teaching inquiry through writing workshop

Inquiry has been on my mind, ever since I started my journey as an educator. One way I try to integrate inquiry into writing workshop is having the students look at mentor texts in order to determine what good writers do.

During our personal narratives unit, in order to learn what a good writer does, we look closely at mentor texts. In the beginning of the unit, I provided students with a packet of mentor texts that my students examine closely. Our mentor texts were:

  • “Last Kiss” by Ralph Fletcher
  • “Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros
  • “My Name in Gold” by Chicken Soup for the Soul
  • Goosebumps from Lucy Calkin’s Raising Narrative Writing Units of Study for grade 5
  • “Mr. Entwhistle” by Jean Little

When I taught students about how to write endings, I decided to use an inquiry approach. Usually, I would just tell students a few strategies on how to write an ending. Instead, I decided to have students read the different endings in the mentor texts and come up with what they noticed these writers did to make their ending strong. After spending time looking at the various endings of the different mentor texts, we shared what they noticed. This was what we came up with. As a teacher, beforehand I had a list of strategies that I wanted the students to learn about endings, and as students were sharing, if there were any that they missed, I made sure to include it. These were the strategies that my students came up with after reading the mentor texts:

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Then, as students worked on writing or revising their endings, I encouraged them to try different types of endings, before choosing the best one. It was fun to see the students use the different strategies that they came up with. This was one easy way that teachers of writing can integrate an inquiry approach to teaching writing. The format of the lesson was a bit different than a normal workshop lesson.

What are some ways you integrate inquiry into reading and writing workshop?

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More Than Academics: The Responsive Classroom Approach

This past summer, I had the opportunity to attend the responsive classroom training in New York and it truly challenged me as a teacher. It was a huge shift for me, and not to say I hadn’t been doing some of the things that they shared about, but it really gave me practical ways to implement what I believed as an educator. The principles of the responsive classroom approach really resonated with my core beliefs as an educator. These are beliefs that I’ve held onto as an educator, but at times, I didn’t have the strategies to put them into action.
Here are the guiding principles of the responsive classroom approach, taken from their webpage.

The Responsive Classroom approach is informed by the work of educational theorists and the experiences of exemplary classroom teachers. Seven principles guide this approach:

  1. The social and emotional curriculum is as important as the academic curriculum.
  2. How children learn is as important as what they learn.
  3. Great cognitive growth occurs through social interaction.
  4. To be successful academically and socially, children need to learn a set of social and emotional skills: cooperation, assertiveness, responsibility, empathy, and self-control.
  5. Knowing the children we teach—individually, culturally, and developmentally—is as important as knowing the content we teach.
  6. Knowing the families of the children we teach is as important as knowing the children we teach.
  7. How we, the adults at school, work together is as important as our individual competence: Lasting change begins with the adult community.

The importance of the social and emotional curriculum is something I believe in strongly, but at times, I was at a loss of how to integrate that successfully with all the demands of the academic curriculum. This year, I’ve been able to integrate more of the social and emotional curriculum through some of the key practices of the responsive classroom. It is still a struggle to have enough time, but despite our tight schedule I manage to fit in time for the different practices:

1. Morning meeting- 15 minutes daily

  • Greeting- Every morning we sit in a circle on our rug and we do a greeting.
  • Sharing and/or Group Activity (Usually it’s hard to do both because of our short time.)
  • Reading the morning message letter- I hand write this out on chart paper everyday. I usually try to preview content for the day or make curriculum connections. Two great resources for ideas are:

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2. Closing circle- 10 minutes daily

  • Reflection- I usually give a sentence starter like:
  • One new thing I learned today…
  • One thing that made me smile today…
  • Now I understand more about…
  • I want to learn more about…
  • My highlight of the day was…
  • One thing I’m looking forward to is…
  • Group Activity- We do an energizer like different cheers. If we have more time, we will play a quick group game like coseeki or concentration.

3. Establishing rules- First few weeks of school

I’ve created rules with my students in the beginning of the year before going to the responsive classroom training. However, the responsive classroom training approach really emphasizes explicit teaching and modeling of rules and giving logical consequences. All the time we spend during the first few weeks really does pay off.

4. Quiet time- 15 minutes daily

Quiet time is probably one of my favorite practices I’ve put into my daily routine. This is a quiet independent work time right after lunch/recess. It’s a way to transition into the afternoon and allow students to calm down after recess. The students LOVE this time and they do some pretty amazing things! I have a bunch of students that take this time to work on independent writing projects, where they collaborate with classmates and come up with their own story together. Students can work on different things during this time. It’s a great way to foster independence and responsibility.  As a teacher, I can meet with students independently and help students with extra help.

5. Energizers- This is one thing I was much better with in the beginning of the year. Usually after students come back from specials we would have energizers. They are quick songs, cheers, games, that allow students to be active and move around.

Another big way that the responsive classroom approach has changed my class has been getting rid of reward systems. This was something that I felt strongly about as an educator, that we shouldn’t be rewarding students for good behavior with points, stars, treats, etc…We should encourage students to behave well and do their best because of their intrinsic motivation. I kind of went back and forth in the classroom and at times went to having extrinsic rewards like table points for tables that got quiet or ready first. I did class dojo points for a year and didn’t find it very effective. And now, I’ve gotten rid of all of that and my class is still on task and well behaved.

Responsive classroom has given me the strategies and tools to help me realize that it’s possible to have a smooth running classroom without dangling a carrot on a stick  in front of my students. If you are interested in getting training for responsive classroom, it is totally worth it! It was seriously the best professional development I’ve had in a long time. They have trainings in the summer and throughout the year. Check it out here: https://www.responsiveclassroom.org/workshops/  And no, I am not sponsored by responsive classroom in anyway… 🙂

Does anyone else use the responsive classroom approach in their classroom?

What are some of the successes/challenges you’ve had?

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classroom makeover 101

I was super excited for the start of the school year and wanted to rearrange my classroom to allow for more varied learning spaces. I asked my talented co-worker, Ami, for some classroom makeover help. She just happens to have studied interior design as well and is amazing at setting up classrooms for learning. I told her that she should totally have her own extreme makeover: classroom edition tv show! I would love watching that. Ami helped me move around my furniture and even got me some matching rugs for some of new areas from IKEA.  Here are a few changes that Ami helped me with:

  • Make a few cozy nooks for students to gather in the back of the classroom and also another small table in the front for students to go to for group work near my desk.
  • Moving a book shelf next to my teacher desk where I will display read alouds.
  • Bring my kidney bean table where I do small group conferences into the center back of my room closer to the student tables.
  • Making the classroom more open and less crowded. I got rid of book bins I had on the shelf next to my windows.
  • Putting some of the student tables diagonally so it’s a better use of the space.
  • Getting rid of stuff that was stored underneath one of my walls, so it’s more open and kids could read underneath there.

Another small tweak I made this year is I got rid of the name tags that I would tape onto my desk. I want my students to move desks more frequently and it was always a pain having them move around our clunky individual desks. It caused a lot of noise and was like mini-bumper tables when it was time to move. This year I used these plastic name card holders. They are great, because when I want to move seats, we can just move the plastic name card.

If you are feeling stuck with your classroom set up, ask another teacher to stop by and help! I felt like there was nothing else I could do to change in my room, but having a new pair of eyes come in and help rearrange was super helpful.

Do you have any good classroom setup tips? Leave a comment! 🙂

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Engage All Students in Writing with a Sound Bite

This past fall I had the privilege of attending a Reading and Writing through Inquiry workshop in Indonesia (love that traveling is a part of my job!). I first mentioned it in this post. One of the ideas our workshop leader presented to us involved sharing sound bites with students and having them write a story based on what they hear. I took so many notes during that weekend that there were a few learning engagements I completely forgot about. I am sure that has never happened to you…

Recently, I was asked to present at a conference my school was holding and I reviewed my notes from that workshop. This sound bite idea jumped out at me as this was a learning engagement I had yet to try.

I decided to give it a go and created sound bites in iMovie, using the sound effects the program offers. One sound bite was a mixture of jungle sounds, monkeys, rain, a waterfall, it ended with an alarm clock. When I played the sounds for my first grade class every single student was engaged. I have a few new students this semester and two of them speak very little English (aka, zero English). They were able to hear the sounds and draw pictures of what they heard. Then I helped them write a sentence or words that matched their pictures.

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Each story was different and showed student’s personalities. We did this engagement a second time and this time I connected it to our current unit. Which is learning about transportation systems. I used sounds of horses running, a helicopter, racing cars, walking, a train, etc (all found on iMovie and exported just with audio). Again, every single student was engaged.

Don’t you just love it when that happens?!

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Progressive Stories are as easy as 1,2,3!

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Last month I asked the lower elementary school if they would be interested in writing a story together in a way that is known to be called a “progressive” story.

Setting it up was simple. My first grade class started the story, we sent it to a second grade class, they sent it to our kindergarten, then it went to the other second grade class and finished with the other first grade classes. For those good with numbers, that is a story with five sections 🙂 Altogether it took us one week to finish with each teacher taking one 45 minute block to write the story, and the using center time, free time, or another language arts block to draw the illustrations.

Each class drew three illustrations to go with their section of the story (next time we do it I may ask for 4 illustrations per section) I shared a few of them at the beginning of this post. The pictures were put together and a few students from each class narrated the story. This video is the final result:

As the classes work on their sections I heard from the teachers how excited their students were about this story. They were able to modify the activity based on each grade’s level and worked in what they were studying in language arts. From bold beginnings to adjectives to mighty middles and excellent endings, it is neat seeing the whole story put together.

Here it is in written form:

In a classic classroom on a cold day, there was a kind teacher named Miss White. Dress in white from head to toe, she also wore a magical pearl necklace. On this cold day it started to snow. At first the snow fell gently and then it fell faster and faster. Miss White looked out the window and saw the snow swirling. The wind began to whistle and blow. Suddenly, a snow monster appeared! (1W)

The massive snow monster looked around and saw Miss. White. He threw dirty snowballs to her class, and covered Miss White’s class window. Miss White’s students were so scared and hid under their desks. Miss White touched her magical pearl necklace and said, “White White Miss White, turn my students into superheroes.” All 20 students turned into strong superheroes. Then the superheroes opened the gigantic window and flew out quickly. (2H)

A good snow monster comes and  punches the bad snow monster! All the jungle animals come to help the kids fight the snow monster. There is a gorilla, a monkey, a giraffe, a T-Rex, a gecko, an alligator, a crocodile, a tiger, and a lion. The super hero kids see little eyes outside in the snow too.  They are angry, bad robbers! It is a trap! Then the snow monster eats all 20 of the superheroes! The jungle animals run and hide behind the mountain.  The bad snow monster kills the good snow monster! The bad snow monster and the robbers try to find the jungle animals. The jungle animals jump out and fight the bad snow monster and the robbers.  Oh no! How will the super kids get out of the bad monster’s tummy? (K)

One animal caught a robber and threw him and hit the snow monster, so it fell over. But the snow monster reappeared because it was indestructible.  The tiger and the lion rebuilt two new snow monsters from the body of the old good snow monster.  Then the two good snow monsters punched and kicked the bad monster and the robbers.  The super heroes punched the snow monster from inside his tummy.  The snow broke and the super heroes flew out.  Miss White had a book that told all the things that her magical necklace could do.  She looked up how to get rid of a snow monster. Miss White found that the only way to get rid of the monster was with fire.  The children said to the bad monster, “Miss White is going to put fire on you.”  The pearls shot fire at the monster, but it didn’t hurt anybody else.  The monster screamed because it was painful.  The fire police came and made a very humongous, humongous (the biggest in the world) campfire. (2F)

Ms. White touched her magical pearl necklace and said, “One of the jungle animals please trip the bad snow monster so he falls into the fire!”. Just then, two of the monkeys tied their tails together and ran in front of the snow monsters feet. They pulled their tails tight. The T-Rex stood near the fire and distracted the snow monster. The snow monster started to run towards the T-Rex. His feet tripped on the monkeys and he fell into the fire. He screamed as he melted away, “AHHHHHHHHHHH!!!”. The fire police caught the robbers and took them to jail. The superheros were turned back to students when Ms. White rubbed her necklace again. They went back to doing their work. The jungle animals came out from the mountain cheering, “GOOD JOB, THANK YOU, YAAAAAAY!”. Before they left to go back to the jungle the animals gave the students a fun ride on their backs. Everyone said thank you to each other for helping.  (1P)

The first question my students asked when the story was complete? “When can we write another one?”

What are learning engagements you do to get your students excited about writing? We would love to hear your ideas, and it just so happens that we have a comment section!

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10 Books to Add to Your Class Library

I’ve been trying to find time to read more children’s book, which at times can be difficult, but it does make a huge difference when you’ve actually read the books that you are recommending and encouraging your students to read. These are some newer children’s book that I have in my classroom that I loved reading, and so did my students. These are books I would recommend for students in grades 4-6. Some of the content is a bit more mature and would be better for 5th grade and up. I won’t write super detailed synopsis reviews because you can find those on amazon and goodreads, but I’ll share how I recommend using them as a teacher!

Fantasy

Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley-  My fifth grade class just finished this new book as our fantasy unit read aloud. There are great themes, metaphors, symbolism and figurative language in this story. The students loved this read aloud, and so will you, as you get sucked into the magic of believing in all that Circus Mirandus is about.

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Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan- This is a book I would recommend for your higher level readers. It is a historical fiction and fantasy book, and goes through different time periods, but weaves the stories all together through this one prophecy. If you have a student reading it, it would be good to check-in with them, and make sure they are understanding the plot and historical background.

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The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer Holm-  This book integrates science so well into the story. Ellie’s grandfather, a scientist, has found a way to make himself young again, and transforms himself into a 13-year old boy. I used this book at the end of the year as a read aloud, which my students were enthusiastic about as well!

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Realistic Fiction

The Thing About Jelly Fish by Ali Benjamin- I just finished reading this book over my spring break, and I was lying next to my hotel pool in Thailand trying to not cry while I was finishing this book. This book also deals with some mature content. Suzy loses her best friend from a drowning and she deals with that grief and guilt she feels from treating her badly before she unexpectedly passes.

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Fish in a Tree by Linda Mullaly Hunt- If you need a new beginning of the year read-aloud and all of your students have already read Wonder, this is it. My students enjoyed this read aloud, which is about Ally, who has dyslexia, and struggles to do well in school and is also dealing with bullying. It has many similar themes as the book Wonder.

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Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan- This is another book I would recommend for the high readers in your class. The main character, Willow Chance, is a gifted child, and adopted. When she unexpectedly loses her adopted parents to a car crash, her world becomes drastically changed. She finds a new “family” as she deals with the grief and loss. She is a quirky character, that you really feel for, and root for. You won’t be disappointed.

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The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart – This is kind of like the kid’s version of The Fault in Our Stars, but with no big romantic storyline. The main character Mark gets cancer again and finds out he doesn’t have long to live.  Then, he decides to go on an unforgettable last adventure to Mt. Rainier with his dog as his sidekick. It’ll be a book that you and your students won’t be able to put down. It could also work as an end of the year read aloud.

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Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate – I’m a huge fan of Katherine Applegate’s books like Home of the Brave and The One and Only Ivan. If you loved those books, you’ll like this one as well. This book is about a boy dealing with homelessness, so the topic is a bit more mature.

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Graphic Novel

El Deafo by CeCe Bell- This is a fun and fast read about a bunny who is deaf and needs to wear a hearing aid in school. The themes of fitting in and friendship will make it easy for students to relate to. My students couldn’t wait to borrow this book.

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Historical Fiction

Stella by Starlight by Sharon Draper- This is a moving story about an inquisitive and brave girl, Stella, who is living in the segregated south and witnesses the Ku Klux Klan in action. It would work great as a read aloud or if students read it independently, some preteaching on the historical time period would be helpful.

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What are some new books that you recommend for our classroom libraries? 

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Creating Landmarks out of Marshmallows

During our previous unit of inquiry my first graders discovered the world of maps. As part of their studies we learned about landforms and landmarks. In order to create a more hands on experience for them I decided to bring in marshmallows and toothpicks. I got this idea because it was the 100th day of school and my PYP coordinator told me that once she gave students 100 marshmallows and 100 toothpicks to create something… and I thought, why not landmarks?

Did I give them 100 marshmallows and 100 toothpicks? Uhh… no. But the fact that Korea now has affordable marshmallows available at Diaso (kind of like and up-scale dollar store), is incredible. Good job, Korea!

The students worked in pairs to create a landmark. They attempted to recreate the Eiffel Tower, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Great Wall of China, as well as make their own bridges, towers, and statues.

They loved every second of this learning engagement, even though I didn’t let them eat any of the marshmallows. (I am not a monster though, I let them eat some during snack.)

What are some of your favorite hands on learning engagements?

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