Saturday, April 19, 2014

What's Your One Word?

Each year at our Back-to-School Celebration for our campus we are always challenged and inspired to dream big for the upcoming school year. This year our principal at the time, Mrs. Dickerson, asked us to think of one word that we hoped to embody this school year. One word that meant something to us. One word that evoked emotion and "umph" for a better lack of word. 

I thought a great deal about my word. If you know me well, you know I tend to live in the future... always thinking ahead to what tomorrow will hold- even though everyone, even the Lord, tells me NOT to do this. That being said, the moment of today is often missed and while I enjoy the moment of NOW, I don't always embrace it as I should. Sometimes I am already thinking ahead to "if this...then that" scenarios and trying to trouble shoot. I guess I am a problem solver by nature. So my word for this year became "Enjoy."

To me, Enjoy meant to enjoy the moment. To live in the present, to embrace what life throws at you and enjoy the moment of it- good or bad. I carefully drew my word out neatly and creatively on the index cards we were given and turned it in. Happy that the mission was accomplished, and I could check it off my list. 

Several weeks later the words we made were put upon the wall in the hallway leading to the teacher's lounge.... all there to remind us of our own personal hope for the school year. There to scream at us as we pass by each day. There to sing to us when we are weary and tattered from a rough day. So, it comes as no surprise that I've still been thinking about my word "Enjoy" (and yes, I capitalized it because I wanted it to have authority). 

While "Enjoy" is a perfectly fine word, I can't say with 100% confidence it is one I have embraced all school year. Instead, a  new word surfaced, and surprisingly I am really ok with it. In fact, I love it. The word you ask?--- MESSY.

Earlier this year, I had an epiphany about this word in my life and what it meant to me. I realized in my personal life that while I want desperately to solve the problems I face before I even know them, it isn't always realistic. So sadly, I am in many ways setting myself up for failure. There is nothing wrong with Enjoy but in order to Enjoy, you must first realize it will be Messy and be ok with that; at peace with it. 

Life is messy and so is teaching. While I would love to be 100% organized and efficient, the fact is no teacher is 100% prepared for the wild-card that will be thrown their way that morning. Each day is a new day with (for me) 63 different variables and factors (and then add in my own 2 kids- 65). Each day- as prepared as I am to teach X, sometimes Y throws a curve-ball. We talk a great deal about teacher flexibility, and I'm very flexible, but being ok and happy with it can sometimes be more of a challenge... especially for someone crazy enough to think she can look ahead and fix problems before they appear. 

So- I officially declare my new word as- Messy. I embrace it. I realize that statistically many times learning is just that- messy. As idyllic as I'd like it to be- it's just not me. Messy suits me more anyway. And... I think I enjoy that.

So... we only have a short time to go this school year, but what would your word be for these last few weeks with your kids? What ever it is- Embrace it. Work it. Enjoy it. Feel free to declare your word in the comments! I would love to hear it!! 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Global Read Aloud- Full Circle Game Changer

Have you thought about what your game-changer has been this school year? 

Last summer I stumbled upon the ISTE convention not really knowing at all what I was in store for, but was hooked immediately. The people, the ideas, the sessions, the tweets, the blogs... this frenzied, super-charged mix of excitement and passion- all in the name of education. I listened to numerous speakers and leaders in our field talk about global collaboration- to think beyond the four walls of your school. I started to think about what this meant for me as a 5th grade teacher in a small Texas town and how I could bring this idea into my ELA classroom. Enter stage right- The Global Read Aloud

Several fellow ELA teachers I followed and learn from on Twitter mentioned #GRA so I decided to check it out. Totally unsure what it even entailed or if I would be able to really pull off this idea of connecting globally with other classes, I jumped off my side of the mountain (metaphorically speaking, of course... have you been to southeast Texas?) and took the plunge. I signed my classes up to participate. 

The idea is simple: one book (Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper), read aloud
Skype w/ Mrs. Ariss' class
according to the predetermined schedule, and options to connect with other classes- however you choose. Once I got over my fears of messing this up, we actually made many connections using various methods. We used Edmodo to visit with several classes in California, we created a Google Document that we then shared a link to- using our class Twitter account that other classes used to share their perspectives and thoughts. We received feedback from classes in Ohio, Iowa, Canada, and even Australia. This allowed for the difference in time changes and schedules, but still provided a place to exchange ideas and a running dialogue about the story we were reading. We used Skype with Today's Meet to interact with a class in Canada, as well as California. We participated in chats on Twitter, and even watched an interview with the author of the book we read on Google Hangouts- Live on Air!

While all of this 'busting down the walls' and 'thinking outside our school' was great- we began to think how this affects us- here- in our own school. This awesome novel made us think so much about the needs of others and pushed us so far out of our comfort zone in understanding that despite the differences of others- especially through all of the dynamic conversations and connections we made, we began to think about what we could do to help those with physical limitations at our own school. 

Stay & Play receives a grant
Enter stage left- Stay and Play. Our school nurse, Mrs. Meadows- a wise woman in the medical field with a heart to help others, began an effort in grant writing for a recreational area created with students' with special needs in mind, but inclusive for all to play on here at our campus last school year. You see- our "playground" is a bare, open field with no equipment; which works fine if you're able-bodied, but doesn't always work for those needing more defined limits and certain encompassing equipment. Stay and Play is being built one fully-funded stage at a time. My students and I began asking questions- to learn more, to understand what it would take, and why it was needed. We began to have honest conversations about what we could do. We had a parent share with us about life as a parent of a student with special needs. My students asked thoughtful questions- full of respect and genuine concern. 

About the same time, I saw a link on Twitter to a story of a courageous man named Rick Hohn, who also has cerebral palsy- the same as the main character in the book we read for Global Read Aloud. Through a simple Tweet requesting to contact him, we were able to connect with him, and he agreed to Skype with one of my classes. We learned so much through this remarkable man! He shared his own childhood story, the obstacles he had overcome, and the obstacles he continues to face. He shared the technology he uses to communicate with the world around him- including his communication device and chair. He gave of his time and energy, and left us inspired and wanting to DO something.   

I'm excited to say, we've become more aware of those we can include and help out right here at home, as well as break out of our comfort zone to meet and work with others in new and innovative ways using technology. My own role with Stay and Play has grown as I share with others the positive effects I've seen in my own kids by participating in Global Read Aloud. The narrative of the novel was powerful, but the involvement and emotion it evoked from my kids when working with others around the globe was greater. I'm always quick when asked "what made you become involved with Stay and Play?" to credit Global Read Aloud for many reasons. 

  • I learned it's ok to connect with others in new and innovative ways- we tweaked what didn't work and expanded the things that worked well.
  • I started pushing my students to try to come up with solutions to real world-problems by asking "what can I do now to help?"
  • Reminded myself often that moving beyond problems with multiple-choice answers is ok (for many reasons)...
  • Left me as a better, more connected educator with multiple ways to connect with others- and the courage to do so!
So, back to my original question, what's been your game-changer this school year and how has it impacted the lives of others? I hope what ever it was- it has stretched your comfort zones, stretched your thinking, and pushed you beyond your four walls to see yourself as unstoppable. Live loud- be the change!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Fluency Finder- Great App (IOS) for Rdg Data

Since I'm always on the lookout for great apps to make my life a little less hectic as a reading teacher, I was excited when Fluency Finder was suggested by a Twitter friend. I was excited to try it out. With Fluency Finder, you're able to probe a large number of students in a smaller amount of time due to the fact that the app does most of the work for you. I found it to be very user friendly and easy to operate. The directions for using the app are short, simple, and to the point. I know many teachers are asked to monitor their entire classes' progress throughout the school year, and with this app, you would be able to with less worry that it will take multiple days to do, plus I liked the fact that the data is all in the same place and accessible anytime you need it. 

While I'm fortunate enough that our classes are progress monitored by our Accelerated Reading Instructors, I do still work with small groups of students who are actively trying to improve their fluency. I used Fluency Finder with them to supplement my data. The process is very easy. 

When the app is launched, you easily add your students by name and grade.

You can print the passages from their website ( that your students will use to read. A suggestion is to print on card stock so they'll be more sturdy and reusable. 

Choose the passage on app so you can follow along. (Reading levels range from 1.2 to 8.8, which is another thing that makes the app valuable. Regardless of student ability, this app is applicable and can be used.)

When the student begins reading, you push 'start' on the app and the timer begins. 

As you follow along, there is a '-' (minus) and '+' (plus) sign below the passage; if a student has an error, you push the minus sign. If the word is self-corrected, you can push the plus sign to add it back to their score.

Once the student has finished the passage, you end timer and move on to "Finish Assessment"

The part I liked the most, besides being user friendly and easy to use, was the fact that the app takes comprehension into consideration. Let's be honest- reading isn't reading if a student doesn't understand what they are reading. So the app gives you general questions about the passage for the student to answer. 

Once you're done, the app then shows you the results data and that data is then kept on the device for each student you have enrolled. 

Definitely an easy and quick way to monitor student progress, have usable data to make decisions on student progress, and also consider actual comprehension of what was read. You can find more HERE