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Monthly Archives: September 2012

Wisconsin educators are facing some changes in the future. That should come as no surprise. Education isn’t static but is always developing and changing. According to the Wisconsin DPI, 50% of our teacher evaluations will be based on student achievement and 50% will be based on educator effectiveness. This might be intimidating to many teachers. The purpose is for all students to succeed. I understand that and I will do my best to make this happen. Some teachers might be tempted to work in isolation to ensure that they succeed at their job. I am grateful to work with a wonderful team of teachers who is committed to working together and helping each other learn and grow. We enjoy bringing our students together on many Friday mornings to celebrate reading and to present different anchor lessons to our children putting the different comprehension strategies into practice. We put aside our nerves and we get really fired up about reading which in turn causes our students’ excitement about reading to grow. Last Friday we focused on metacognition and made the analogy between metacognition and a tool kit. We labeled different tools with the metacognition thinking stems we have been teaching our students to use and put them in an actual tool box. I then read the humorous story “Dog Breath” by Dav Pilkey and purposefully got confused throughout. My fellow first grade teachers modeled how good readers can “fix up” their thinking when things don’t make sense and start to get confusing. The lesson would have been okay if I did it alone, but it was much more interesting and meaningful when we did it together. An added bonus was that we even recorded the lesson using our iPad in case a new student moves in without prior knowledge about metacognition or if a student is developing in their understanding about it and would benefit from experiencing the lesson again.

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Today I am encouraged. In an earlier post, I admitted that a part of me was tempted to just go back to the way I used to teach when I taught math to my first graders (translation-whole group right out of the book). It would be easier I thought and I wouldn’t feel as stretched all of the time. I resisted taking the path of least resistance and started the year off implementing math workshop in my room from day one. The result has been amazing. The first two weeks of school were spent defining and practicing what it means to work by ourselves, with a partner, and with technology. (Major sources of information for me were http://www.thedailycafe.com where I found information about what Math Daily 5 is and how to launch it, and “Guided Math” by Laney Sammons).

You might wonder “Why math workshop?” I chose math workshop because I wanted to teach my students to be accountable and responsible for their learning. I believe in giving students choices and trust them to set and work towards goals with my guidance. I want to teach specific math skills in a coherent manner so that my students begin to apply them to their daily lives, and so I also chose math workshop because it allows me to structure my math time so students work independently while allowing me to work with small guided math groups or in one-on-one conferences.

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The posters above show our “I-Charts” (posters describing the behaviors to support learning) on top and our math map on the bottom (our math map will be where specific math skills are listed throughout the year organized under four headings taken from the common core standards).

By the end of our math time, I had worked with a small group on comparing numbers and writing and counting tallies in addition to teaching a whole group mini-lesson on the concepts of more and less. ¬†We learned a new “math with self” game called “Roll the Dice” which provided the perfect opportunity to introduce and practice counting on (a term we added to our math vocab wall), and students played previously learned math games during “math with someone.” Transitions were seamless and the room was quiet. The students didn’t need me to remind them countless times to work or to “keep it down.” Everybody worked. That in turn allowed me to work.

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This student is independently playing a game that will help her work on counting on and basic addition facts.

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New vocab terms will be added throughout the year illustrating the new terms we are learning. The purpose is to help students comprehend the math we are talking about.

Interested in seeing how I set up my math block? Click on the file below to see the template I created to help me plan purposeful whole-group mini-lessons as well as small group guided math groups and individual conferences.Math Plans


This student is writing a story about her mom on the iPad.

They say Rome wasn’t built in a day and that things done well take time. I especially know this to be true for first graders. As I’ve explained in previous blogs, my goal is to help my students become digitally literate. In order to do this, I know I can’t show them the big picture the first day. I can’t expect immediate proficiency with complex tasks. I am trying to follow the gradual release model of responsibility and am taking baby steps with my willing class. Last week my students practiced writing in “PDF Notes” using a simple poem. My objective was for them to be comfortable holding a stylus pen and writing their name. I didn’t even expect it to be super neat! Today I felt confident that they were ready to move to something a little harder. I uploaded the writing template that our district uses for writer’s workshop. It’s something they are familiar with from kindergarten and we’ve been using it since the second day of school. Beforehand I wondered if it would be a disaster. I was ready to scrap the whole thing, but then we did our work on writing round. The class worked longer than yesterday by doubling their stamina. We had four pieces of writing to share at the end. They weren’t finished, but they had great ideas. They were even neatly written! Baby steps pay off…


I never thought I would say this, but the photo copier breaking down mid way through the second day of a new school year was a blessing in disguise. My goal is to use less paper and my student iPads more. I want to do as much writing on the iPad with my students as I can. I want them to become comfortable using a stylus pen and annotating PDF’s. I want to go digital with my reading portfolios. The broken copier gave me the push I needed to get started. In a matter of minutes this morning I had this week’s poem uploaded onto each iPad. We talked about how to handle the device properly. We practiced holding the stylus pens. We took turns zooming in, zooming out, erasing, changing pen color, and finally writing. It was a blast. It’s going to be a great year!

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I am super excited to start another school year. What makes this different than past years is that I am starting the year with 6 iPads and I actually have a clue how to use them well in my teaching. Elementary teachers in my district have the unique opportunity to meet individually with students at the end of August so that we can complete specific reading and math assessments. This allows us to start the school year knowing the current reading level of each student so that we can get reading groups going quicker. This translates into more teaching time. I spent the summer helping my team mates prepare their iPads as assessment tools. Through apps such as “PDF Notes” and “Dropbox” we were able to upload copies of the assessment forms that accompany the Fountas and Pinnell benchmark kit. Rather than making tons of copies at school, I enjoyed creating my electronic student files from the comfort of my home. I quickly learned that all of the assessments we have been doing could be uploaded onto my iPad. I am a huge fan of “penseives” (binders created to collect reading assessment info. as described by the authors of “the CAFE Book”). I was able to keep every aspect of my previous assessment binder but now will enjoy greater ease as I get up and meet students at their work areas as I confer. There will be no more lost/misplaced reading plans. I won’t have to fight the pages in my binder as it grows past capacity in January. What a wonderful year I have to look forward to!