I don't use fairies, I enjoy the whimsey the miniatures bring to any garden. Creating a fairy garden is easy and you can let your imagination run wild.

I cannot tell you how relaxing it is to come home from a busy day and enjoy my little gardens of whimsey. Do you have a secret obsession? Maybe it can be a fairy garden :)

Sunday, April 6, 2014

F is for the Four C's

To give you a bit of backgound- The Four C's are being called the "super skills" for the 21st Century. These skills have been 10 years in the making and were developed in partnership by the National Education Association (NEA) and several national organizations. The skills were narrowed down to four after interviewing leaders in a variety of areas. The 4 C's include:
  • Critical Thinking
  • Collaboration
  • Creativity
  • Communication
The goal is to make the development and refinement of these skills part of the "classroom practice." Which in and of itself seems to like a great idea, but how to do it is the challenge.

Now, as a teacher I believe I need to be able to show my students what each skill "looks and sounds like" in order for them to make any progress. Unfortunately, I couldn't find anything written in kid terms. So... I read what I could find about each skill and attempted to synthesize what each skill would look like in an elementary school student.

Just click on the posters to download. Hope you find them helpful:)

Saturday, April 5, 2014

E is for Egg-citing Writing

Next week my class will be writing some egg-citing mysteries. Wendie wrote an amazing anchor story that we will share with our students. The idea is for the kiddos to write about one day going for a walk and finding an egg. They will share how they cared for the egg, what hatched out of the egg and how they finally said goodbye to their "creature." Our students love this activity because they can be as creative as they want and then they get to put together a nifty egg book. Fun huh?! As in my last post I found some beautiful picture books that help students think of other animals that hatch from eggs.

The illustrations are so beautiful and full of colorful eggs. They help expand my students thinking before writing. If you want to to take part in this writing activity just click on the cover for your free copy.
Oh- Let me tell you about a great little book club I am currently participating in Ramona Recommends EBook Club. Our first book is The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. I had not heard of this book until this book club and have been delighted with the first few chapters. The story takes place in 1899 in Texas. The main character, Calpurnia (Callie) is very endearing. She has such an independent, curious spirit. I finally have the weekend to really dive in! The meshing of Darwin’s ‘The Origin of Species’, Calpurnia’s relationship with her grandfather, and being a girl during this time period intrigue me.