Friday, December 6, 2013

Last Day of Student Teaching

December 6, 2013
Today is certainly a bittersweet day. My last day as a student teacher at Meriwether Lewis Elementary School came all too quickly. It has been an incredible blessing working with Anne Straume and my wonderful third graders. I felt like a part of the MLS family from start to finish. I am so grateful that I was not only able to work with a remarkably creative and compassionate mentor, but I was also able to work with a whole community of caring and talented professionals.

A good-bye poster was waiting outside the classroom for me today covered with post-it notes from my students. Thank you third graders! I love you all, and I'll miss you!

Thank you MLS teachers, parents, administrators, and staff for welcoming me with open arms and making my experience here so special. Thank you Meriwether students for being your wonderful, creative, energetic selves. And a BIG thank you to Room 18 children and parents for the book you created for me, the lovely party you planned today, and the thoughtful gifts. I will miss you all dearly! Please stay in touch.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Survey Results Are In: Our Third Graders Love to Read

Donalyn Miller's reading instructional approach detailed in The Book Whisperer turned my world upside down in August and totally reframed how I approach reading instruction. 

As a student teacher, my main goal is to create a classroom environment where children enjoy reading and embrace their identity as a reader. 

As an adult, if you were told that every time you read a book you have to answer multiple choice questions, write several paragraphs about it, or do a book report, would that encourage or discourage you from reading? That's what I thought. 

So I avoided using worksheets, comprehension questions, book reports, cumbersome projects, and similar inauthentic assignments that burden the act of reading. And just let them read. 

As it turns out, they love it!

Today I gave the children a survey on what they like about the way reading is taught in our classroom. The results were amazing. Here are some examples of questions and responses on the survey. 

1. What do you like about the way Ms. Cantrell and Ms. Straume teach reading?
Some quotes from our students: 

"I like that we have a lot of time to read."
"They recommend you good books."
"[I like that] they let us choose our own books to read."
"They let us read so much which I love and they choose really good books for us and they give us good recommendations"
"I like how they read [out loud]."
"[I like] how they let us read every day in school."

"How you let us read a lot"
"That you give us a long time of READING!"
"I love the time to read!"
"I love everything about how Mrs. Straume and Ms. Cantrell teach reading in class."

2. Do you like reading?
100% of student responded "Yes!" that they enjoy reading

3. How much time do you spend reading on a typical school night?
The vast majority of the students reported that they are reading more than 20 minutes on any given school night. 

Children appreciate being given time to read in school. They like it when teachers just. let. them. read. I can see this reflected in the amazing quality of our students' behavior during reading time. They are always quietly focused on what they are reading. We are collecting data on students' comprehension and fluency and seeing increases across the board there as well. 

Donalyn Miller, if you're reading this, thank you! The Book Whisperer works!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Math Can Be Beautiful Too!

November 1, 2013

The children have been learning about multiplication as repeated addition. Today we started by practicing translating multiplication facts into repeated addition equations. Then the students used crayons and water colors to write repeated addition equations in an artful way. I loved giving the children an opportunity to experience math in a more visually pleasing way than just paper and pencil problems.  
Math can be beautiful too!


Field Trip to the Public Library

November 1, 2013
A few weeks ago my mentor teacher and I told the children about how we had visited the brand new library in Crozet together. When you go inside, it's so chic and beautiful it feels like you're walking into a classy bookstore.

The children suggested we take a field trip, and we did! They were so thrilled when the day came today that they actually skipped from the school doors to the bus.

One of our generous classroom parents donated reusable book bags so that the children could tote home a bunch of books and not have to carry a big stack of them. This brought up the discussion of how many books one person can check out from the public library- 75! The magnitude of this number sent murmurs of excitement through the third grade class. 

When the children arrived at the library they received an excellent book talk from one of the librarians and a behind-the-scenes tour of the library. She discussed these three books specifically. I was captivated by her description of the story The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare. I love reading survival stories and I've always been fascinated by Native Americans. So I checked it out to read over the weekend.

Finally, the children had the chance to explore the library and pick out some books themselves. Some students used the online library catalog while others browsed. I heard students making book recommendations to each other and saying things like...
"Hey, I found the Goosebumps books that you like!" One of the students asked me on the way out, "Are we coming back next Friday so we can return these books and check out new ones?

... These children are really starting to love books and enjoy reading! I am ecstatic! And remember...

Be a reader... join the movement.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Snapshots of Reading Instruction in Our Third Grade Class

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Introducing... The Book of Books
As each new day of third grade begins, students update their "Book of Books." We call it the "Book of Books" or "BoB" rather than their "Reading Log" or "Reading Journal." Students update their BoB. by recording any books they have started or finished. They are responsible for recording the title, author, date completed, and genre. When students aren't sure which genre a book is it sparks a conversation that carries over into reading instruction time.

Authentic Reading is Making Recommendations to Other Readers
We try to make our reading instruction as authentic as possible. How do adult readers find books they may enjoy? They talk to their friends. Our readers do a stellar of job of rating and recommending books for other students. When students finish reading a book that came from our shelves, they grab a post-it and put their name on it and write the number of stars they would rate it out of 5. Then we display that book somewhere on the shelves so another student can pick it up when he or she needs to start a new independent reading book. So far the system has worked really well and students are picking up many of the books their peers have read and enjoyed!

The $64,000 Dollar Question: What Do Good Readers Do?
Most of our reading mini-lessons are framed around idea of: "What do good readers do?" Students have a chart (below) in their Book of Books that they update each time we learn a new principle of good reading. I'm all about simplicity and this chart keeps lessons simple and the message, straightforward. Students feel a sense of accomplishment by filling up their charts with good behaviors that they can learn and practice to become better readers. We refer back to the principles frequently and reinforce the skills that we discuss. 

All Plans Are Subject to Change

That's my new motto. 

I've heard it said many times that the best teachers are flexible. Great teachers roll with the punches. They identify what's working and what's bombing during a lesson. They gauge how students are responding while they are teaching, and they adjust on the fly.

The Internet and technology are wonderful sources for the classroom. But they can also be big variables. For example, on Monday I planned to teach a geography lesson on Ancient Greece. I had Google Earth all queued up. And then--- KABOOM-- the thunderstorm rolled in and the Internet cut out.

So we rolled with it and focused instead on identifying geographic traits from a wonderful Powerpoint of present day Greece that my good friend Sarah Tisdale provided who lived there for a year. I let the children watch the Powerpoint slideshow and react to it. They called things out that they recognized and discussed their reactions with their classmates. Sure, it was a little chaotic at first. But it got the conversation started. Then we went back through and used the slides to describe Greece's geography.

We discussed that "acropolis" is a Greek word meaning
high city.
We discussed the meaning of the word peninsula. The Greek
mainland is a peninsula but there are many small peninsulas along the coast.

Olive trees grow on the rocky mountainsides. 

Monday, September 30, 2013

Update: We are Readers (Capital R)

Update on how the "We are Readers: Join the Movement" movement is going (see post with purple banner picture). 

Teaching is all about making decisions and making use of the limited time that we have for instruction. For example, we have 45 minutes per day for reading instruction and 45 minutes per day for writing instruction. How do we use that time wisely? 

How do we create a balanced literacy program? Is it possible to incorporate all of the skills, lessons, and elements of a "balanced" literacy diet in one day? The short answer is- no. It's impossible to incorporate every aspect of literacy instruction in a given day. Maybe it can be done over the long-term. But in the short-term I have 5 days and 45 minutes per day of reading instruction. So I am always coming back to basic questions:

What is best practice for reading instruction?
We value time spent reading above anything else. Research supports this. My CI and I are converts to the pleasure-reading, read-for-the-sake-of-enjoying-reading, read-good-fit-books, read-because-you-love-it, choose-books-you-love-to-read, spend-time-reading-independently reading program. 

How do you organize instruction to give students time to read independently?
1) We set aside time every day for students to read for enjoyment.
2) We encourage students to "steal minutes" of reading time throughout the day.
Kids love "stealing minutes" of reading. My students come up to me throughout the day and ask, "Ms. Cantrell, can I steal some minutes now?" And my answer is consistently "yes" (unless they are supposed to be engaged in a different instructional activity). This shows me that students are looking forward to curling up with a good book.  

What else do we do?

Reading mini-lessons.
The students have a chart glued into their "Book of Books" composition notebook that is titled: "What do good readers do?" Each time a lesson I have the students copy down the example of what good readers do in their chart. Simple. Organized. Easy to review.

Shared reading: SongFest!!
One of my first reading mini-lessons was "Good readers reread (when they don't understand something or when they zone out while reading)." The way that I reinforced the importance of rereading is by having them listen to a song they enjoy and try to sing along. Most students did not know the lyrics the first time we heard the song. I posted the lyrics on the ActiveBoard and had them read them once. Then we reread the lyrics while we listened to the song. And most kids could sing along.
So now we use read, reread, and reread and sing technique with LOTS of songs. I have a special folder where I keep multiple copies of the lyrics to the songs we are learning so students can choose to read song lyrics during "Be a Reader" time. This practice of rereading also supports fluency. On Fridays we have a Songfest where students practice rereading and singing the songs we have practiced. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

We Skyped Chief Meteorologist Travis Koshko!

What an incredible day! 
We had our first classroom Skype visit with a local celebrity- 
Travis Koshko- chief meteorologist for the Charlottesville Newsplex. 

The children came up with a list of excellent questions for Mr. Koshko. 

We have been studying graphs in Ms. Straume's 3rd grade class. We wanted the children to see how useful graphs are in the real world. Mr. Koshko explained how he uses a variety of graphs and maps to help him predict the weather. Here is an example of a graph that our class created illustrating how many grams of sugar are in 1 serving of cereal:

We learned some amazing things about what it takes to be chief meteorologist. 
Mr. Koshko told us he wakes up at 2:30AM and gets to the station by 3:00AM! WOW! Someone needs to bring that man a Bodo's bagel at 6:00AM. :) 

Thanks again for Skyping with us Mr. Koshko!
For more information follow our Twitter feed: @Claireecantrell and @chalkrelic (Ms. Straume) 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

We are Readers... Join the Movement!

This poster says to me: We are readers. Reading is cool. Get on board the train. 
I later added photos of the students reading (which cannot be displayed for privacy reasons). It is displayed outside the classroom so everyone in the third, fourth, and fifth grade wing can get on board the reading movement. 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Failure Is Not a Period, It's a Comma

This title is a quote from the article: "Five Lies That Every Twenty-something Needs to Stop Believing"   from Relevant Magazine. 

Failure is common in a classroom. I am uncomfortable with failure. I'm uncomfortable with the feeling of coming up short or not having the answer. But I am learning through student teaching that failure is an inevitable part of teaching and learning. 

Uncountable books, articles, quotes, and ideas have been written about the importance of failure and how to cope with failure. Brilliant thinkers always failed before they succeeded. Scientists fail for a living. Anyone who has become great has failed on his or her way to greatness. Failure is not an impediment to success but an important step on the road to success.

Failure Quotes from
Winston Churchill: "Success is not final. Failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts."

Abraham Lincoln, "My great concern is not whether you have failed but whether you are content with your failure." 

It's fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure. - Bill Gates

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Book Belts

We tie nail aprons to the back of our chairs so we can have our books with us at all times. Then if you want to take your books to lunch with you, untie your book belt and tie it around your waist.

20 Little Lessons Learned...

20 little lessons learned... from my first "formal" lesson

1.    Get their attention. Relate it to them personally.
2.     Exaggerate. Be dramatic. Be overdramatic.
3.    Translate everything into kid language. Ask them to make up the definitions. Write down their definitions.
a.     For example, When I was using the IPICK acronym some of the kids did not know what the words: “purpose”, “interest”, “comprehend”, and “know” meant. It’s important to translate this into words they undertand before moving on.
4.    Write down what you need to write down on your anchor chart ahead of time so you’re not wasting time looking at the chart. You lose the kids’ attention during that time.
5.     While the children are turning and talking to someone, listen to their conversations.
6.    Ask the children to repeat what their partner said. This improves listening skills.   
7.    Have the kids rephrase the question you asked in their own words.
8.    Differentiate for students who may not be able to read what you’re writing.
9.    Have an extension activity prepared for children who work more quickly.
10. Relate it to the real world! When and how do we do this in real life?
11. Get their attention at the beginning of the lesson. Get their attention again in the middle of the lesson. Keep their attention. Leave them with something concrete.
12. Assessment. If the students can’t write down the words they are thinking then they can tell me the answer in their own words.
13. Some students struggle to understand the question that is being asked on the exit slip. They don’t comprehend what is being asked. In this case, simplify the question. State it another way.
14. Review. Review again.
15. Have them apply what they are learning.
16. Students may work in partners. This is interactive support.
17. Give explicit directions for how the children are expected to behave when they  transition from one activity to another and one place to another.
18.Circulate to make sure they are on the right track.
19. Add physical movement whenever possible.

20. Smile. It spreads joy.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Metaphor for Student Teaching

Student teaching is like dropping the box to a 1000 piece puzzle and trying to put it together overnight.

Photo credit:

I LOVE teaching. And I am totally up for the challenge. Just like a puzzle is composed of many different shapes, colors, and patterns, teaching is full of complicated, overlapping, and unpredictable factors. Puzzling is enjoyable because it is a challenging process. Teaching is rewarding and fun not in spite of the complications and craziness, but because teachers have the privilege of entering the delightful and mysterious world of children and trying to make sense of it. 

Oh yeah.. and I forgot to mention... the first day of school was wonderful.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Role Model Readers

Ms. Straume and I are role model readers! Our goal is to show the children we are enthusiastic readers. We read for pleasure, and we enjoy the types of books they may enjoy.

Check out the children's books we are currently reading...

I am rereading Ralph S. Mouse by Beverley Cleary. Ms. Staume is reading Lawn Boy by Gary Paulsen. Two of my favorite authors!


My first bulletin board ever is outside the classroom door advertising "Geniur Hour" in the style of a movie marquee!

Reading Role Model

Now that I am in the thick of student teaching there are so many books I want to read! Professional development books, textbooks, and teacher guides. Here are the books that were stacked on my bedside table begging to be cracked open...

However, I am realizing that reading novels and children's books alongside the children is essential as well. See my previous post for more information about the importance of being a reading role model as a teacher.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Reflections on The Book Whisperer

The Book Whisperer

Miller, D. The Book Whisperer. (2009). San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 

I am working my way through Donalyn Miller's book The Book Whisperer and loving it! I came to a heading titled "The Need for Reading Role Models: The Crux of the Reading Crisis." She cites some pretty startling statistics about the lack of avid readers in our society. For example, in a study of preservice teachers they found that "54.3 percent were unenthusiastic about reading, leaving little hope that these teachers would be able to inspire students to engage in an activity that they themselves did not enjoy" (Miller, 2009, p. 107). Well that makes perfect sense! How could I possibly teach someone to enjoy something that I did not enjoy myself? How would I inspire students to read avidly and widely if I did not demonstrate that in my own life and attitude?

Miller goes on to explain that there are two stances on reading: 1) efferent stance and 2) aesthetic stance. Efferent readers read to gather information and get answers. It is what she calls an "outside-to-inside way of reading" (108). On the other hand, aesthetic readers "see reading as an emotional and intellectual journey" (109). As a result, these teachers teach reading differently. 

I have seen such uninspired classrooms of students doing "round robin" reading where they sit in a circle and alternate reading a book page-by-page. But what does that accomplish? Is that inspiring children to read? Or just slowing them down? Are MOST activities, strategies, and skills we teach associated with reading just belaboring the text?

Miller also mentions that teacher read children's books on a regular basis so they can share that experience with their students. So I made a list of some of my favorite authors, books-to-read, books-to-reread (since Miller encourages her students to reread texts they enjoy), and suggested read-alouds. It is a work in progress, but I am excited to get started on some of these delightfully diverting novels. 

Some of Ms. Cantrell's favorite authors and good reads
  • Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson
  • Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
  • The Chronicles of Narnia  by C.S. Lewis
  • Ann Rinaldi
  • Ralph S. Mouse by Beverley Cleary
  • Holes by Louis Sachar
  • Jerry Spinelli
  1. Percy Jackson Series. It comes highly recommended by many students
  2. Inkheart by Cornelia Funke
  3. My Life in Dog Years by Gary Paulsen
  1. Ralph S. Mouse by Beverley Cleary
  2. The Boxcar Children
Possible Read-Alouds

  1. Guts by Gary Paulsen
  2. Knots in My Yo-Yo String by Jerry Spinelli
  3. Each Little Bird that Sings by Deborah Wiles
  4. The SOS Files by Betsy Byars
  5. The Word Eater by Mary Amato

Most of my reading is dedicated to professional development and student teaching. So I have a hefty stack of professional development, textbooks, and teacher guides on my bedside table. But this chapter has increased my motivation to read novels alongside my 3rd graders. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Repurposing this blog :)

Dear fellow bloggers, friendly fans, fantastic followers, and first-time visitors,

I am now using this blog to record my learning experiences during student teaching. But it has been used for several purposes in the past.

I created this blog originally in 2011 as part of a technology infusion teaching internship. You can visit my website if you want to see what I did with 1st grade English Language Learner students at a school in Albemarle County.

I also designed an online portfolio based on my work with a kindergartener at the McGuffey Reading Center at the University of Virginia. I am working on merging all of these websites in a user-friendly and aesthetically appealing way. Keep in mind, it is a work in progress.

In 2012 I used this blog as part of my Second Language Acquisition and modern foreign language teaching methods class. So that's why there are a bunch of somewhat boring posts about chapters of books. However, they contain good information

Today I am working on crafting my professional development goals (PDGs). They will of course change and shift as the semester goes on. Here are some random notes and question that have been on my mind for the past few days:

Bringing Up Boys
How do we get boys more involved in the classroom? How do I, as a female teacher, involve and not alienate boys from learning. One way my CI has done this in the past is by choosing more masculine read-aloud stories. For example, boys typically do not get excited about or connect with Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Choosing books that boys can connect with during this time is important to encourage their love for reading.

Raising Rockstar Writers
The first subject area that I will take over is writing. I have always loved the writing process. But even as a mature adult sometimes I find it difficult to express what I want to say in words. Writing is a courageous process. It involves exposing your thoughts and your personality. I have had multiple professors teach us that a teacher should not correct grammar and punctuation right off the bat because then students focus on correctness in writing over content. Here are some questions I am asking myself: How do we value students' ideas and not focus on their mechanical mistakes? How do third graders feel about writing in general? How do I motivate and inspire children to write without fear of exposure? What are the obstacles children face when they are writing? 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

21st Century Classroom Jobs Chart

Today I worked on recreating the classroom job's chart. My clinical instructor (CI) and I were inspired to rethink the chart by the Framework for 21st Century Learning and skills as well as Albemarle County's D2015 initiative. Our new and improved jobs chart has icons rather than pictures. The title is "Craigslist" rather than "Help Wanted." More importantly, the names of the jobs are jobs that exist in the real world such as "athletics coordinator," "Geek Squad," "quartermaster" and "receptionist." 

I hope to incorporate the jobs chart into a lesson on economic specialization in the classroom. Just like people in the state and local economy specialize, we specialize as a classroom to be as efficient as possible. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Seven Pathways to Lifelong Learning #1: Technology Infusion: Popplet

I have had an amazing start to student teaching. I feel like my brain is buzzing with new ideas (the buzzing part could also be the coffee). I have been jotting down books, websites, and concepts non-stop for the past three days. Today I learned about the "7 Pathways to Lifelong Learning," an initiative by Albemarle County Public Schools. This has definitely given me direction in thinking about how I want to plan my instruction this semester as a student teacher in third grade.

7 Pathways to Lifelong Learning - D2015

1. Interactive Technologies
2. P-based Learning (Passion, projects, problem-solving)
3. Universal Design for Learning
4. Instructional Tolerance
5. Connectivity
6. Make to Learn, Learn to Make
7. Choice and Comfort

#1 Interactive technologies. One of my favorite interactive technologies that can be used by students and teachers is Popplet. It is an excellent online brainstorming and concept mapping tool.

If you have a Popplet you can look at others' popplets. I created a Popplet concept map while I was planning a third grade economics unit.

A Delightful Reading Corner

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Book Whisperer

Miller, D. The Book Whisperer. (2009). San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 

Some quotable quotes and great ideas from the book: 

"The only groups served by current trends to produce endless programs for teaching reading are the publishing and testing companies who make billions of dollars from their programs and tests" (Miller, 2009, p. 3)

"I believe that this corporate machinery of scripted programs, comprehension worksheets (reproducibles, handouts, printables, whatever you want to call them), computer-based incentive packages, and test-practice curricula facilitate a solid bottom line for the companies that sell them" (Miller, 2009, p.3)

Amen! This is exactly how I feel. We have reduced reading to worksheets, comprehension questions, and online fake coins. Reading should be about choice. Choose a subject that interests you. Choose the author whose style you love. I believe that it's also important that teachers model a love of reading and a love of reading a variety of genres. 

Children should be introduced to mythology, legends, fables, mysteries, realistic fiction and inspired to explore other genres. But the starting point should always be "We read because we love to read" and not... "I read to get a better fluency score. I read to fill out a worksheet to turn in so I get a checkmark."

Children become better at what they love. They will love reading if they love WHAT they are reading. If they are entertained and excited by the story. If they feel they have choice over what book they pick up and what book they put down. Personally, I don't care for the Magic Treehouse series. I never wanted to read those books in school but they were usually mandated. What if I had read books by one of my favorite authors, Ann Rinaldi or Sharon Creech, instead? 

"These programs ... are doomed to fail because they overlook what is most important. When you take a forklift and shovel off these programs, underneath it all is a child reading a book" (p. 3)

How could we lose sight of that? We teach children, not "reading programs." 

OOOOOH research!! She quotes Krashen!! MY favorite. Krashen is a leading expert in language acquisition theory. He writes about input, interaction, and output. I have lots of posts on this blog about second language acquisition. Here is what he says about reading:

"Stephen Krashen, respected researcher, activist, and author of The Power of Reading, identifies fifty-one students that prove that students in free-reading programs perform better or equal to students in any other type of reading program. Krashen found that students' motivation and interest in reading is higher when they get the opportunity to read in school... building lifelong readers has to start here" (p. 3-4). 

Not surprising. I wouldn't read a novel purely because someone else said I should. I would read the back cover, read a few pages, and then decide if I liked it. If I did, that would increase my motivation to read. I would want to come home every night and curl up on the couch with a great story waiting for me. 

"Educators coined the terms real reading, authentic reading, and independent reading to differentiate what readers do in school from what readers do in life is part of the problem" (p. 4).

Terminology gets in its own way sometimes. 

Miller says that her reading instruction begins with her love of reading and outlines how reading has been important in her own life (p. 9-10). What a crucial starting point! 

Speaking of not being able to put a book down.. I want to read this one cover to cover! More posts to come.