Monday, August 23, 2010

Day 13: WTW and Foldables® - an Ideal Match

Despite my earlier with the Top Tab Foldable® I went ahead, and with the help of some of my students, created a class set of 8-part Top Tabs for use with our spelling program - Words Their Way. For those of you unfamiliar with WTW, the program very much revolves around the concept of sorting - which really makes it ideal for use with Foldables®. Our county adopted the WTW program with our new language arts textbook adoption. It came with grade level workbooks designed to be developmentally appropriate, and supplemental materials to take it up or down a level as needed. And those of you who are already laughing at the idea of "developmentally appropriate" and "textbook adoption" being used in the same sentence - no argument here.

Last year my class ran the gamut of ability levels. I had kids reading at a beginning of 2nd grade level all the way up to kids who probably could pass their SATs with relative ease. This made for some disparate vocabulary and spelling ability to say the least. But, I was new to WTW, so I stuck with the program as is and sloughed through the "5th grade" Level E. Round about week two? three? when triceratops was one of our words I was about ready to pull my hair out. Teachers always say that don't they? They say that they're going to, "tear out their hair" or "bang their head against the wall." By all accounts, there should be a fairly large bald and brain damaged educator population. And many people who wonder how we stay teaching with all of the baggage it comes with might have an argument for there being some truth in that statement...but I digress.

The long and the short of it was that it wasn't working. WTW works (I really do believe that) - but only if you actually use it the way they suggest, by doing an inventory and leveling the class into groups. I'm not entirely comfortable with the concept of reading groups, so further grouping for spelling and the subsequent organization needed for assessment, was/is a bit stressful. But, I decided to bite the bullet and really try this year. So, I gave the assessment and broke my class into three groups. But, I was still how unsure how to manage the organization piece. 

I finally decided on a three prong pocket folder with their Spelling BINGO* sheet in a sheet protector and a sandwich baggie for the words. (Note to teachers using the series: don't bother with the paper envelopes they give you - baggies work MUCH better.) But since I wasn't using the workbooks, I still wanted them to have somewhere to put their sorts that was easily transported and non-threatening.

So, I created an 8 part top tab foldable. It's been working wonderfully. I have a master copy for each group where I write out the sort so that they can use it to check their work. We use the front of each page for the initial sort and then glue the words on the back of the page for the final sort. The top tab fits easily into a pocket of the folder and the kids like it because they get to personalize it with their name and the name of their group. Plus, it is small(er) and thinner than a workbook and colorful. 

They love taking the top tab with them when they do a sort with a partner and MY favorite part is the fact that I can easily fold back a page in half and then half it again and have four ready-made columns for them to write words in. (Most WTW sorts have two or four categories.) And since we are studying constructive and destructive forces this 9 weeks (and because I'm a dork) I gave each group the name of a island formed via volcanic activity - Honshu, Java and Sumatra. Now, to think of something clever to call them next nine weeks when we are doing mass, matter, and physical and chemical changes...

Anyhow, between the top tab and using Spelling City (special thanks to Maggie for recommending it to me - I should've listened sooner!) I'm finally getting a handle on managing spelling groups. The kids are getting words that are actually appropriate for them and building vocabulary in a more meaningful way. At least that's what I keep telling myself as I grade three sets of spelling tests! I'll try to post some pictures of their top tabs soon.

Ms. L.

*The Spelling BINGO sheet is a 5x5 table worksheet I created that includes a variety of assignments designed to be completed over the course of the week or so. It is used in my class for students to practice with their words. It includes typical WTW activities like blind sorts, partner sorts, and defining several unknown or unfamiliar words but also some other more "creative" options (like poem writing with words) as well as activities that can be completed online and printed out using Spelling City.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Days 10-12: Reflecting on backward design

I must've started posts three or four times last week in my head, but they never came to fruition. It was an exhausting week, but one that resulted in some interesting realizations on my part.

When I first moved to the current area where I teach, "backward design" was the catch phrase du jour. I remember it being tossed around in my new teacher training along with other eduspeak like"unpacking the standards" and "thinking maps" and of course the ever present "Bloom's taxonomy."
(BTW I swear if Bloom got a nickel for every time his name was mentioned - he'd be rivaling Bill Gates in terms of monetary independence.) As a newish teacher my head was swimming with all of the new systems I had to memorize and implement - not to mention the latest batch of alphabet soup acronyms - IEP, EIP, RTI, IMI...  Backward design drifted to the back of my mind as I dealt with the more immediate concerns of classroom management and interpreting what the standards actually meant. To me, backward design seemed like just another fancy way of higher ups trying to tell me that I needed to make sure I knew what objectives I was teaching. And truthfully, outside of a few professional development sessions where the phrase made cameos, it was all but forgotten - until a few days ago.

I was sitting with a fellow teacher brainstorming ways that students could demonstrate comprehension of the concept of rounding. We talked about how we could tier the assessment to differentiate and what foldable would be most helpful in letting them show that. And I had a sudden epiphany - my thinking had shifted. I had gone from, "How am I going to teach this?" to "How will the students show me they've understood this?" It seems like a small thing at first, but once that change happens, everything else begins to move around it. And I'm not sure how to say this without sounding really cheesy - but I have Foldables® to thank for that.

Foldables® have made me begin to rethink how I'm asking students to organize information. Now as I plan I find myself actually thinking about the end product first. And while I understand that this is early in the year it makes me hopeful about where things could go in terms of my students being better able to retain and apply their learning.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Day 8: Foldable® Frayers for Math Vocabulary

The Frayer and I have had a love-hate relationship. The hate part happened when I taught summer school and had to make 2-4 chart sized demonstration models on a daily basis. I hate charts. My handwriting is not the best and I'm left handed. So, despite my best efforts I often smear everything. Plus, we had to move through them so quickly that the kids barely had time to get everything down - let alone remember and understand it.

That being said, I think they're a great way to   investigate vocabulary - particularly in math. I always loved the part about non-examples. I know that some people really hate the non-example section and find it frustrating to include something that doesn't explain as part of an explanation. But for me, it has always been a helpful tool - a kind of "show me what NOT to do." 

In the past I've included Frayer models when introducing prime and composite numbers. But this year, as I planned the lesson for those concepts I thought about whether or not I could make the Frayer into a Foldable® to make it more interactive. And when I looked at it, at first I thought - 4 door shutterfold. Then I had a better idea - an envelope fold with the middle cut out to show the word.

You need to start with a square piece of paper. I would suggest folding it into quarters first (although you really don't have to). Then you fold each corner into the center. The kids will recognize this because it's the first step in making "fortune tellers." After you fold all of the corners in - unfold them and then refold the papers into quarters. If you snip off the loose corners, when you fold it back into the envelope it will leave a space in the middle that is perfect for your vocabulary word. Then each of the four triangles become places to put: definition, characteristics, examples, and non-examples. 

So, today our Frayers were Foldables®. And I have to say that the students were much less reluctant about it then when I've done simply the models in the past. What I really like is that doing the model this way gives space to go back and add more ideas as needed. I have a feeling that these Foldable® math Frayers may be making a debut in Language Arts in my class sometime soon perhaps as part of our spelling and vocabulary...hmmm....something to think about.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Day 7: One stop genre reference guide coming right up!

I've recently realized that the shutterfold is my new best friend. It's one of the simpler folds, but so incredibly functional and versatile that it lends itself to just about everything. A square piece of paper which we shutter folded in opposite directions was the foundation of the display boxes we created on the first day. As a fold, it's really a confidence builder for the kids - easy to make and difficult to mess up.

Genre guide pasted into notebook
To make a shutterfold you start by matching up the corners of a sheet of paper (this can be done either hamburger or hotdog style depending on your desired outcome). Once you've done that you "pinch" the middle where you would normally fold the paper and then open the paper back up. This gives you a small crease in the center of the paper which then becomes your guideline of where you will fold the edges in. What you end up with is a larger center section and then two slightly narrower sides that meet at the middle like window shutters. 

Any topic that can be thought of in two parts - before and after, prime and composite, are perfect for a shutterfold. But in my case, what came immediately to mind was fiction and non-fiction. Fifth graders arrive in my room with a good bit of reading knowledge, but a lot of misconceptions about things as well - particularly in terms of understanding book genres. So at the beginning of the year I pull about 50 or so books out of my classroom library and then separate them into stacks of ten or so which I divide up between groups of students. As a class we brainstorm a list of genres, but don't talk about specific characteristics. Then I challenge the students to classify the books into those genres - labeling the stacks with post-its. After they've done so, the students rotate around in groups changing post-its if they disagree until eventually they come back to their own table. This generates a lot of good discussion and ultimately we create a list with clear descriptions of what each genre entails. Instead of recording this on chart paper as I've done in the past, this year I thought it would be more helpful for each student to have their own reference guide - enter the shutterfold.

Close up of genre guide with tabs open
We made a shutterfold and then turned it horizontal and folded into fifths. We labeled one column non-fiction and the other fiction. We then wrote individual genres on each row. In the center under the flap we made a heading labeled, "What it looks like." On the other side of the flap students wrote book titles to serve as examples. Now students have a guide in their balanced literacy notebook which can be added to over the course of the year - and much LESS of an excuse for putting classroom library books back in the wrong place!

I've added some pictures of our work to some of my earlier posts which will hopefully help clarify my descriptions a bit. 

Happy weekend all!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Day 6: They'd better have been telling the truth about the vaseline!

Maybe it's because the kid next to me in first grade was forever eating the paste. Or maybe it was having to watch the kid in front of me in second grade continually squirt and smear glue on his hands so that when it dried he could peel it off and pretend it was skin. Or maybe it was because I might have had a slight glue obsession myself in third grade. There was a quarter sized indentation inside my desk and after an accident I realized that if I filled it with glue it hardened into plastic! To my third grade self this was nothing short of a miracle and since I was often bored in class, creating plastic glue discs became quite the hobby for a time - well until the fourth or fifth time I forgot about the wet glue puddle and got it all over myself.

Got glue? (BTW the large plastic cups
serves as "on table" recycling bins)
Regardless, I know that liquid glue can create all kinds of classroom issues. So, as soon as I was a classroom teacher (who had a say in the supply list) I promptly banned it from my class. Only glue sticks in my room - because other than drying out annoyingly fast - how much damage can they really do? And I've been fairly happy with my glue sticks. But now that I'm in full-on Foldables® mode --- glue sticks aren't going to cut it. So, I'm facing my sticky demons and letting them use liquid glue. But, I'm going to do as much preliminary damage control as I can. And here's where the vaseline comes in. 

One of the most entertaining and helpful Foldables® presenters, whose session I had the pleasure of attending at a state science conference, told us that there was a trick to keeping the glue mess and stress under wraps. Aside from kids making a mess, the biggest problem with liquid glue use is how after time it gets clogged up or dried out and you have to pry apart the cap from the bottle and use a dismembered paper clip to poke through what's causing the stoppage. He told us that if, before you give the glue out to the kids, you take off the orange cap from the glue and then smear vaseline around the bottom part where the glue doesn't touch - that all of those problems basically get solved. Nothing stops up and the vaseline helps to keep the dry air out by creating a better seal, He swore by this method - and I've had great luck with his other suggestions so I decided I'd try it.

A parent generously donated 15 bottles of glue, so I began what I later realized was a fairly arduous task of removing the tops from all of these and then smearing vaseline along the inside with a q-tip. Fifteen doesn't seem that many until you have to pry reluctant orange plastic caps off of bottles. Those caps have ridges. And when you're trying to pull something off repeatedly that was not truly intended to come off - well it begins to leave a mark. The mark in this case was my thumb who at about bottle #9 was starting to get fairly sore. Oh and did I mention you need to do this carefully? If someone were to say, get annoyed with the process and try to yank the top off, you might break the inside piece making the whole bottle useless. Not that I would know anything about that....

All in all I got 22 finished today (my thumbs are  really sore). I certainly hope they were telling the truth about how much of a difference this vaseline seal makes. I guess that's just another one I'm going to have to wait around and see what happens.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Days 4 & 5: Is there another one where we can make a burrito?

These two days are getting combined - frankly because I can't remember what happened on Tuesday since I completely got my schedule confused and everything got rearranged. I need to get better about blogging on the day of, before everything gets muddled in my head. This was our first foray into using a Foldable® as an assessment.

We've been talking about decimal place value (or as I like to refer to it the "th th th" period). One of the changes from 4th to 5th is that the kids move from going to the hundredths place to the thousandths. For some of them this is a bit confusing, so I usually dedicate at least a day to breaking down these "new" decimals from standard form into expanded form and also word form. Yes, we do models as well - but those tend to come a bit easier since they're easily visible. After some instruction I had the kids pull 6 digit cards to create the largest possible decimal number that went to the thousandths.

We then used a three-tab vertical fold from the Notebook Foldables® book. We wrote standard form, expanded form, and word form on the outside of the tabs and used the portion underneath for the demonstration of the concept. For the kids that this was really easy for, I challenged them to use the same digits again, but this time create the smallest number possible. It was a quick way for me to get an understanding of who was and wasn't internalizing the concepts. Although, note to self - the kids need to let the glue dry a bit before writing, especially when we had just glued a worksheet (folded down into quarters) onto the other side of the page!

Later that afternoon came the activity that I was eagerly anticipating and simultaneously dreading - creating the field packet that was going to be our science notebook for this nine weeks. I was excited because I felt that this would be a great solution for keeping our science information, especially since I knew it would allow the kids to take some ownership of what they would be using as a study guide. However, having done a recent training with some teachers on the same packet - I was also a little bit apprehensive. The training went well, but I worried that the kids might struggle a bit. It turns out I was the one who struggled.

After firmly and repeatedly reminding the kids NOT to shave the sides of the envelope with the pocket - I did it myself. Luckily, it was not when I was demonstrating, but rather when I went to help my one-armed friend with his. I realized immediately after I did it, but it was of course too late. But, it was a good opportunity to show the kids why not to make the cuts there - and I just gave my correctly done demo to the student who I had been "helping."

The kids really did love the field packet and immediately wanted to begin personalizing their packet, but I think their favorite part of it all was when we put the paper inside and I had to show them how to "burrito" the paper. Apparently after days of hotdogs and hamburgers the advent of a new fast food was beyond thrilling. I didn't dare mention the taco fold for fear they'd just get out of control! LOL.

Anyhow, we successfully completed the packet, but since then I've fielded the following question from at least three different kids, "Is there another one where we can make a burrito?"

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Day 3: But I can't fold with only one arm!

It was Foldable® pandemonium in my classroom today as we finished setting up our math journals and created the field packet* which will be our science notebook for the next nine weeks. Today was the first time the kids got to utilize some of the organizers from the Notebook Foldables®  book. This is one of the books that I have less experience with, since it was only purchased last year. But, one of my goals has been to make my math journals more interactive so I'm planning on trying to use it with a lot more regularity.

Things went fairly well. We added a pocket in the front of the notebook to hold things and only one child glued down the entire pocket which was fairly quickly  noticed and corrected by her tablemates. We also added a 10 tab to our vocabulary section. I was worried they would balk at the space restraints for writing words - but they were actually really excited about it. I made sure to reiterate the, "glue before cutting," mantra and we added our first few words - digit, place, and value. As I said, things went well - with one slight snag...

One of my students didn't show up for the first two days of school. His mom had called in and said that he'd broken his arm, but would be back soon. That should've been a clue for me. There's always one or two kids bouncing around school with a technicolored cast. And I know when I broke my arm in high school, I still played in our varsity soccer games - with my cast wrapped in bubble wrap so that I couldn't hurt people. And even when he walked in the door on Monday with his left arm in a sling-type contraption that pinned his arm to his body with only a hand sticking out - I still held out hope. How many students are left handed - right? Well, in my class there's just one --- the one who can't move his left arm until September. D'oh!

Foldables® work for almost any age or ability level, but I can say with some level of surety now that they do not work if you only have the use of one arm. Even if the child can manage some level of dexterity to do the cutting, they can't hold the paper in place. And (as we say in the South), bless his heart - he tries. But it's definitely a no go. So, in the meantime he's enjoying a good bit of computer time and i've seated him close to one of my Foldable® prodigies. But, it's definitely given me a new perspective. It'll be interesting to see what he's retained come September when all limbs are a go.

Top left -View of front cover of closed field packet
Top right - Open field packet with ten-tab vocabulary Foldable®
Bottom left - Back of field pocket with unit standards
*this is created using a 10x13 mailing envelope - It's my new favorite Foldable® and the kids ADORE it!*

1) Fold mailing envelope in half hamburger style.
2) Shave the edges of the three sides opposite the pocket i.e. cut just enough so they are not connected which will make book "pages."
3) Cut in approximately one inch on the crease on each side of the envelope and then place a rubber band around the middle - file sized ones work best.
4) To add papers to the middle make cut ins on each side as you did with the envelope - but less deep. Burrito the papers to slide them under the rubber band.