Friday, December 20, 2013

Christmas break

One of the things I was unsure about with my new position was the "fun stuff" I would miss - the Christmas art and parties and such.  This week our building has been filled with holiday merriment.  And as I expected to some degree I did miss it.  Some.  When the halls got crazy or I saw a particularly rowdy group, maybe I thought it wasn't as bad as I had feared to go into my peaceful room for a bit of a retreat. 
    I did have a very busy week in spite of it all.  I invited each class in our building to bring in their entire class for 50 minutes.  I read and played games with the kiddos while the teachers had a few minutes to relax without cherubs.  The teachers enjoyed it and I loved it. 
     Christmas isn't Christmas unless I can read my favorite books.  Seriously.  When I do get around to retiring, I may have to "loan" myself to a school for a holiday read or two.  By the end of the week, I read my 3 favorite books a grand total of 19 times each!!  Oh my.  But it is so much fun. 
     Book number 3 on my favorite list - The Polar Express.  I know they have all seen the movie and heard the book, but it is such a wonderful tale.  I even ring my silver bell at the end to see if they can still hear the magic.  Everyone could, but some of my fifth graders didn't want to admit it.
     Number 2 - and very close to number one, is The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.  I really get into this book and use all kinds of voices and act it out.  One of the kids said I sounded like a scary grinch.  Great book!  Many years ago when I first started teaching I wrote Dr. Seuss and asked for his autograph.  He happily obliged with his name and a sentiment to me personally written on Cat in the Hat stationary and . . .in green crayon!!  Now isn't that cool?  It is a prized possession of mine.
     Book number one is my favorite and has no chance of being replaced - The Cajun Night Before Christmas.  I use a very cajun voice and kids love it.  I have read it for about 30 + years.  I have parents who I have taught coming in and asking when I will be reading it and can they come in.  It is a very fun read!
     So there you have it.  I enjoyed my reading time, got to see every child in the school and wish them a Merry Christmas.  Which by the way, I hope you have also.  May your holiday season be richly blessed. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013


      I mentioned before that I have early morning duty every few weeks.  This was my first time out in the cold weather (and I know it is going to be colder later on in the year).  I have never "done" the cold very well.  So the past week was . . .  uh, less than pleasant.  I am trying to see the positive in everything this year - it is a personal challenge.  One I really needed after the last few years.  So . . . how do I find a positive in shivering?  It's hard.  It got even harder on the day it was not only cold but rainy.  Then I looked up.
      Is that not a beautiful, miraculous sight?  The brushstrokes of my Creator are so evident.  I stood and watched as the sky began to lighten and realized that just seeing this sight, being able to see this sight was positive enough.  I am so blessed.
    Two really great comment came my way this week. They both made my day and filled it with sunshine.  One of the moms who walk her daughter came by and stopped to chat with me on the sidewalk.  I taught her when she was in third grade.  She said they - her and her daughter - had been talking the night before and she told M that one of the things she remembered from being in my room was a book that I had read, The Indian In the Cupboard.  That book has been a favorite of mine for a long time and usually becomes one of my classroom favorites.  But there is something very nice about being remembered for a book!  Thank you, SWH, for my special memory.
    Another book I love (love, love, love!) is The Cajun Night Before Christmas.   It is absolutely great fun to read.  The accent is awesome and the tale itself is great.  We were in class and one of my fifth graders asked if I remembered a student by the name of JB?  The name brought a smile and a few memories.  She said he was her dad.  She told me he asked her to ask me if I still read that book with the funny voice, "you know, the Christmas one".  My answer - as many times as I can find a group to read it to.  When it gets to be Christmas, I have parents stop by my room to find out when I will be reading it! 
     Ah books . . . . I really want my kids to fall in love with them.  I struggle to put phonics and literature in as much of my 50 minutes each day as I can. 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Revisiting my visions

     All summer I thought and dreamed about this new job of mine.  I read a lot of inspiring books.  My goal was to enrich children's lives by introducing them to all of the wonderful pieces of literature I could find.  To make them fall in love with books.  I envisioned lengthy discussions about books and characters and . . . well, you get the unrealistic picture.  I know it sounds a bit foolish, at least as I sit here typing it does to me.  Last year's group spoiled me.  They became so excited about books and reading.  But I had them all day, every day.  With around 50 minutes for a group it isn't as easy as I had hoped.  And there is also that small matter of phonics.  My kids desperately need phonics and word attack skills.  So that is where I spend most of my day.  That's alright.  I still find a few moments at the beginning or close of the class to read to them something awesome.  At least I hope they find it awesome. 
     Another one of my visions was the job of teaching kindergarten and to some extent first grade.  Neither areas had I ventured into before.  I dreaded it with a passion.  Not the kids, of course.  They are so precious.  I am not a kindergarten teacher by any stretch of imagination.  I lack that - talent - those ladies in my building possess.  So I dreaded it.  Aha!  Something has changed.  I can do this!  Seriously.  I am feeling good about my 50 minutes instead of dreading it.  I still do not have the desire or ability to go all day with kindergarten, but I am having fun with them.  I also am seeing some progress!  M can recognize his ABCs!  We are learning our color words.  I am learning.  Every day, something new.
     I knew all summer my favorite group would be fifth grade.  They would get the idea of great books and we could communicate about the books.  Uh . . . vision changing again.  They are an extremely hard group.  I have two groups.  One is just what I had hoped for - fun and challenging.  The other . . . just challenging.  They have challenged me every step I take - verbally challenged me.  I had heard they were a tough crew, but had no idea.  Beginning this week, the principal has worked it out so that the 4 worst toughest challenges are going to be out of my room, in an effort to allow the others a chance to get what they need without me policing all the time.  I was able to plan some fun things for this coming week that I haven't tried to do before.  Wish me luck!
     One vision that has not been altered is that I knew I would love this job.  If anything, I had no idea how much I could possibly love this job.  After some major stresses last year that had me clinging to the idea of leaving, I am finding each day full of such enjoyment.  I cannot relate how much this has meant to me.  It was as I jokingly say "just what the doctor ordered"!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

I Have Begun!

     I know it is hard to believe with classes for most everyone else at our school having started nearly a month ago that I have had classes now for a total of 2 weeks.  Honestly though, it has given me time to test, work out problems and get ready.  So I am not complaining - it is just different.  I felt a little lost there for awhile watching classrooms get started.  It was a bit hard.  Not now though.  I am so in love with what I am doing.  It continues to be a struggle to plan and get things organized for my groups, but even that was a bit easier this week.  A bit.
     There are so many great programs out there.  I have looked at what our school has and tried to to work out some sort of formula for planning for each grade.  I may have it.  I may change my mind again.
     I love my groups.  I am, of course, most comfortable with second and third considering my teaching background.  I love the fourth grade because they were my third graders last year.  And there is fifth, kindergarten, and first.  Uh.  I really like the fifth grade group and hold out the hope they will become my favorites, but right now I am involved in a show of "who's boss".  Not great, but it will develop.  They are really great kids one on one, but a bit testy as a whole.  I love the kindergarten and first, but they are not my comfort zone.  I don't know how to best serve them and I want to give them everything they need to get started.  That challenges me so much.
     Every afternoon I have car duty.  I haven't had to do that before when I was in the classroom.  I knew I would hate it.  I don't. I actually love it.  I get to send the kiddos off with a smile and some love.  It is hot out on the sidewalk for about 40 minutes so cooler weather will make this even better.
     I also have morning duty every few weeks.  That involves standing on the sidewalk in the early morning light (or at times dark) and saying hello and telling kiddos not to run.  Sounds like it could be really dull, doesn't it?  It isn't.  I stand there and think about my day.  Say a prayer for my school and the little ones.  I watch the parents and their interactions with their children as they drop them off.  Sometimes they are so loving and act like they will really miss them.  Then there are a few - fortunately just a few - that get out of the car with the parent still yelling or fussing.  They lower their heads and walk toward the door.  That is when I try the most to smile and tell them how happy I am to see them.  And I mean it.  This past week I have also been treated to the sound and sight of a wonderful V of geese about the same time each morning.  Awesome.  I feel God's blessing me personally with those geese.  Stay in formation, fly with me and we will succeed.  I wish I had a picture.
     I do have a few pictures of my room.  It isn't flashy or really crowded, but I like it so much.  Just another blessing this year has given me.
Oh I love those cabinets!

A place to read quietly

CAFE reading

A few tables and my corner of the room
     Thank you for dropping by to visit.  I hope to get a bit more regular on posting on this blog.  But planning takes up a lot of my time now (and the art work on my other blog).  Have a great week.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Adventure - Day one

        While I am so sad to see summer gone - it is official as of 6:00 yesterday morning, I was so excited to see all my friends at school.  I work with an absolutely awesome group.  We are a staff that really feels like family most of the time.  Yes family doesn't always see eye to eye, but they are family.  Our administration provided breakfast for everyone then we took a short "being there" field trip.  Our entire faculty loaded onto a school bus ( a really nice air conditioned one) and went for a ride around the school zone.  I was very surprised at what area our zone covered.  Amazing.  It was also fun to see where our kiddos live.  It would have been fun to see them outside playing, but hey, I would be sleeping late if I could.
       I then had time to tackle my room.  Remember I moved rooms this year.  I had been in the old room for about 12 years, so I had a "few" things to locate.  Thought you might like to see my room as I walked into it yesterday morning.

     The absolute best thing about this room and what I love the most is all those cupboards.  Oh my!  It is almost as good as being in the art room with my own closet - almost.  I refer to my room as Siberia because it is so far away from the office and my old room, but I really am very fond of it already.  I spent the day shoving and moving all this stuff that you see.  I have decided that next summer, I am going to move my furniture in my home around once or twice a week just to get ready for the task at hand the first day of school, maybe then I won't be so sore!  I could hardly move last night.
     My room looks pretty good right now.  No boards are up, but they are all planned.  I hope to do that tomorrow - as today looks pretty meeting intensive.  I am sitting here in the early morning quiet, almost no one in the building and thinking about the days to come.  I hope for such a wonderful year.  I am so excited and really don't want anything to crowd out that feeling.  I know there will be hurdles.  I am prayerfully prepared for them.  I am looking forward to seeing the faces of my kids from last year.  I think that is the hardest thing right now, not having a group of my own to walk in and bond with.  Serving so many children, I hope for that connection.
      Have a great day and thanks for dropping by.  I will show you pictures of the room when it is finished. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Summer is fading . . .

    Oh the title is all too true.  I feel my blissful summer fading away all too fast.  It has been a very relaxing and enjoyable summer.  I have filled my days with crafting, drawing (tangling) and home projects.  In between all of that I have read all I can get my hands on about teaching reading.  Okay, I know I have taught reading forever, but this year I am going to go deeper than ever before.
     This is my last full week of vacation with next week beginning our in-service time.  We have four wonderful days this year.  Seriously.  I am very excited about having four days to get ready for my kiddos.  Last year I think we had one or two.  Not fun.
     I plan on posting some pictures of my room as it develops and keep you informed on some of my classroom projects.  Right now this picture comes from my tablet and is not all school related.  Ah well.  I have discovered a fantastic painting program for my android tablet - Artflow.  I love being able to "paint" without pulling out all my messy supplies. 
      I've still got a lot to get ready for school.  I need to get some things cut for bulletin boards and such.  I can't really plan - at least not detailed - because I don't know who or what grades I will be working with.  That feels a bit strange because I am the sort who would have been planning all summer.  I enjoy lesson planning.  It is one of those things about teaching that I think is fun.  Strange, huh?
    I hope your summer is going great and I would love for you to join me on this reading adventure.  It is going to be new and exciting for me, but I am so looking forward to it!!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Finishing Up The Book Whisperer

"The reality is that you cannot inspire others to do what you are not inspired to do yourself."

     One of the nicest teachers I have ever worked with told me once she did not read much to her class.  She didn't read at all personally outside of class.  I went into a sort of shock.  How can we not be readers?  Okay, I know people don't have a lot of time with families and all.  I understand that.  I guess I have such a love of reading - a passion for books, that I simply can't understand anyone not enjoying it.
    This past year on the last day of school, I told my class we were going to do some packing because I was indeed going to be moving rooms and changing jobs.  The first question was "Are you going to fourth with us?"  That would be sweet, but no.  So I told them I was going to not be in a regular classroom, but doing something I had a passion for.  Then I asked them to guess.  They know their teacher.  The first guess was art.  Sadly, no.  The second guess was reading books.  As I said they know me. 
     I plan to do as much read aloud as I can work in.  One of her suggestions was to read the book and have students follow along in their copies.  That would work.  I also use the doc camera to read books to children.  Using that I can point out words, punctuation and it allows a better view of the pictures if there are any.
     I thought it was amusing when she talked about how we would watch much less TV if we had to take a test at the end of the programs.  Yuck!  AR programs and worksheets are great.  Sometimes.  Talking about what you have read, demonstrating an understanding by discussions are better.  After all, people who read as adults participate in discussions not tests.  What always used to really bother me was how AR (accelerated reader) was such a huge push in my school.  Students shied away from books if they were not on their level and they couldn't take a test.  We teachers did this to them.  If I tell my class they have to have "X" number of points by Friday or whenever, I force them into only looking at the points.  Trust me, I am not pointing fingers at other teachers.  Oh no.  I ran the most organized AR system in my room you could want.  And hated it.  Children couldn't grab a fun (lower level) book because it looked good or interested them.  They couldn't grab a harder book and struggle with it a bit because they thought it looked good.  They were locked in a spot until they could test higher. 
     Until our awesome librarian fixed this!  Go RH!  She came up with a huge list of options to do a book reflection.  They could, if they chose, take an AR test.  They also could choose from this list.  The list reflected all sorts of learning styles - reports, pictures, writing songs, acting things out, you name it.  And this allowed children to read what they wanted.  She has a wonderful system to encourage them to read and be held accountable. 
     There are so many more things in this book that I really identified with and will put to practice.  If you work with children and reading, it is a must read.  Maybe even if you don't.  Now I need to order Teach Like A Pirate by Dave Burgess.  It looks like a really good read.  That is, when I get through with the stack of library books I have by my bed. 
     Pretty soon (all too soon), I will be sharing with you my journey into this reading classroom.  Drop back by to see some pictures of my room!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Back at it! Chapters 4 and 5

        One of the things discussed in Chapter 4 of The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller was setting up a reading notebook.  In the past while in the classroom, I always used reading notebooks - to some varying degrees of success.  I am not sure what I need or want to do as a resource teacher.  They will probably have notebooks in their regular classroom so I don't want to overload them.  However some type of accountability is needed.  I sort of go back and forth at how I want to use this.  I do want to have a reading requirement.  Miller uses a requirement of 40 books.  I will have grades 2 - 5.  I am thinking of having 25 for second and going up by 5 each grade.  That may not be doable at all.  I have no idea what my students are like or capable of.  I do want it to be a challenge.  I like how she talks about not . . . "punishing" them for not making their goal, but simply celebrating their success whatever it may have been.  That I really like.
     She begins to probe in chapter 5 by asking, "what does reading mean to you?"  Just today, I went to our local library and checked out a stack of books.  I read constantly.  I read professional material.  I love mysteries and science fiction and most anything else.  I have always been a reader, more at home with books (and my art work) than with most people. 
     Two types of readers (teachers) are discussed.  Efferent readers/teachers.  They are the ones who see reading as way to acquire knowledge and more skills to be mastered.  The other group, aesthetic readers, are the ones who see reading as an emotional and intellectual journey.  One sees reading as a gift, the other as a goal.  I think to be successful next year I am going to have to "marry" the two together.  My future students are going to be in need of heavy skill work - we've got to "catch up", but I also want them to come away from this upcoming year as seeing reading as a gift, a passion.
     Thank you for dropping by.  I think my art blog has spoiled me with my followers and comments.  I come over here and feel a bit lonely.  So, if you would like to leave me some sunshine, I would love it.  Have a grand week!   

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Heaven Help Me version2

     I am trying to get both my blogs changed over to bloglovin.  I am not very computer smart, but thanks to a wonderful website and great instructions, hopefully this will work.  We will see.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

I am beginning to need a break from technology though!   

Chapter three - The Book Whisperer

     The cornerstone!  I love it!  Miller says that reading is not an add-on to class, it is the cornerstone.  It feeds everything you do in class.  Teachers must make this become a daily habit. 

"No matter how long students spend engaged in direct reading instruction, without time to apply what they learn in the context of real reading events, student will never build capacity as readers. . . Students need time to read and time to be readers."

     My problem early on in my career was that I thought for our reading segment of the day, every second had to be filled - I planned centers, I made worksheets, I taught lengthy lessons.  Did we read?  I am ashamed to say not so much.  I did not provide them time for what was important - to use what we learned.  Apparently in my innocence, I thought if I taught the lessons, they would run home and use them.  Oh my.  Nowadays, I still have lessons and yes there is that occasional skill sheet, but the majority of our time is spent reading.  As they silently read, I go around and will sit down beside them (floor or wherever) and tap them on the shoulder.  This is our signal for them to start reading quietly out loud.  That way we can talk about their reading and I get a chance to hear them read.  When I leave, they go back to silence.  It is a system that has worked for me.
     I love the ideas Miller gives us for carving out time to allow for reading.  When they go to places where they have to stand in line - like picture day - they take a book.  They immediately pull out a book whenever their class is interrupted (phone or visitor).  Also, cutting out the "morning work" and making that a reading time.  That I love!  Saves paper.  Saves time we would spend going over it.  Encourages quiet reading.  Super!  Perhaps if there are things you have been doing for morning drills, you could cut them to one or two days a week.  Or embed those things into lesson (which we probably do anyway).
    This past year I was so blessed with a group that fell in love with books and reading, they would beg for extra time to read.  When they finished work, those books came out.  I know it isn't always so, but like I said, I felt blessed. 
     She talks about creating a reading environment.  While we all would like a cozy space for students to read, it isn't always possible.  And, as she said, a beanbag doesn't make a child become a better reader.  As I think about my room this year, I have lots of awesome plans.  I also know some of them will be impossible.  I want a couch.  I need more pillows.  You know how it is.  We want a warm and inviting space for our kiddos.  I may or may not have those things.  I will have a reading "attitude" in my room and that will take care of all of the other desires.
    Thank you for stopping in.  I would love to hear your thoughts.  Have a great week!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Chapter two - The Book Whisperer

      This chapter is so full of ideas and comments, it makes my head spin!  Ms. Miller divides students into three categories - developing, dormant and underground readers.  the developing readers are our "struggling or reluctant" readers.  As a (newly formed) reading room teacher this will be the majority of my students.  I will see students in grades 2 - 5 who probably fall into this category.  My goal is to help them understand reading can be fun, is something they can do, and how to use those isolated skills in real world reading. 
      The dormant readers are those students who are passing our state tests, do well on report cards and assignments, but the moment they walk out of our door reading is not something they desire to do.  This, according to Miller, makes up the majority of our students.  How sad!  We are not showing them what a wonderful journey reading can be.  I feel in my third grade classroom last year, a large number of my kiddos left this category.  We became excited about books.  We had "book talks" at lunch, in the hall, and on our way out to recess.  I hope they will continue on this path. 
     The underground readers are the gifted ones.  The ones who read well and read all the time.  But they don't make a connection to what they are required to do in the classroom to what they love doing.  This can be overcome to a great deal by giving them the power of choice.
     One of my "take to heart" lessons from this chapter was when she talks about how reading must: have personal value, allow students to see themselves as capable, be free from anxiety, and be modeled by someone they like, respect and trust.  Amen.  Now my job for next year is to make this happen.  I am confident I can win their respect and trust.  The other three . . . remember, I am getting the children who already have their mind made up reading is anxiety filled, they are not capable and furthermore, why should something I struggle with have any value for me?!
      A few of my favorite quotes:

                     "No matter how much instruction students receive in how to decode vocabulary, improve comprehension, or increase fluency, if they seldom apply what they have learned in the context of real reading experiences, they will fail to improve as much as they could."
                     "Students must believe that they can read and that reading is worth learning how to do well.  We have to build a community that embraces every student and provides acceptance and encouragement no matter where students are on the reading curve."

      Just chapter two and look at all the information!  Whew!  I need to take a break and draw some. :)  That will allow me some time to process some of this.  Thanks for dropping by and if you work with children in the area of reading, I strongly recommend the book -  The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller.  Also check out the fantastic book study over at We Read We Blog We Teach.  I would love to hear your comments!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013


      One of my favorite things about the education profession is beginnings.   Every day there is a new beginning, every year differences and a chance to start over.  There is never any boredom nor repetitiveness.  Believe me, after over 35 years in this wonderful profession, I can safely say no two days in that period of time have ever been the same - most of the time the don't even resemble each other.  I have taught grades 1 through 6, spent a wonderful 4 years teaching art, and now am off to a new adventure!
     I have another blog, penstrokesbycathy, that I would love for you to visit.  I started that blog with the thoughts of using it as a place to display my art, tell stories of growing up, and talk about teaching.  It became a really dedicated art site.  That's okay.  That is my passion.  But I wanted a place to talk about the classroom, share some ideas, and converse with people interested in education.  The audience was different.  So, for some time, I have been playing with the idea for another blog.  Since it is summer, it seemed the perfect time to give it a go.  There was a book study coming up and I wanted a place to share some thoughts on this awesome book, The Book Whisperer, and I am beginning a new direction to my career next year, so it really was perfect!
     Despite all I said earlier about new beginnings, I am really not into change.  Small newness - yes.  Big - extremely big - newness scares me.  So when my principal called me in the day before school was out to tell me I was changing positions - yep, that's big.  Except for my 4 wonderful art years (which I will talk about in the future), I have been a classroom teacher.  One group.  Not so for next year.  There is going to be a reading lab/classroom for developing readers in grades 2-5 and guess who is going to do this?!  I left his office in shock.  In typical "Cathy-fashion", I cried some.  I struggled with this idea.  I did not want to leave the classroom.  I wanted to leave it.  My system went on an emotional rollercoaster ride.  Then of course, there was the move from my room of about 12 years to another (very nice) room at the other end of the building.  Do you know how much junk valuable teaching items a person can accumulate?  Oh my.
     The move is behind me.  I won't bore you with how many trips I made to the other end of the world with a heavy rolling cart or how I wasn't sure I would ever get out of bed again.  Summer has started.  The rollercoaster is parked at the top of the hill, for now.  I am sure it will dip down every now and again, but then how much fun would a rollercoaster ride be if it only ran on top of the hill?
     I have been reading and researching all I can find about ways to make this work.  I love reading.  I love books and since childhood have never been too far from something to read.  My house looks like a much less organized Barnes and Noble.  My goal every year I have taught has been to make children fall in love with reading and books.  Yes, of course, I want the skills to develop.  But as I like to say, I know the rules and skills on how to play baseball.  I am not good at it because I don't see the value in being a good ball player for me.  I am not interested.
     I follow lots of great teacher blogs.  One that you need to look into is wereadweblogweteach.  I am participating in a book study on this blog.  The book is The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller.  This is an awesome read.  We were supposed to have read chapter one by today.  I bought the book last Friday and have finished it.  I could not put it down.  If I could write, I could've written the book for her.  She mirrors my thinking that closely.  On page 15 of this book, she goes over the key components for a reading workshop.  They are time, choice, response, community, and structure.  we need to provide students adequate time to read.  Not to do worksheets.  Not to play games.  Read.  There is nothing wrong with either of those things, but time to actually get involved with a book is paramount.  They need to have choice in their reading material.  Choice is important to keeping their interest.  Skills need to be taught, but imbedded in real world reading.  If you work with teaching reading, I strongly urge to you to read this book.  I plan on reading and commenting here as I read through this book.
    I have been overly wordy!  Sorry.  I hope you will plan on visiting again (maybe even becoming a follower).  I promise every post won't be so long!