October 31, 2012

Genre Webs

Since today is Halloween but our fall 'harvest' parties aren't for a couple of weeks, my coteacher and I decided to squeeze in some Halloween fun with our normal lessons.  One way we did this was with genre webs!

Our class has been talking about genres briefly all year as we read different texts, so this was a great way to review each genre and compare them side by side using only key distinguishing characteristics. 

To make it a bit more festive we gave students time at the end of the lesson to add fingerprint spiders to their pages.  Because really, what's a spider web without some cute (or creepy) spiders??  My 4th graders LOVED this lesson and hated that I made them put their webs into their response journal folders to use as references - they wanted to take the pages home to share!

If you're still feeling in the Hallween spirit and would like to use this with your students, I'm happy to share the web page I created!

August 22, 2012

Super Grade Level Team!

I'm so excited for our 4th grade team this year!  We've already been spending time together enjoying one another's company and doing some early planning and I am loving the flow of ideas among everyone.  I really got an idea of how this year is going to go as I left school yesterday afternoon and realized that the only teachers who had been at school working for the last 2 hours were our 4th grade team.  That kind of dedication to our students and enthusiasm for teaching is going to lead to some incredible things this school year!

Because we have such a SUPER team and 4th grade is such a SUPER grade, we've hooked ourselves on the SUPER idea and are zooming ahead full force.  On the first day of classes (not parent teacher conferences) our kiddos will be greeted by a unified front of SUPER teachers wearing this sweet shirts we designed and made.  I'm loving that it not only unifies our grade level in a way that will excite students, but with our names on the back, all of the little ones will be able to call us by name on that first day!

We made the designs on the computer and printed them on Iron-On t-shirt transfer paper.  The only other supplies were an iron and blank tshirts we picked up at Hobby Lobby.  Total cost per shirt?  Only about $7 - definitely cheaper for only 4 of them than if we'd gone to a printer and they turned out great!

July 14, 2012

Classroom Pillows

One of the things I've been wanting in my classroom for awhile is pillows!  I love letting my kids spread themselves out around our room while they are working and reading, but some of the positions they come up with look terribly uncomfortable.  I always wish they had a pillow to prop themselves up with or lean on but was hesitant about bringing pillows into the room.  I know how much dust and how many germs a pillow can contain and couldn't shake the idea of a head lice outbreak from my thoughts. 

Still - I wanted pillows!

I think I've found a way that I'm comfortable bringing them into the room.  I got some pillow forms at JoAnn Fabric - 50% off each with my additional 15% my total purchase as a teacher = great deal!  I then found some vinyl tablecloths in fun summer colors and used these as my fabric for pillow cases.  I'm excited about this because of a few reasons 1) they are so bright and cheerful! 2) they were really cheap - I didn't pay more than $2 a piece and I only used 3 table cloths 3) since they were cheap and super easy, if they get ruined I won't be upset about making new ones 4) since they are vinyl, I can wipe them off with an antibacterial wipe whenever I start to get the heeby-jeebies about how many little noses have been laying across them!

I'm excited for my classroom to be done being cleaned so I can get these into it!

July 3, 2012

Daily 5 Book Study

I'm currently working my way through The Daily 5 by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser for the second time this summer.  I read it first on my own, and am now participating in a book study with other teachers from my grade level team and around the country.  Chapter 1 was due yesterday and it has been so helpful to read the thoughts and suggestions from others on the blog set up for this book study.

Chapter 1

I appreciated the Sisters' honesty throughout this chapter, outlining their progress from teacher-centered to student-centered instruction within their literacy curriculum.  I could match myself up to many of their experiences, feeling like I began the year on a much more teacher-centered mark than I ended it on.  My understanding of and comfort level with guided reading grew greatly over the course of the year, allowing my reading instruction to improve tremendously from day 1 to day 180. 

I identified closely with a question the sisters posed within this chapter: "Did things just keep the kids busy, or were they engaged in literacy tasks that will make a difference in their literate lives?"  I'm afraid that too often during the last year I was providing activities to students that, although aligned with our content standards and centered on reading strategies, were not truthfully improving them as readers.  I am eager for that to change this school year.

A second point I took from this chapter was the importance of explicit teaching and practicing of behaviors.  I have read this idea and understood it from many sources, but few as directly related to reading instruction.  Practicing each behavior and expectation until they become habits will help reduce the interruptions each of us face within the classroom due to off-task behavior.  How helpful that will be!

I am eager to continue rereading this book with a critical eye, knowing that my literacy instruction is going to be greatly benefited by both my own reflections and reading the thoughts of others.

June 20, 2012

The Book Whisperer

I have finished The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller!  What a fast read!  Donalyn's thoughts and experiences flow together so smoothly that it only took me two days of reading to get through the book.  Not that this was a book to rush through - I have lots of underlining and post-it notes marking thoughts I appreciated or pages I want to revisit. 
I love that Donalyn's classroom is set up for reading because she knows that learning happens through reading.  So many of us get caught up trying to find the best classroom set-up for learning to happen and delegate a corner of the room or a bulletin board to 'reading' when really our focus should be flipped.  If the classroom is organized as an environment for reading, learning will be occurring!

Although I will have to tweak the ideas I have gathered from the pages of this book to meet the needs of my classroom and students, I am really thinking now about my classroom library set-up and the format I use for reading journals.  My 4th graders had reading journals last year that included their reading logs and space for them to write responses to me, but those journals, as sorry as I am to admit it, were one thing that just did not work during my first year of teaching.  My kids were not connected to their journals and I had a hard time keeping up with 23-27 response letters each week and then even every 2 weeks.  I'm hoping some of the ideas I have gathered from Donalyn combined with the book studies I will be doing yet this summer will help me develop a better strategy for Reading Journals.  Believe me, I know they are an important tool to help students track their reading and share their thinking - I know!  It broke my heart that they didn't work with my class last year and I am set on making improvements to that practice this coming school year.

I would recommend picking up Donalyn's book sometime this summer - it may just change your thinking about reading instruction in the classroom or provide a thought to help tweak a program that is already soaring.
The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child [Book]

"The reality is that you cannot inspire others to do what you are not inspired to do yourself." - Donalyn Miller in The Book Whisperer

June 14, 2012

Back at it!

It seems the end of the school year swept me up and I've been away from blogging!  I finished my first year of teaching and shed a few tears watching my little one leave on the last day.  After a week of fishing up north, I'm ready to get back into the realm of education.

Throughout spring, my class worked on a service-learning project to reduce graffiti and other vandalism seen around our school and community.  I have lots to share about that project, including the literacy activities we did to kick-off our work, but I'm saving all of that story for a later date.  I collaborated on those lessons with two wonderful colleagues - Dr. Sarah Montgomery and Erica Christie.  Their support and ideas throughout the spring helped my students make global connections.  We just finished writing an article this morning that we submitted to Social Studies and the Young Learner based on our efforts this spring.  I am so thankful to both of them for their help during this process and excited about possibilities in the future!

My next project is to begin my summer reading.  I am so excited to get back into books without distractions!  My reading pile has been growing over the course of the year and I had a hard time picking out which book to start with!  I'm really focused on improving my literacy instruction for next year, especially my guided reading block.  To do this, I plan to implement Daily 5 and will be participating in a book study with other teachers during the month of July to dig through two texts and really consider how to make the ideas work for my classroom.  A blog has been set up to guide the study:
We Read, We Blog, We Teach
Before I dig into the book study though, I'm starting to sift through my pile by reading The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller.  I have heard great things about this book and am excited to read it prior to starting my planning for Daily 5.  I'll be sure to let you know what I think!

The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child [Book]

March 7, 2012

Creative Writing

I have been loving the FREE monthly creative writing booklets created by Ashleigh at Ashleigh's Education Journey.  I never did print February's, but I made the booklets for January.  For March I've changed it up a bit.  We do 'work on writing' as one of our rotations during guided reading, but I wasn't getting the accountability that I wanted with the rotation.  To fix that problem I printed the pages of Ashleigh's booklet as full page copies with a few copies of each page.  These are all in a folder, sorted by page.  Now, instead of students having their own booklet, they select the page and prompt that most interests them to write about. 

Each group is at the 'work on writing' spot twice a week, so they have plenty of time to pick a prompt, spend quality time writing on it, AND do one of our other writing options.  Their new requirement is that they need to turn in one quality response to a prompt each week.  This has already been a lot easier to manage than my previous process of searching through our classroom journals or their monthly booklet to see what they worked on for the day.  Now I just have one page to seek out per student and they are neatly placed in our "Best Work" basket waiting for me!

Here is one that seriously cracked me up today.  The prompt was to use the given design (an oval) to create any picture and then describe the picture.

I didn't get the full picture in this image, but there are sharks swimming in the water too!  Here is her description:

 Oh my gosh!  That guy is surfing a huge wave but he doesn't know how to surf!  He wanted to do it because he wanted to impress a girl by surfing in shark infested water!!  Let's just hope he makes it!

I'm the Lucky One

Today was one of those days that left me completely exhausted.  We've had illnesses among staff members and had lots of substitutes in the building today!  So many substitutes in fact that they couldn't find one to fill in for the para that is usually in my room full time.  Oops!  My kids were actually pretty wonderful today and things went smoothly until the very end of the day.  Suddenly it seemed as if everyone's patience just ran out at once!  I had to go deal with a situation but had promised 2 of my girls they could stay after school to redecorate our door.  When I came back in, feeling like my spirit was a bit deflated, I found them working hard on this little project.  Completely their idea and completely stole my heart.

I am so lucky to have my students.

March 1, 2012

Celebrating Seuss!

I've had lots of things to post lately, but with the end of the trimester and what seems like 800 other things happening at school lately, I just haven't gotten them up!  New posts WILL be coming though!

Tonight I just wanted to share our cute little Truffula trees we made to help us celebrate Dr. Seuss' birthday.  We had our birthday celebration a day early because our district's girls basketball team played in the State tournament this week and there was a chance of us not having school tomorrow.  Unfortunately, they lost a heartbreaker on Wednesday and we'll be back in action tomorrow.

To celebrate Dr. Seuss each grade level was assigned a color to wear for the day - thankfully our fourth grade crew was in purple - my favorite!  Our grade level team hung purple streamers down our hallway and we mixed our classes to read Dr. Seuss books in the 'party' hallway this morning. 

Throughout the day we also had Stop, Drop, and Read times announced by the principal - the kids LOVED this and although we were only told to read for 5 minutes, my kids begged to read longer - who am I to stop them from reading?!  We kept track of our class' total minutes read and ended up with 1,900 minutes of reading accomplished today! 

For every 200 minutes, we planted another Truffula tree in our little piece of land.  The Truffula trees were made from pom-poms glued to crazy straws.  I put a piece of floral foam in a bowl and covered it with Easter grass to be our land.

Do you see our cute little Lorax hanging out among the trees?  That was the kids' idea - we made him quick at the end of the day to protect our trees overnight! :)

February 9, 2012

Sliding Around the Southeast

Our 4th grade Social Studies curriculum is currently centered on the Regions of the United States.  I say 'currently' becuase you never know how things will be changing as we work to align with the Iowa Core.  For now, we're learning about the states in the United States and I must say that I love teaching them!  I love social studies and was thrilled when I got the chance to teach all of our social studies this year - it is so fun to have some freedom to explore with these units!  For example, right now my kiddos are working on 3D maps of the states in the Southeast region and they are looking so neat!  They'll be finishing them up next week and giving presentations to share their knowledge.  Lots of pictures to come!

For now I'll share an activity I created for them to practice recognizing the states and matching up the states with their capitals.  I had a substitute in my room all day today so I could do DRA2 testing on my students and this was an easy way for them to practice while also being an easy plan to leave for the sub!  I called it Sliding Around the Southeast States and Capitals.  What I loved most is that it gave specific directions for them to practice with, but after completing the 10 directions I gave they could continue to give more directions to their partner!

And of course, I'm in the sharing mood!  You can find the PDF version of this activity here!

February 4, 2012

Word Wall

Our 4th Grade Data Team is currently working on helping our students develop their vocabulary skills, especially finding meaning within the context of the text they are reading.  One of the changes I have made in my room to help facilitate this development for my students is with a new word wall.  We have weekly vocabulary lists and do a word of the day, but the kids have not been USING the words we've been studying.  Hopefully the portability of this new word wall will encourage them to use the new words in their writing too.

I got this idea from Pinterest and am so excited about it!  I love the new pop of color it added to the room and I know the kids are going to love it too!  Each letter has a book ring on a hook and all new words are added behind the letter (in alphabetical order).  The book rings let us add and change words as often as we like and kids can take the letter's ring to their desk to use the word in their writing. 

The word cards include the word on one side with the part of speech, definition, and an example sentence on the other.  One of our class jobs is Word Wizard and that individual makes the new card each day for our word of the day.  They share the sentence and introduce the word before putting the new word onto its ring.  Of course, I also have a pocket of notecards punched and ready to go for whenever students find a great word that needs to be shared - they'll just have to look up the word's part of speech and definition in order to share the word!  Great practice for everyone!

If you'd like to try this and like the letters I used - I'm happy to share!  I printed them four on a sheet and laminated them before hanging.

Beginning Division

Although our recently implemented Iowa Core includes a great deal of division in 3rd grade, we're all still adjusting to the changes in teaching sequences and my kiddos are brand new to division this year.  No fear, we're great with our multiplication facts so this should go smoothly - right?  Perhaps I'll keep dreaming.

We did get started with division last week though and they seem to be catching on quickly, I even began some long division with one of my small groups during guided math and although they were giving me blank stares at first, were able to complete at least one problem on their own!  Baby steps! 

Here is the booklet I created to use as a guide for my lessons last week.  We worked on a skill idea each day and then either filled it into our booklet or I save the space for the next day to use as a review before the lesson.  Although I'm becoming hooked on the idea of math notebooks for all of our vocabulary and examples, they are not something I've started this year (next year!) so I love having something like this booklet for each subject we study.  This way they can keep it in their math folder and pull it out when they need reminders.

Perhaps it will be useful to someone else as well!

January 26, 2012

Poetry in Your Pudding

My students recently read through and discussed Nothing Ever Happens on 90th Street to learn the lesson's it teaches about great writing.  We have then been using those lessons to write our own stories called "Nothing Ever Happens in Miss Staudt's Class" and they are a riot!  Asking 'what if?' questions to guide our brainstorming lead to some incredibly hilarious story starters - including my favorite singer coming in the room and me fainting!  Another one that caught me off guard and had me laughing began with the idea that we came into the room and there was a large deer standing on my desk!  We did some peer editing today and will be typing our final copies tomorrow and then I'll be sure to share some of the funnies!

But for now, I'll share some of the anchor charts we made about figurative language.  The base text of each of my charts came from the information shared on printable posters here, but as we explored each idea we then made up our own examples to add to the charts.  We've got them hanging up on our back white board right now because we're referencing them - later they'll be moved to a different wall.  In Nothing Ever Happens on 90th Street they gave the advice to "put some poetry in your pudding" - make things unexpected and play with the language - that's what you do with figurative language devices and we are having such fun with them!

Also, isn't "put some poetry in your pudding" just a fun phrase to say?? :)

*Don't mind our 'West' sign - we labeled our walls early in the year when we were reviewing the cardinal directions in social studies!

January 23, 2012

Snow Day #2

After an incredibly warm, mild winter with NO snow our area has suddenly been pounded this week.  It seems winter decided to show up after all!  We had a snow day Friday and were just cancelled again today.  Although I'm starting to miss my students and hate giving up our valuable instructional time I am NOT going to complain about a day off!  I am always grateful for extra time to work on things - and sleep! :)

On the agenda for today?  Getting my grad school personal statement in line so I can send it on to some mentors to be read through before I hopefully submit it in the next week or two.  I also plan to get ahead on some of my planning for school, finish some cleaning I pushed off this weekend, and nap - naturally.

I may run over to school this afternoon, but with 4 inches of snow on top of the freezing drizzle from yesterday currently covering the roads I think I'll sit tight and enjoy my coffee on the couch until things get cleaned off a bit.

One thing I did finish up this morning already (yes, I did still get up at 5 - that's when the district's first automatic call came through!) are my Area and Perimeter posters for our room.  We began looking at these areas last week and if we ever go back to school we'll be finishing them up and using them to do some problem solving this week.  My kiddos picked up the concepts quickly, so these posters are more of a reminder for them of when to add or multiply.

AND....I'm sharing them!  You can download them here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/79092971

January 22, 2012


I've had a personal blog for about a year now and my students have been blogging all year, but I feel it is time for me to start giving back to the education community.  I have learned so much from the education blogs I follow and I only hope to give a bit of that back.

The name of the blog comes from Lady Antebellum's song I Was Here.  The song has always lifted my spirits and reminded me of what I should be doing in life - reaching out to others.  Teaching is one way that I'm leaving my mark - one student at a time.

You won't notice me, I'll be leaving my mark like initials carved in an old oak tree.
You wait and see.
Maybe I'll write like Twain wrote, maybe I'll paint like Van Gogh, cure the common cold
I don't know, but I'm ready to start cause I know in my heart -
I wanna do something that matters, say something different,
something that sets the whole world on its ear
I wanna do something better with the time I've been given
and I wanna try to touch a few hearts in this life
and leave nothing less than something that says 'I was here'