Martin's Musings

December 21, 2015

They Ain't Synonyms

There are many good things happening during guided and fluent reading in our classrooms at Sunshine. Students are in flexible groups, engagement is on the increase, and data is driving instruction. Kudos for continuing to increase your efficacy as a reading instructor.

The text for the majority of guided/fluent reading lessons I have observed has been fiction. While fiction is an important part of a child's reading program, let's not forget fiction's often overlooked siblings--informational and nonfiction texts. While many times these two terms are used interchangeably, there are some significant differences and both types should be a part of a student's reading program.

"The primary purpose of informational text is to convey information about the natural or social world. . .with particular linguistic features such as headings or technical vocabulary to help accomplish that purpose." This is different from other nonfiction genre such as biographies, nonfiction narratives, and procedural texts. I have included a link to an article that better articulates the difference between informational text and nonfiction. As you are planning your reading instruction for the second semester, make sure to included all nonfiction genre in your reading instruction.

Informational vs. Nonfiction

Leg Godt: Play Well

Since 1932 the Kristiansen family has been the guardian of the Lego brand. In 1939 the Lego company had 10 employees; it is now an international corporation with over 11,000 employees. In addition to increases in sales and profits, Legos continue to capture the imagination of school-age students all over the world. This interest in plastic blocks has been leveraged into a highly engaging educational tool for students.

All of the Sunshine Legos sets are now divided (thanks in large part to Lesley) and ready for student use. The Duplo sets are in blue containers with the pieces divided into gallon-size plastic bags, and the more intricate sets for grades 2-5 are in their original containers divided into separate sections. There are 4 sets each on a rolling cart located in Martin's room for the time being.

When we return from break set aside some time to develop some Lego essential agreements, create an anchor chart, and let the learning begin. Be prepared for additional noise, parts falling on the floor, and high learner engagement. As with most authentic learning, it won't be neat, quiet, or follow a straight line. I have included some Lego-oriented links.

When you are hosting your first Lego lesson, let me know. I am interested in seeing students interact with these plastic blocks. I promise no Tower observation during Lego time. :-)


Story Starters

Valuing Student Work

"I can tell you really understand long division." "I liked the way you used adjectives." "You included a lot of detail in your paragraph." Comments like these can help a student feel valued and appreciated. They are an important part of the feedback we give students. In addition to these private comments, public display of student work can increase a student's sense of academic worth. At Sunshine, we are fortunate to have ample hallway bulletin board space. These boards are a ready made platform to post and celebrate student work.

Bulletin boards have been a part of schools for decades. I remember my first year of teaching at Strafford staying late to create elaborate bulletin boards. Aesthetically pleasing? Perhaps. Attention grabbing for students? For the first three days. Teaching tools? Not so much. There were some amazing bulletin boards throughout Sunshine for back-to-school. Colorful, attention getting, welcoming. The creativity involved was amazing. These types of boards are very appropriate for the beginning of the school year. Now that we are entering the second semester, consider replacing the b.o.y. boards that focus more on student work.

Student-centered boards are not only a good place to display the final product of student work, but can also document the process used. For example, if you choose to display a published piece of student writing, consider posting one of the edited pieces along side. This allows viewers to see part of the writing process as opposed to just the final piece.

When posting student include a small description of the CCSS or district MIG that is the focus of the lesson. Perhaps it is an opinion piece with supporting details and linking words such as "because, and, also". Maybe the purpose was to describe a character in detail using supporting details from the text. The description does not have to be wordy or written in educationese, but enough to let the viewer know what to expect in the student work samples.

Finally, when student work is displayed it lets them know their work and, by extension them as individuals, is valued. Many times during the year, I will see students draw parents' attention to some of their posted work. Whether it be a writing sample or a their interpretation of Paul Klees' cats, students are proud when their work is put out there for all the world to see.

Elaboraticity (not a word, but it fits here) is not the goal of student-centered boards, neither is longevity. The goal is to highlight the learning taking place inside the classroom and let the students know their work is worthy of public display.

Visibility Leads to Value

Displaying Student Work

Collaborative Planning

As you know, collaboration is one of the 21st Century C's. We are teaching/encouraging students to collaborate in small face-to-face groups and online as well. I don't think any of us would disagree that not only is this a skill our students need now, but in the workplace as well. In addition, the product produced through collaboration is of a much higher quality than those produced in isolation.

When whole-faculty study groups were the norm for the district, teacher collaboration was commonplace. Group minutes were kept, logs submitted, and feedback given. With a decreased emphasis on WFSG, teacher collaboration has also decreased. At Sunshine, there is some teacher collaboration, but not a systematic process. By February, my expectation is that all grade levels will spend a minimum of 50 minutes each week in collaborative planning. I am still working on a Google form what will allow teams to document their collaborative planning work.

The purpose of the documentation is three-fold.

1. It will keep me appraised of your grade-level focus.

2. It will allow us to share successes and pitfalls.

3. It will help to track progress.

This will pose a significant change for some grade levels, not so much for others. I believe after you have made this a part of your weekly routine, you will realize the benefit in a sharing of ideas, pooling of resources, and gleaning from each other's knowledge base.

Advantages of Collaboration


For many years teachers' efforts to try new things in their classrooms have been hamstrung by lack of funds. That barrier is not quite as formidable now as in years past. There are multiple funding opportunities available to classroom teachers.

Some funding opportunities are:

1. PTA grant: Although not a large amount, there are some dollars available to help with classroom projects. See Janie for a grant application.

2. Pick-a-Project: The Foundation for SPS is an on-line giving program. These grants resemble crowdfunding in that once the proposal is posted on-line, anyone may fund part or all of the grant.

3. IGNiTE Grants: Easy-to-apply-for grants for all things innovative. Link

Don't let lack of cash be a barrier to implementing new ideas or improving current practices.