Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Higher Level Question Stems for ELL's

We all want to ask higher level thinking questions in class, but sometimes we find ourselves hesitant to call on our ELL's.  Or, we find ourselves simply asking basic questions in order to include the whole class.  I bet you're used to thinking about how to differentiate the activities in your lesson, but have you spent time thinking about how to differentiate your direct instruction? Small group or whole group, teachers spend a lot of time asking questions- but are your questions reaching all your learners?

Making higher level questions applicable for all learners IS possible!  As noted in this article, there's no need for teachers to shy away from higher level questioning, as long as there is an understanding of student proficiency levels.  That sounds very nice, but how are busy classroom teachers to understand proficiency levels in the first place?  The answer? Use a map.

I have a student who is a solid Level 1.5, another student who is spot-on Level 3, and one who fluctuates between Level 1 and Level 3, depending on the day.  This is just a guide, so don't worry if yours don't match up perfectly!  

How can I use this to drive my higher level questioning? For starters, keep this map handy when planning lessons or activities.  Stick it in your teacher binder or save it to your desktop.  When planning, you can even group your students by color or level, which will make differentiating your questions easier.  Do you have any observations coming up? If you are using the Danielson model of evaluation, you'll be familiar with Domain 3b: Questioning and Discussion Techniques.  If you are using the Marzano framework for evaluation, you're probably thinking about Domain 1, Element 40: Asking questions of low-expectancy students.  Use these charts to show your administrators how you're designing effective questioning!

Once you are familiar with your students' proficiency levels, the questioning will come easily.  You'll be able to quickly see who needs to move up or down a level as the year progresses.  Having my questions broken up into groups will allow me to differentiate my activities by proficiency as well.  

I'll be sharing this with the teachers in my district, and I hope you can use it with yours! Free to pin, save, and share!  If you have questions about using the chart, send me an email or leave them in the comments.  

What strategies do you use to differentiate your questions? I'd love to know! 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Currenty, In Like a Lion

There are a lot of great things about March.  One of them is that if it comes in like a lion, it will go out like a lamb.  It has to! It's the rules!   Then, there's my birthday to think about...that's always pretty great.  The other great thing is Farley's Currently!

1.  Ooh Frank Underwood.  You are sneaky, devious, underhanded, and I love it!

2. My husband got me a mixer for Christmas- I'd been wanting one for a really long time.  My friend just showed me how to pull chicken! 

3. Tomorrow starts 15 straight days of testing for my students.  ELL's have two weeks of ACCESS testing, plus one week of PARCC.  I realized that I could choose to be wringing my hands about all the testing like so many others, or I could put on my game face and be a role model for my students.  If I am stressed, my stress will transfer to them. I can't be responsible for any more stress than my kids already have! So, I chose game face...at least on the outside!

4. I had a dream that I was getting a tan.  I woke up to snow and ice.  Dreams = shattered.

5. I deal with a lot of anxiety, and once I was told to just Stop, Breathe, Be throughout the day to lessen it.  I'm going to share that strategy with my kids this week, as we head into the most stressful weeks of the school year.

6. Our Spring Break is right after Easter, so I have a few weeks to go.  My husband and I will be heading to Vegas in July for the TPT Conference, and extending our vacation so we can travel to San Diego or Los Angeles.  We'll probably will stay close over this break so Miss Lacey doesn't spend too much time in the kennel!

Happy March!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

My Teacher Hero

Not a day in the classroom goes by without me thinking of my 6th grade reading and social studies teacher, Miss R.

I had a lot of growing up to do in 6th grade, but that didn't bother her.  Miss R saw the potential that I had, that my classmates had, and pushed us to do better than our best.  It didn't matter that we were 11 and 12- she treated us like adults and truly respected us.  From her, I learned how to hold my head high even when I was feeling small.  Each time we struggled through a task she was there to guide us.  She never gave you the answer, but always gave you a path to the answer.

In Miss R's class, we held mock trials, we created a mock society, and we worked on things that mattered to us.  She even made tedious sentence diagrams into an exciting story.  She sent us postcards every summer until we graduated 8th grade. I remember her devotion to a Broadway star named Robert Cuccioli- she was the president of his fan club, I believe. Every time Miss R went to see him on Broadway (we were 15 minutes from NYC) she would come back and fill us with stories about him. As a class, we became obsessed with him too!  That taught me to share my passions with my students- if I'm excited about it, they'll be excited about it.

Miss R would always say, "Call me.  I'm in the book," if we needed homework help.  She would talk to us privately, saying, "This is between you, me, and the wall."  Apparently, she even made predictions on little index cards about what we would be in the future.  If we asked, she'd say, "Ask me when you're 18.  Look me up.  I'll be in the book."

My first teaching job was at my old middle school, and she was still teaching there.  I remember feeling nervous to be next to her at a faculty meeting- this bright star from my adolescence.  When I went to her retirement party, I was a first year teacher.  I didn't know to pick her brain about how she made a room full of 6th graders love every minute of her class, which I regret.  But I do not regret any part of being her student, or her colleague, for that matter.  She was (and is) my teaching hero. Thank you, Miss R, for your wisdom, your passion, your wit, and your strength.  I hope I can be half the hero to my students that you were to me.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Saving the Day!

Is there a resource in your classroom you couldn't live without?

Besides my tablet and projector, I find myself most often referring to my posters and anchor charts.  Some in particular have a prominent place right up front on our board.

For some reason my 4th and 5th grade friends have an awful time remembering subject-verb agreement, which I call SVA.  The posters from my Subject Verb Agreement pack are used constantly!  I sing "1 subject equals verb plus S. 2 subjects equals verb minus S." and "I and you, no S - he and she, yes S," almost daily.  Having a little chant helps my kids pick up on those pesky grammar rules that are so easy to forget.

Grab it by clicking on the picture!

Do you have a superhero product in your room? Link it up with Ideas by Jivey!

Oh, before you go... 

That's right! My store (and so many others) will be 28% off for a little while this week.  

Happy shopping!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

I Love Meet-Ups!

When I started blogging and selling on TPT in January of 2013, it was because my good friend Halle told me, under no uncertain circumstances, that I had better start.  Two years, a few dozen products, and hundreds of friends later, I'm pretty glad I listened to her.

That's me in teal! Picture courtesy of Study All Knight

I'm lucky to live right between two metropolitan areas- Philadelphia and New York City.  Living here has allowed me to attend 4 different meet-ups with bloggers and sellers from all over the country.  I've met celebri-teachers whose work I adore, and who have inspired me to keep on doing what I do!

Some of the takeaways from yesterday's meetup included: 

Check your Pinterest analytics: if a board isn't working for you, stop pinning to it! 

Join Twitter: lots of professional discussion happening with weekly Twitter chats

Collaborate with buyers and sellers: take product requests and work with sellers to cross promote.

Expand your niche: if you are posting products that can work for grades 2-6, then say that! Choose grades 2, 4, and 6 in your product description, rather than sequential numbers.

Hootsuite: it can manage all your social media.  Kind of like a virtual assistant, but without the expense!

Which of these tips are you going to try? I've been holding off on Twitter, but I guess it's time to jump into the pool!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Put Fiction First: The Case for Mentor Texts

With the advent of more rigorous standards and standardized testing, students are being asked to read, comprehend, and analyze more informational text than in previous years.  For a typical American student, reading, comprehending, and analyzing a non-fiction passage may come naturally. Now think about your English Language students- a typical ELL will need multiple exposures to the vocabulary, concepts, and text structure before even beginning to comprehend, much less analyze.

How can we address this need?  My tried and true method is to read a fiction mentor text prior to reading a nonfiction text on the same topic.  Using a fiction mentor text to preview the concepts and academic vocabulary gives ESL students the boost they need to jump into a non-fiction text.  Keep reading to see how I used a mentor text to start a Social Studies unit all about Presidents.

In my mixed 4th/5th grade class, we are currently working on a month-long Presidents unit.  I began the unit by using Comic Guy: Our Crazy Class Election (Roland) as a read-aloud.

Prior to reading, my English Language Learners previewed the academic vocabulary they would need to know: candidate, election, nominate, poll, and a few others.  Students were assigned one word to digest and present.  By having each responsible for just one word, students assumed ownership and were so excited to point out "their" word in the book.

During reading, we stopped often to look up pictures or discuss connections we'd made.  Understanding the story elements in terms of relatable characters and familiar situations makes it much easier for students to make connections to the same problems and solutions in non-fiction terms.  

Here's a great example of why putting fiction first works: in the book, Tank (the antagonist) is said to "strong-arm" the rest of the class into voting for him.  Now, students can easily understand that strong-arm means to have a strong arm.  But what does it really mean in context? To find out, we used google images, and then had a 1 minute arm-wrestling contest in class.  In case you're wondering, I lost.  To a 5th grader.  Using real-life examples to explain a word in context means my students will always remember what it means to strong-arm someone.  When we come upon the word in our non-fiction text, students will have no trouble making the connection from fiction to non.

Once finished with our read-aloud, we read So You Want to be President (St. George).  Having already understood the basics of an election and the responsibilities of a President made it much easier for my non-native students to understand the process of getting elected.  We used this great resource, which walked us through the book day by day.

As an independent assignment, students chose a president they were interested in, and researched more about him.  They used my Presidents reading passages, which were written right at their level and include the vocabulary they need to know.

Finally, having read a fiction mentor text and non-fiction text on the same topic, my students will be ready to write.  For this lesson I chose to have them write an expository text, knowing that our standardized tests are just around the corner.  Students will choose three causes to support from a list I provide and proceed to write an expository text about them.  Not only will they have an understanding of real-life Presidents, they'll also be able to draw from lovable and memorable characters and situations from our mentor text.

Even though we've long finished our mentor text, my students were constantly using academic vocabulary to refer to story elements from Crazy Class Election while we read So You Want to be President. It was amazing to watch them make connections back and forth from our fiction text to our non-fiction text.

If you're interested in learning more about putting fiction first, check out these great posts on using mentor texts..

Do you use mentor texts to introduce non-fiction topics?  What are some of your favorite topics/mentor text combinations? 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Five for Friday

It's been a while since I linked up with Doodle Bugs for Five for Friday! Here's a glimpse of my week.

1.  I had one of "those" days this week, when by 9:00 am I was already wishing for a do-over.  Luckily, Anne of Green Gables reminded me that tomorrow can only be better.  And it was!

2. Two of my students came in suspiciously holding something behind their backs.  On cue, they shouted "Happy Valentine's Day!" and then started giggling behind their hands.  I lost it.  I didn't cry one glamorous tear, no, I blubbered.  I believe something to the effect of "I just love you guys so much," was uttered.  I can't be sure.  

3. One of my kiddos is having a really hard time learning to read and write.  And listen and speak.  He's just struggling all around.  I carved out some time in my schedule so we can do "Back to Basics" work, like syntax and word families.  As you can see, we have a lot of work to do!  

4.  One afternoon I looked around my classroom and decided to spring winter clean.  I made room on my bookshelves by evicting some of my least-read books.  I put them on a shelf by the front door and told my kids to take some home to read.  New books for them + more space for me = happy campers.

5. I was flipping through instagram or pinterest or a blog or something (social media overload) when I came across a heart made from puzzle pieces.  I knew I had to make one! I headed to my local craft store and picked up the box of puzzles with the most red in it.  I cut out some stiff cardstock into the shape of a heart, then started hot gluing pieces randomly.  I love how it came out!  I made one for my house, one for my classroom, and one for my teammate, and still had pieces left!


That's my week in a nutshell.  Have a great weekend!