Saturday, December 21, 2013

Learning Skitch

My Christmas present to my 68 students is decorating a sugar cookie. I've been doing it for 3 years and I actually had students ask the first day of class this year if we'd be doing it agin this year. This year as each student finished I used their iPad, since their fingers were a little sticky, and took a picture of their cookie. During the next class I had my second-fifth graders open their cookie picture in Skitch and learn how to add a title, labels and arrows. I took some screen shots of skitch and made a quick intro to the app on the Smartboard for easy reference as they worked. I also had them sit together on the rug so they could help each other out if needed. In January some of the groups will be working on inference. I'm thinking about loading pictures on the iPads and having them select one and writing a couple of sentences about what they can infer from the picture in Skitch.
How are using Skitch with reading or writing in the classroom? I'd love to hear your ideas.

Working on Writing

Third graders at work on the iPads again. This time we used the  Photo Card by Bill Atkinson app. The students selected a photo that showed their favorite season and then wrote an opening sentence, 3 details and a closing sentence. The trouble with this app is that it can't be saved to edit or finish at a later time. so the students need to stay focused to get it completed in our 30 minute class time. Not all students were able to do that.  I'll try to remember to get back here and share a completed card later during winter break.

Working on Fluency

Third graders used the iTalk app to work on fluency. I had them select a good fit book they had not read and then record themselves reading for 1-2 minutes. Next I gave them a checklist and they listened to their recording a couple of times to fill it in honestly. This was a good time to work on some new vocabulary words, omitted, substituted and inserted when it came to their reading. I also asked about their pace and expression. The next class period they practiced the same passage until they felt they could record it fluently and they tried again. Once again they listened and filled in the same checklist to see if there was improvement. 
The students did a good job of filling in the checklist and they did show improvement. I'll be having other grade levels do this and they'll be doing it again as well. I'm going to make one change to my checklist. After the second recording I'm going to have the students add a fluency goal based on their reading.
What ways do you use iPads to work on fluency? I'd love to hear your ideas.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The iPads Arrived!

This is what I saw when I walked into my classroom on Tuesday! I had time to open them up and that was about it. So, I brought them home and got them set up and ready for the first lesson on Wednesday. It worked out perfectly. I've noticed that some of my 4th graders only pay attention to the body of the text when reading nonfiction books so I had been doing a lesson on the different features of non-fiction and the importance of paying attention to them. On Wednesday I had planned on giving them a nonfiction book to use to just go through and find and identify those features.
Instead of a book I gave them an iPad and had them use the Storia app and they had a choice of two books to use on the 4th grade shelf. They were so quiet and engaged the whole 20 minutes that they worked on the activity. On Friday we'll discuss what they noticed about those features and then they'll partner read one of those books.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Pensive

A group conferring lesson
Just a quick check to let you know how CAFE is progressing this year. In short, I'm loving it! I purchased The Pensive from the Daily 5 site and for me it is totally worth $39. I feel it is keeping me so focused. I entered all 68 students and then put them in groups. Then I use the confer with groups to write my lesson plans. It's great because I can just scroll down and see what I've done in the past. Then I click on the goal and choose my strategy from the drop down menu. If needed I can add a custom goal and strategy as well. I'm making sure I come back and revisit strategies knowing that teaching it just once to my students is not enough. If I'm not sure how to teach a skill I can just click on the CAFE menu in the Pensive and it takes me right to the website and I can read about it or watch videos. In the lesson box I jot down a few notes about how I'm going to teach the lesson and what book I'm using to model the strategy. Once I have my plans done for the week I download the page as a PDF and print it out and move onto the next group. We have to turn our plans in once a month. Last month my principal returned by plans to my room in the morning and as he started to open them I thought for sure he was going to say something negative but instead he told me how much he liked them!

This is what I see when I go to confer with a child. 
Once I begin conferring with students I use my iPad, I click on Confer and then the student's name and then use the same pull down menu and take notes on the child. I used to take notes but often times they ended up being about behavior and not reading. Once again this is keeping me focused. One feature that I just started using this week is the Keeping Track page. I can see at a glance who I need to conference with and make sure no one is slipping through the cracks. The one thing it doesn't do is let me see individual conferences within my groups. That would be quicker than scrolling through all the students.

Pensive Menu
I just did running records on my first and second graders last week. I took notes on each child in a Word document so I could easily print them and give them to the classroom teacher. My next step is to copy and paste those notes in the Pensive so I have all their information in one place and enter their reading level as well so I can track their growth here. All my students have to take the STAR test every 10 class periods. I'm also writing a note in here if the child's score is going up or down. I'm predicting when I go to write progress notes this year it's going to be much easier since I'll have all the information in one spot and it's going to give me good information on how they are doing as a reader.

If you're using The Pensive please let me know how it's going for you.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Tech Links

A new school year and it's time to pull some tech links together for our school newsletter. 

National Geographic -Online Magazines for Kids
Both sites have beautiful photos along with interesting articles on a variety of science topics. 
Children can read stories or have the articles read to them. It highlights words as they are read.
More advanced articles.

A site dedicated to helping parents learn about great books for children aged 4-14

This is a free site that allows you to add your child’s spelling words. Your child can take a test and play a variety of games.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Getting Ready for CAFE

I'm getting ready to begin CAFE and my first job is to get the CAFE board ready. Since I'll have 14 classes 1st-5th I didn't want to do one board for everyone since I'll be introducing different strategies with different groups. I also wanted to make sure that each group has ownership to the board by making the strategy cards. So, enter trifold boards. I was excited to find black ones at Staples but not happy with the price which was about $9! Then one day while wandering through Hobby Lobby I found not only black ones but blue, red, purple and other colors as well! And the great news was that they were $3.99. Still not a cheap project but much better than the first option. Right next to the boards was beautiful colors of Duct tape. I left there ready to work! I decided on using one color board for each grade level. Here's a few pictures of the process.
These are the colors I chose.  I'll be adding 4th grade next week so I'll be back to pick up another color for the new group.

I brought in a cutting board to make the process a little easier. I cut the tape in half for the vertical lines.

This is the finished product. I used the Elison cutter for CAFE and printed out the column headers. 
If you look to the right you'll see a brown board. That's where I'm storing my boards. They fold up nicely to fit in that box.

The New Year Begins!

The Reading Room is up and running! I ended up buying some plastic shelves and managed to fit all the baskets in the room. It was music to my ears to hear a parent walk by my room right before school started and comment to their child that my room must be the reading room. Yes, I'm sending the right message. Here are a few pictures of my set up.
The Reading Wagon-a refurbished $11 thrift store find.
I'll digress for a moment and show the original wagon.
And the finished product. The kids love it!

Favorite Author Baskets and more

Beanie Babies to reinforce decoding and comprehension strategies.

Books on the shelves are for my younger students.

My new plastic shelves.

Jack is a good listener for my young readers.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Setting up the Room for Daily 5

Panorama shot of the disaster area my room is this week!

I spent much of June preparing for using the Daily 5 this fall. I brought hundreds of books back into my classroom and sorted and numbered them. I had the students make tags for the front of the baskets and get their book bags packed for the first day of class.
Some of the book tags turned out quite cute!

I've used stickers and letters on the front of my books in the past. To easily change to a new system I  used a Sharpie to write the number on the card on the back of each book in that basket.
I'm using gallon sized Ziploc bags for storing student books. Their names on written on the front of the bag with a Sharpie and then arranged in tubs according to grade level.

Today, I started trying to figure out where I am going to put all these books, I have over 100 categories! I have a nice little room but at the moment I'm challenged as to where I'll put everything. I'm sure I'll be hitting up garage sales this weekend looking for another bookshelf. I have confidence that with some weeding of stuff I won't need this year and rearranging materials I'll find room for the books. Wish me luck!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Out of Memory

I have an 16gb iPad2 compliments of our PTA. When I tried to load some new apps this week I discovered I was out of memory! I knew it was getting low so I had already moved pictures/videos off the device. Now what? Well, my mantra the past few months has been I'm not teaching to the test. No more worksheets and packets that cause the kids to groan and roll their eyes. We will be reading and writing with choices and working skills in through that. Do I want technology to be a choice? Of course. Do I want the kids doing cute apps that are really nothing more than glorified worksheets? Nope. So, that is where I will begin in deleting apps. I want apps that allow reading, recording, listening to good models of reading, writing, story telling, and word work. No matter how cute an app looks if it's just a fancy worksheet out it goes.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


Woohoo! I found out today that I am a winner of a NYSCATE grant. This was my 3rd time submitting a grant for iPads for my classroom. I knew I had a much better chance at winning this year because I had a good focus. What was that focus? Daily 5 and CAFE. I want the kids to use the iPads for reading, writing, fluency, word work as well as working in some collaboration.

I have a few apps in mind.
I like the Grasshopper book apps. Children can listen to the story, record themselves reading the story and even change the words to write their own story.
Edmodo-I used the website a few times with my 4th and 5th graders last year. They enjoyed using it but I just didn't follow through with it. I think it will be easier to use Edmodo with the app and this will motivate me to learn more about it and how to use it effectively this summer.
Sock Puppets-This can be used for retelling a story or vocabulary work.
Popplet-for a graphic organizer. I'll need to get the paid app so we can save our work.

That's it for now. I have started a list for parents of apps I currently have on my one iPad. I won't be using all of these next year but if you're interested you can take a look.
If you have suggestions of great apps for reading and writing with K-5 students please let me know. I would love to check them out.

Monday, June 10, 2013

May Tech Links-Special for Parents of Incoming Kindergartners

Website For Parents:
8 Ways to Teach Your Child to Read- an infographic
25 Alphabet Activities
Fun ways to practice learning letters of the alphabet.

Reading Nooks 
Maybe these ideas will inspire you to find a small corner in your own home to set up a comfy reading nook.

Websites For Children:
A song for each letter for the alphabet.
Games are labeled by skill-counting, shapes etc. There are also games for older students. 
National Geographic for Young Explorers
This is a great resource for learning about animals and habitats as well as expanding vocabulary. Child can click on the speaker button and have the whole issue read aloud. 
Some songs are for movement but others cover colors, days of the weeks, months of the years counting and more.
APPS-unless noted all apps are free
I would encourage you to check out Grasshopper apps; . Many of them are listed here.  I love these apps because they are free, use great photographs, and allow for so much custimization in their settings.
Endless Alphabet-
One of my favorites! This app has no right or wrong answers. Child selects a letter, the app shows and reads a word beginning with that letter. Then it scrambles the letters, the child puts it back in order as a matching activity, then it does a cartoon animating the definition and it reads it in a sentence. It’s a great app for expanding vocabulary.

Alpha Robots
This is a memory game for matching letters of the alphabet. Child can play alone or with another person. There are 3 levels of difficulty.

Little Matchups
This is an easy matching game for letters and sounds.

Photo Touch ABC Alphabet
Touch the … and the app names a letter. You can record your own voice. It starts with 3 choices and as correct answers are given it builds up to 10 choices.

I Like Books
This link does cost $1.99 for 37 books. However, if you go to the app store and search individual titles you can find most of them for free. Your child can listen to a story. You can also change the words and record it yourself-perhaps with your child’s help. 
Sock Puppets 

Let your child have fun retelling a story or making up a new story with these puppets.

Relearning Good Reading Practices

Instead of free lunch we received these freebies during Daily 5.

I truly feel like I've been living in the dark. A little over a month ago I went to a local reading meeting where a teacher did a short presentation on Daily 5. I had never heard of it but I liked what a I heard so I came home and started a little investigating and found the information that the "Two Sisters" would be presenting in Rochester two weeks later. It took some work but a colleague and I attended the two day workshop. It was two days of sit and get but the time flew by. They were excellent presenters, each taking turns to share ideas, research, visuals, and stories. At the beginning when they asked where people were from and people started calling out Michigan, North Dakota, Ohio, Massachusetts, Vermont as well as other states and five providences from Canada I knew I had missed out on something but was so excited to be learning from the experts. 

Saturday was all about Daily 5 and Sunday covered CAFE. I've been teaching for 30 years so I've been through Whole Language as well as Four Blocks with Fountas and Pinnell. My first year as a reading teacher was the year the sets of books were put away and replaced with a basal series. I was so happy that I was out of the classroom. I was also very pleased that I did not have to use the basal with my students. However, I feel like I really flounder and need a direction. I think the Daily 5 and CAFE model are going to improve my instruction next year. 

Gail and Joan shared research with us and I have begun to read some of those articles. What do struggling readers need to improve? Of course, they need to be reading! Duh! Trust me, I'm embarrassed to admit this but, my students have not been doing a lot of reading when they've been with me. Things will be different next year. I feel like learning about Daily 5 and CAFE have brought me back to my roots and what I know about good teaching. I refuse to get sucked into the test prep frenzy next year. I know better.

For the first time in a long time I'm excited about next year! Stay tuned for updates. I plan on using this blog as a place to track my progress and learning as I tweak this structure and make it my own for my reading students. 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

March Tech Links

“The greater the support that families provide for their children’s learning and educational progress, the more likely that their children will do well in school and continue on with their education.”    
Karen Mapp and Anne Henderson, 2002 A New Wave of Evidence

For Parents:
Reading and Writing with Your Child -Kindergarten to Grade 6 -A Parent Guide
This 24 page guide from Ontario has a wealth of information for parents. It includes ideas on how you can support your child’s learning, reading and writing milestones, literacy tips for parents and online resources to use with your child. It is a PDF file.

For Children:
This is a great site for you child to practice spelling and vocabulary words. You can make your own lists and save them for free! There are a variety of games your child can play to practice the words and your child can take a test of those words as well.

Grades K-5
 McGraw Hill
We use the McGraw Hill reading series, Treasures. You can search McGraw Hill in the app store and find a variety of apps. Some are very basic like flashcards but others are quite fun such as Grammar Wonderland.  I downloaded the apps for free but I’m not sure if they are free at this time or not.
I’ve used this app for reviewing vocabulary. The child takes a picture showing the meaning of a vocabulary word and then opens it up in this app. Then the child adds the word and changes the font/color/size and then can add a frame and then saves the image back to the camera roll. Then it’s shared with the class. A definition could also be added. Once you play with this app I’m sure you and your child can come up with other ideas to practice skills in a unique way.
Grades 3-5
This is a great way for your child to practice following directions. There are 7 lessons in the free version ranging from easy to hard. The app has a written direction for each step and visually shows the step as well.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

February Tech Links

For Parents:
I’ve been using Pinterest for about a year and love it for it’s visual appeal and the great ideas I can find there. I have boards for sight words, apps, reading and other school related topics but I also have boards for new recipes to try, cleaning tips, wedding ideas for my son, and many photography topics. It’s really easy to search for specific topics so if you are looking for lets say a dinosaur themed birthday party idea go there and do a search and you’ll find lots of ideas. There’s also an app for it and it’s free.

5 ways to help your child with reading comprehension-Questions to ask as you read with your child.
Grades K-5
WWF Together
I think this app will appeal to all ages. My 20 year old daughter enjoyed it and so do I. It’s  from the World Wildlife Fund and it tells the stories of tigers, polar bears, rhinos and more with beautiful photography, music, and interactions. It is the most unique app I’ve seen and it’s free!

Glow Doodle
This app is .99. It’s my favorite app for having the students practice spelling words. If they spell it correctly they get to make it glow. It’s especially cool when we turn off the lights.  I like the simplicity of the app, there’s not a lot of bells and whistles to distract the students.
Popplet Lite
This is an easy to use graphic organizer.  Boxes, background and text colors can be changed, easy to resize and move boxes around. I used it recently to plan a project and found it quite helpful. When it is finished it can be saved as a jpg or emailed as a jpg or pdf.
Grades 3-5
National Geographics Weird But True
My 4th and 5th graders love these books. Random facts about a variety of topics that are weird….but true. This is a free app.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

December Technology Links

For Parents:
If you’re still looking for some fun educational gifts this site has some suggestions for you.
For Parents and Children:
Jan Brett has an amazing web site with resources for children, parents, and teachers.
If Santa will be visiting your house this year be sure to tune into this site on Christmas Eve to track Santa’s progress.
For Children: This site has many popular books for children, ages 0-10, to read. The books can be sorted by age, genre, or author.  Without an account you can read the Editor’s Pics. But by registering for a free account for your child you have access to many more books and new books are added monthly. There are even seasonal books. The books can read on the computer or any internet enabled device. 
Fun Holiday Sites -Decorate a gingerbread cookie
Design a Christmas tree

November Technology Links

For Parents and Children: A quote from the website:My goal is to create a resource for teachers, home schoolers and anyone interested in quality books for children.” I just discovered this site and I’ve already used it to find some picture books to teach skills in the classroom. As a parent I was always looking for good quality books for my own children and to give to other children as gifts. If you enjoy learning about new children’s book be sure to check this out.
For Children: I mentioned Scholastic last month. This is a link to their Thanksgiving resources for children. They’ll be posting a Mayflower virtual field trip soon and you can even sign up to receive historical letters from a Pilgrim girl and Wampanoag boy.
Dropbox is great even if you don’t have a device that uses apps. Dropbox allows you to save documents and open them on any computer. I LOVE Dropbox and use it constantly for school work. No more thumb drives to keep track of for me. The Dropbox app is a way for you to get pictures from your device to your computer or visa versa. The same thing with PDF documents. You need to sign up for the free account at
Grades PreK-3
There are many choices of apps from this company-puzzles, phonics, I like books-a whole series of books about things kids like, and more. The thing I love about these apps is that they are so customizable. The apps use bright colorful photographs but you can add your own, you can record your own voice or in the case of the books the children can record themselves reading the books and under the settings button there are more ways to customize the app.