Tuesday, April 25, 2017

5th Grade Book Madness - week 2

Last week, I blogged about beginning an end-of-year March-Madness-but-with-books competition, where the entire 5th grade (all 5 classes) would nominate a book and we'd whittle them down into 32 books. Students would then persuade each other - through reviews, commercials, comments, conversations - to vote for their favorite each week. It's been a week, and the Sweet 16 have just been revealed, so I thought I'd report in from the trenches and give you an update.

First, some immediate takeaways:

  • 5th graders love to compete! When the 32-book bracket was posted, the students IMMEDIATELY started talking about which books should move forward. There were some HEATED conversations. We learned about disagreeing respectfully and reserving the right to change our minds. 
  • The students wanted access to the books right away. They asked me to put together bin of "just Book Madness" titles. Done.
  • The intra-class aspect was a pleasant surprise! The kids commented on each others' Padlet entries (click here to see some), commented on other people's comments, and continued those conversations at lunch/recess. It's reaching the staff, too! Our LRC director wants to get in on the action, as do several other staff members! The bracket is in the hallway outside the bathrooms we share with 4th grade, and some of their students are beginning to talk about it as well!
  • Padlet is rad. Most students just posted straight on to the Padlet I created for round 1, but some wanted to create Google Slides, book commercials, etc. I discovered (too late for last week but it'll be good going forward) that you can link all of these things in a Padlet post. This enables a VAST amount of creativity as the students come up with different ways to persuade each other which way to vote.
  • Google Forms is FANTASTIC! I thought I'd spend most of my weekend counting votes. But when I clicked on the "responses" tab and scrolled down, Google had scored each one already (click here to check it out.) The Sweet 16 was updated before I left work on Friday afternoon!
Book Madness 2017 - The original bracket
Some questions:
  • Yes, the kids are engaged. But most of their conversations are around books they've already read. Will this competition engage them in new books to read? How do we motivate them to try something new?
  • Many of my students are already knee-deep in book series (Harry Potter, The Heroes of Olympus.) Will focusing on the Sweet 16 mean they may lose interest (and stamina) in those wonderful series?
  • How do I challenge the students to get creative in their persuasive pieces? Class time to make book commercials? Loosen the reins a bit and give them time (that precious commodity) to get creative? Allow them to work together? I think the answer to all of these is a resounding, "YES!" The more ownership they have the more engaged they will be in the process!
  • Will more students be inspired to be creative when there are fewer match-ups? The Elite 8 and the Final Four are just around the corner!
While there is a lot to reflect on as we go forward, all in all, it's been a GREAT week! If anything, it's a different way to consider our reading: what we've read, what we want to read, how far we've come as readers. I can't wait to get to the Elite 8!

Thank you to all the wonderful teachers at Two Writing Teachers for allowing me to share a slice of my school life!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

5th Grade Book Madness 2017

When you're a 5th grade teacher, PARCC testing over, and there are only 6 weeks left in the school year, what do you do? Anything to keep the students engaged. AN.Y.THING.  For the five of us on our grade-level team, it's all about reading. The third trimester brings with it warmer weather and spring sports, which often lead to a downtick in reading volume.

What to do... what to do?

Our answer is what a lot of teachers have already been doing: a March Madness-style tournament, but instead of college basketball teams, we've got books! I've been thinking about doing this for a while, but could never really figure out how to get it going, until I read this AWESOME blog post by Mary Kienstra (@beebekienstra on Twitter ~ she's definitely worth a follow.) Mary's how-to, combined with her students' enthusiastic response, galvanized me into taking the risk. The team agreed and, armed with this calendar to help us stay on track and make sure we had enough time to reveal the Book Madness Champion, we were off to the races!

The first thing we did was had our students nominate their favorite book using this Google form (thanks, Mary!) The students were super excited, pouring over their reading lists and book logs, trying to figure out which book they've read so far this year was worthy of a nomination. Once all 100-ish students had submitted their nominations, our team of teachers spent some time together whittling them down. 32 of the most-nominated novels were culled from the bunch, "invited" to the tournament, and randomly placed on this bracket, which hangs in our 5th grade hallway.

Now it's up to the students. This morning, my class studied the big bracket in the hallway, as well as their personal brackets we created using this online bracket generator. Each student chose the one book they think will "go all the way." There was excitement: "The Lost Hero is on there! I nominated that one!" There was anxiety: "What if Harry Potter goes up against The Crossover? Who will I choose?" And, perhaps most importantly, there was interest: "Mrs. Barber, can I borrow your copy of Ghosts?" "... of El Deafo?" "... of Belly Up?" They even asked me to make a bin of all of the Book Madness tournament books in our class library. Their enthusiasm was the most exciting part for me and, from all reports, my teammates had similar reactions from their classes!

The coming weeks will be spent using our writer's workshop time authentically as the students create persuasive pieces to convince their classmates to vote for books they've read and want to see move further along in the bracket. Students will use Padlet collaboratively to create and share their pieces, and to comment on peers' pieces. Then, each Friday, students will view their fellow students' pieces and cast their vote on a Google form as we go from 32 books to the Sweet 16, to the Elite 8, the Final Four, and the championship round. We'll tally the votes over each weekend and update the bracket so the students can see who won when they arrive each Monday morning. The Book Madness Champion is expected to be revealed on the last Monday of school. I'm thinking we need to have some sort of celebration!

My hope is to see the excitement and enthusiasm that my students have had about reading all year - and especially during our fantasy book club unit - continue throughout the rest of their time together. I LOVE that this is a grade-level collaboration. We've been looking for ways that the students can work together, and I can't think of a better way than to share our love of books.
Thank you to the wonderful crew at Two Writing Teachers for allowing me to share a slice of my classroom life.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

My Teacher's Here!

     Three of my 5th grade boys were very excited on Thursday. They had all made the same baseball team, and their first game was that night. We all wished The Wolves good luck in their home opener, gave them high fives, and I sent them on their way.
     Cut to the next morning when I asked them how the game went.
     "We didn't get to play," sighed Kyle.
     "Something about the rain from the other day," said Drew.
     "My dad said the field was still too muddy," reported Nathan, the coach's son. "But it's been rescheduled for Saturday morning!"
     My mind started whirling. When I can carve out the time, I try to support my current and former students in their extra curricular activities. I've been to wrestling & track meets, baseball, basketball, and softball games, and school plays. And I'm pretty sure I get more out of it than they do.
     "What time Saturday?" I inquired.
     "I'm not sure," Kyle said. (Pause.) "Why? Can you come?"
     "It depends on the time," I replied. "If one of your parents can text me the time and I can make it, I'll be there!"
     Honestly, I didn't expect the text. I never think my students care whether or not I see them play, perform, or postulate. But they do. So when I got a text on Class Dojo last night from Kyle's mom ("Kyle wanted me to make sure to send you the information for his game tomorrow. It is at 11am at Community Park at the C6 Diamond") I really wanted to try and make it.
     The next morning, spring was definitely in the air, and it was a beautiful day for a ballgame. With the sun shining brightly down on the western suburbs of Chicago, my daughter and I arrived at ball field. The game was already in progress - the Wolves had just scored and were up 1-0 in the bottom of the first - as we climbed quietly up the bleachers. I waved to Drew's parents, introduced Sarah to Kyle's mom, and met Kyle's grandparents for the first time. Finally, I settled in with a cup of coffee to watch the boys. As the second inning started, Kyle was covering second, Nate was behind the plate, and Drew was warming up a pitcher in the bullpen.  I was thrilled to see a familiar face at first base: Jack, one of my boys from last year's class! Looking around, I found his mom in the stands and went over to say hello.
     And then it happened, as it always does when students see me at their activities.
     At the bottom of the second, as the team was coming back into the dugout to get ready to bat, Kyle glanced up into the stands and did a double-take, a huge grin sliding over his freckled face. I waved. He waved back, eyes dancing. He ducked down into the dugout. Nate's head popped up, eyes searching the stands. They locked on to me and Sarah, and he grinned, that infectious Nate smile that makes the world a happier place. I waved. He waved back, then ran over to Drew. Drew turned, bat in hand, and found us. Face lighting up, Drew tipped his hat, then turned to take a few practice swings before heading up to the plate. Jack was the last one to see me, the surprise evident on his face as Nate whispered in his ear.
     The game continued through five innings. The kids played their hearts out. I got to see all the boys play several different positions throughout the next two hours. Drew and Nate both pitched, Kyle played several infield and outfield positions, and Jack saw action at first, shortstop, and third base. I watched them learn from their mistakes, nurture their resilience, and work together as a team. It was a thing of beauty, and not at all different from what they do in our classroom.
     At the end of the game, after the coaches had a quick post-game with the kids, each boy came up to us.
     "I'm glad you came!" Kyle smiled.
     "That was so cool that you were here!" Nate said, hugging me gregariously.
     Drew was quieter, taking the loss hard. I gave him a hug, told him how proud I was of his hard work and to hold his head high. He nodded, smiled, and walked across the field to watch his brother's game.
      This is why I do this. Building relationships doesn't end after the first few weeks of the year. Nurturing those relationships continues until the very last day. It was two short hours of my life, but something these boys won't soon forget. I'll get those two hours back ten fold as the connections I made with them that Saturday morning in the sun continues to pay dividends through the end of May, and through the rest of their lives.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers, for creating a space to share my slice of life!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Thoughts on This Time of Year

My students and I returned from spring break yesterday. Back to reality: the PARCC starts today (*resists rolling eyes. Fails*.) My students on the whole are confidently anxious, I think, meaning they feel prepared but are anticipating the length and seriousness of the test. There are a few things I did to try and help them reduce their anxiety:

  • I have to cover all of the anchor charts in my room. (Side note: this confused me. All year long we teach the kids to use their environment to foster their learning and creativity, and for two weeks, we take it away. It feels like the people who made this "rule" are setting kids up to fail.) My students weren't thrilled about this, so we decided that they could make posters to cover the anchor charts around the room. That way, the room wasn't bare, and they felt like it was still theirs. My fave: "I solemnly swear I will rock the test." Several were in keeping with our Harry Potter room theme. 
  • Last night I wrote them each a little note that will go on their desks today. I shared with each how much I believe in them, how strong they are, how far they've come. I hope they look at it when they're feeling nervous, and know they've got this. 
My school is great, too! A few teachers got together and created a video to "Get Back Up Again" from the Trolls soundtrack (shout out to Suzanne and Rachel!) It was so fun to make, and I realized that I will do ANYTHING - including wear a troll headband and push our library director around in a chair - if it will make my students laugh and feel less nervous. Our little friends in first and second grade at our sister school made posters that now decorate our halls. They are adorable and my students smile when they pass them in the hallway.

I'll admit, I don't have the best attitude about standardized tests (see the aforementioned failed attempt to cease eye-rolling.) But for my kids, I'll be their biggest cheerleader, fellow test-buttkicker, or anything else they need me to be. This is about supporting them, and not about my feelings.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers, for the opportunity to share my first Tuesday Slice of Life!

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