Friday, August 30, 2013

The UClass Adventure Continues

This is what your UClass search page will look like. 
UClass* is bringing me on a 21st-century adventure as I navigate multiple actions and analyses that contribute to this invigorating start-up.

By way of my tech interests and actions, and a friend from California, I found myself meeting with UClass entrepreneurs on Google Hangouts to discuss their new venture.

Now that the school year has started, I'm finding that my UClass participation is leading me into lots of standards-based analyses and review with regard to lesson plans and the curriculum I teach every day.  It's exactly the way I like to learn as the efforts are both challenging and meaningful--what I do for UClass benefits my classroom teaching and student learning.

Further, UClass is building a fortress of worthy lesson plans.  A visit to the site can serve to wake up your mind to numerous ideas for the classroom, homeschool learning, or independent efforts. UClass can also help you find a lesson that meets a specific standard, subject area, or grade level. If you're a new teacher, this site offers efficient lesson retrieval that should help as you plan your four or five lessons a day.

I've been calling UClass the "Twitter" for lesson plans--efficient, easy to navigate, and like Twitter, "your needs answered in minutes."  I'm excited to see where the founders will take this innovation, and in the meantime I'm having fun and learning a lot by contributing.

If you use UClass let me know what you like most about it, and if you haven't tried this venue yet, why don't you take a look and see if it will meet your teaching/learning needs.

*UClass is paying me a small stipend to "play" with their platform and contribute.

School Reconfiguration: My Thoughts

A dedicated, diverse team of community and family members, educators, and leaders have been meeting to discuss a potential elementary school reconfiguration in the town I work for.  In small towns, matters like this one are emotional, impacting events since this matter will affect the every day life and learning of families with children in grades kindergarten through fifth grade.

I have listened to the thoughts of colleagues and parents, read the updates from the committee, and thought about my own experience and tenure in Wayland in this regard.

First, I am delighted with the care and thought that has gone into the committee work from the start. Whatever decision is made will be a thoughtful decision based on research, discussion, and many points of view.  That's positive.

Next, I urge the committee to include the one voice that is missing and that is the student voice.  At some time, I believe the committee should meet with a diverse group of children from grades K-5 to discuss this issue.  All other members of the learning community have been included to date, and including the children will add the one missing dimension.

After that, I know that whatever decision is made will work if the adults involved support it--children are much more flexible than adults and quickly follow our lead when it comes to any change.  That's one reason why I enjoy working with children--they're facile, flexible, positive learners.

And with respect to my thoughts, here's what I think based on my reading and experience.

I believe we live in a fast paced, fractured culture in the United States and the world.  I also believe that we have to work hard to preserve childhood as a happy, safe, joyful time for all children.  Our schools should be "homes away from home" for children--a place where they want to be and where they thrive. I have worked in Wayland for 28 years and the reason I initially stayed with this job rather than move throughout the world as I originally planned was that colleagues, families, and children are dedicated to learning and supporting one another in Wayland.  I do believe it is a school system that in so many ways exemplifies what it means to educate children well.  Further, my own three sons have profited from the community dedication, professional skill, and student care that Wayland offers.  For me, Wayland is a "home away from home."

So my leaning with regard to this decision is to reestablish three K-5 schools in Wayland. I am in favor of this model because I believe this is the best model for establishing a "home away from home" for every child.  With the K-5 model, children are known well by all the educators, families, students, and leaders in the school.  Being in the same school for six years creates a sense of commitment on behalf of all students and staff to each other.  As teachers in these schools, we work together to develop the whole child. My leaning is probably influenced from growing up as the oldest of six children--the K-5 school replicates that positive, and sometimes real-world challenging, older-younger sibling experience through buddy programs, playground interactions, and service to others.  This is an experience many children today don't have due to smaller family sizes.  And as a mom, I think it's nice to be able to connect to one school while your children are young. Also, schools profit from the dedication of parents who know a school well and contribute to that school.

I also believe that the re-establishment of three schools will provide more space for the children--more room for special classes, innovative learning, and student needs.  I see the re-establishment of three schools as a chance to re-look at the roles and responsibilities related to school structure too. Since I'm a proponent of moving from the concept of "school" to "learning community," I think the restructure would be an opportunity to think about issues such as time-on-task with direct service, dedicated responsibility to one school, and collaborative leadership.

The closing of Loker is an issue that still pains many.  Way back when this decision was being made, I supported the change to two schools if the financial situation was accurate in order to preserve important programs at the high school.  I didn't want to see our terrific high school program demolished.  After living through the change, reading all the related editorials, information, and outcomes, and a very difficult first year, the end result is that children in Wayland continue to thrive and do well while parents and teachers work well together, yet spaces are bit tight and we would profit from more room with which to innovate and teach well. Also, in hindsight and as a former Loker and Happy Hollow teacher, I realize how difficult the change was for the tight Loker community that had been created since it's reopening so many years ago, a thoughtful reopening I experienced as a Loker first grade teacher.

I will support whatever decision is made by the dedicated committee with my best work and effort because I realize I am only one point of view and once voice, and that through this dedicated process there has been a chance for many voices and outlooks to come together and decide well.  I encourage all Wayland residents who are interested in this decision to read the literature, attend related meetings, voice their opinions, and in the end, accept the final, thoughtful, collaborative decision with support, contribution, and positivity.  Wayland is lucky to be such a successful community that values education and puts children first.  I look forward to seeing how this decision plays out, and in the meantime I'll focus my attention on children's experience this year.

Speak Up!

Martin Luther King said it well when he remarked,

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” 
― Martin Luther King Jr.I Have a Dream: Writings and Speeches That Changed the World

You don't have to know it all, and you don't have to be eloquent, but you should be respectful, open minded, and thoughtful when you speak up, and you should know what's most important about your words.

Many stay silent and that's a problem--we need to speak up when we see injustice, have a solution to a problem, and can help.  MLK was right.

Fourth Grade: Classroom Teaching Focus

A typical weekly schedule for the fourth grade fall semester. 
One challenge elementary school teachers face is how to structure and manage the day, week, and year for optimal learning. Teachers of all subjects like me have multiple standards to meet--more standards than time.  Hence, how we structure the week is important so that we meet as many standards as possible in ways that matter.

Therefore as I look at my planning and teaching time ahead.  I created the the schedule depicted at the top of the page for the fall semester. Now I'll focus on the main emphasis for each area listed.

Reading is a mainstay in fourth grade.  It is a curriculum area that is taught in many, many ways with multiple resources throughout all subjects.  I will focus on the following specific areas of reading at the start of the year. 
  • Close Reading: I will devote four classroom meetings a week (noted in bright blue) to close reading activities. This is an important standards-based focus, and a focus that is important to life too. If one learns to read and understand text well, he/she will gain a valuable skill that leads to success in all disciplines. I will begin this emphasis using a third grade PARCC example, then I'll stretch students using the Richard Blanco's poem, "One Nation," in a collaborative close read, and after that we'll do a number of close reads using text that relate to our upcoming Farm Days field studies. Each child will have a close reading folder and reading reflections notebook to support their close reading response work. After the Farm Days close reading work, it will be a good time for a class assessment.  The assessment analysis will inform next steps.
  • Reading Conferences: At the start of the year and throughout the year, I'll make a date to meet with each reader.  I'll listen to a child read, survey his/her reading interests, set goals with the child, and find out how I can help that child with his/her reading goals. 
  • Assessment: As a school we give every child fluency and comprehension assessments at the start of the year to help us determine instructional groups and content focus. 
  • Interactive Read Aloud: Three periods a week (in red) have been set aside for read aloud. During interactive read aloud, the class will share a series of wonderful stories throughout the year.  We'll start the year with Carol Marsden's The Gold Threaded dress with a focus on reading comprehensions strategies and story elements. 
  • Reading Workshop: Although Reading workshop has been planned for two times a week (pink), as mentioned before the effort is woven into all curriculum areas. During that time I'll work with small groups and individuals.  Multiple teachers join our class at this time to help out.  Students will access a variety of literacy tools and books during this multimedia literacy studio
  • Independent Reading: Throughout the day students will have a chance to read independently, with friends, or in small groups within each discipline.
The standards for writing grow considerably at fourth grade.  While students are expected to write coherent, pointed responses to reading, they are also expected to write lengthy text related to opinion, personal narrative, fiction narrative, informational text, and research reports. The key to a good writing program is explicit instruction, practice, discussion, sharing text, and reading. The writing program will include close reading as explained above and a focus on specific genres.
  • Writing Books: Students will create online and offline writing books at the beginning of the year. Students will write in their writing books daily both in school and at home.
  • Assessment: Students will write me a letter for an initial assessment. 
  • Genre Writing: Throughout the year we'll focus on specific genre (yellow blocks above). We'll start the year with a focus on persuasive writing. Our ELA curriculum director will lead us in focused work related to SRSD as well. 
  • Keyboarding: We'll focus on keyboarding most mornings in September and October from 8:30-8:50 or 9:00 in an attempt to build proficiency in this skill for all students. 
The green blocks are set aside for math. Math will be taught with a blended workshop model. Math will take on a parallel focus of concept/problem solving and computation/skill threads. 
  • Assessments: The math year will start with a number of formal and informal assessments so I understand my learner's needs, and so the learners have a chance to think about their own strengths and challenges related to math.  
  • Standards Based Units: The math program will take on a rhythm of one standards-based unit after another.  Each unit, similar to the place value unit outlined in this post, will lead students through a number of activities that embed the standards of mathematical practice in engaging, targeted activities. 
  • Skills: Students will practice skill with a number of skill-based online and offline games and activities in school and at home. Some of the standard online activities will include Symphony Math, Sum Dog, That Quiz, and Xtra Math.
Tech Workshop/Project Base Learning
We are fortunate to have ready tech access throughout the week, and I'll set aside one long block on Friday (blue above) to focus on interdisciplinary project base learning.  The first project, I Am Poems, will serve to introduce the multimedia composition genre as well as to build class community.  

The last block on Fridays (orange) is set aside for STEAM: Science, Tech, Engineering, Art, and Math.  We have created STEAM corners in our classroom to foster this teaching and learning. Through the use of multiple online and offline tools, we'll guide students in independent and collaborative exploration and discovery activities.  We look forward to building this approach throughout the year, and we imagine that this will be a learning block that students look forward to all week

Our students are fortunate to have multiple special classes each week including physical education, art, music, instrumental, tech, and library.  

Friday Picnic Lunch
Similar to last year, I'll offer students a picnic lunch on Fridays.  During picnic lunch students are invited to eat outside with me.  Last year this was a happy, celebratory weekly event. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Time Matters

The way time is used in schools makes a big difference.

Year after year I'd hear teachers lament during the first two days of school that there just wasn't the time to do a good job collaborating with others and setting up the room.

Then this year, the Union negotiated six hours free of mandatory meetings--the hum in the building was unmistakably as educators met with one another, set up their rooms and prepped for the year to come. No one was tired from sitting for hours on end, yet all were informed of the essential elements during a couple of brief meetings.

After 28 years of teaching with little to no professional time to get ready during the first couple of days, we finally had the time and it was used well--it was definitely time that mattered.  Thanks to those who negotiated the positive change!

New MA Evaluation System: The First Eval Meeting

I continue to study and analyze the new Massachusetts' Educator Evaluation System.  Why?

I study this system because I believe it has the potential to set the stage for student and educator success, for building better schools.

Yet, the system is complex, wordy, and time-consuming. We don't want it to become a system that serves itself rather than a system that serves students.

Hence as I read and study, I continue to look for ways to streamline the efforts--make the actual work simpler so that most educators' time is spent on targeted, engaging efforts to teach children well.

With that in mind, I created a "first meeting" template--a template to guide an educator's first meeting with their evaluator. As educators and evaluators, do you think this template is complete and correct--what would you add or possibly delete?  Let's help each other with this process.

I also created a list of questions that I think educators should be mindful of as they start the new school year and either embark on this evaluation system for the first time or continue for a second round:

  • Will you be evaluated with the new system this year, and if so what is your timeline for initial meetings and formative/summative assessments?
  • Who is your evaluator and supervising evaluator?  In many cases this is the same person.
  • Are you defined as a "caseload educator" or "classroom teacher" with regard to this process?
  • Have you looked at the rubrics you'll be assed by? Do you know how to locate those?
  • Are you nontenured or a teacher with an improvement plan? If so, seek the consult of your union representatives and the contract language to guide your efforts.

There's so much to take in with regard to this new system including the contract language, rubrics, timelines, evidence and more. The greater attention that teachers give to the system upfront, the better able we'll be able to streamline our efforts with success.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Successful Year to Come: Opening Day

Not unlike the enthusiasm and cheer at Opening Day at Fenway Park, Opening Day at Wayland Public Schools was met with humility, cheer, celebration, humor, and wisdom.

The large staff of educators from pre-school to high school and leadership met at the school's beautiful new high school commons for a light breakfast followed by an Opening Day meeting in the auditorium. The festivities started with a warm welcome from Barbara Fletcher, the school committee chair followed by an invitation to write grants from Wayland Public School Foundation representative, Becky Haase.  After that our talented strings teacher, Whitney Tandon, led a musical production with 5th through twelfth graders and the addition of a group of educators.  The festive, clever musical arrangement created a sense of spirit and happiness in the room.

Following the musical presentation, Dr. Stein, Wayland's superintendent, relayed a number of inspiring messages as well as important information about this year's goals. He encouraged us to slow down to identify and correct error in our efforts to learn both as educators and students. Using the metaphor of a swimmer's tempo trainer, Dr. Stein noted the advantage of identifying the sweet spots and weak spots in our efforts, and using the weak spots in particular as places for personal and professional growth and development.  Using a quote from a summer read, he also demonstrated the importance of recognizing that one name or attribute never defines anyone as we all have both visible and invisible sides to our character and efforts. In that regard, we need to look beyond what is easily visible or named when teaching children by taking the time to understand the whole child.

Dr. Stein explained that our goals this year will be the same HEART goals of last year.  By analyzing and highlighting both our sweet spots and weak spots with regard to these goals, Stein identified specific targets related to each goal:
  • Health and Wellness: Identifying a K-12 healthy relationships curriculum, and continuing to build our efforts with students in this regard.
  • Building the Educator Evaluation system with a collaborative emphasis on teaching and learning. 
  • Focusing on the Achievement Gap with a new metric and efforts to guide our work.
  • Developing RTI efforts by identifying and working towards goals specific to each school.
  • Aiming our Technology efforts towards personalizing and differentiating to teach each child well. 
The stage is set for a very good year in Wayland, and now is the time to get started with the details that will make that happen. 

Win-Win-Win: Leaders, Educators, Students/Families

Today I'll be involved in a meeting related to a system-wide effort.  As I think about this meeting, I am wondering about the following question:

How do we create systems that connect rather than divide, streamline rather than complicate, and promote rather than demote ideas, learning, collaboration, and positive action?

I offer the following thoughts:
  • Develop knowledge and understanding.  I'm realizing more and more that a lack of understanding or knowledge often sets the stage for confusing, unsuccessful, cumbersome initiatives. Work to create, then share the common knowledge, questions, and understanding that are essential to an initiative.
  • Decide what's important, and what is not important. Make all less important and unimportant efforts and information a minimal consideration if any, and save the effort and time for prioritized issues and efforts--actions that truly make a difference.
  • Truthfully assess. Sometimes assessments, in the end, read like fiction because the data collection, analysis, or timeliness are not accurate or useful, hence the end analysis does not serve the cause. Find quick, accurate, and thoughtful ways to assess.
  • Be inclusive. When only some are involved in the decision making, action, and effort, the result is diminished. When all involved are invited to be part of an initiative in ways where they can contribute in meaningful ways, ask questions, and offer insights, the initiative thrives.
  • Transparency. Keep a running log of an initiative's efforts and actions. Make that log accessible and interactive. The more that everyone can be involved in the information in transparent, open ways, the greater time there will be for meaningful, important conversations, decisions, and actions related to the initiative's focus. 
In many cases, most initiatives in schools can easily be win-win-win for leaders, educators, and students/families.  When we put students center stage in the effort--that win-win-win becomes much more accessible to all because that's our central, common focus in the work we do. 

I'll now apply this thinking as I prep for the meeting.  I'm excited about this event as I believe our efforts can work to better our collective efforts and actions related to teaching children well.  Let's see what happens. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


A couple of years ago Austin Buffum gave a wonderful presentation to our school system about RTI and teaching children well. Buffum emphasized the need for educators to have a sense of urgency when it comes to serving children well.  That urgency to me demonstrates itself in the following ways:
  • Asking questions when a student demonstrates need or when you don't understand a support system.
  • Transparent, timely information that helps all educators understand learning systems, supports, and tools. 
  • Planning and preparation for the teaching year ahead.
  • Time-on-task with regard to teaching and service delivery.
  • Thoughtful care, concern, and action dedicated to meeting student needs.
At times, professional educators' questions are met with no response or even ridicule.  This puts the educator in a difficult position because how can a teacher serve a child well without needed knowledge, understanding, and timely support.  

I know it's not a perfect world, but if we are to teach children well, we need to streamline and make transparent systems of support--systems that welcome questions, ideas, and concern related to optimal student service. 

Time-on-Task With Students Matters

The time we spend on task with students matters in classrooms. Knowing and understanding the services available helps all teachers best target and schedule their service delivery, teaching efforts, response, and child care.

At times, due to multiple situations, it can be confusing in schools to target and coordinate a child's educational services. When this happens, the child loses out. I think that those of us who work directly with children every day realize the importance and strength of time-on-task.  It may be that some who rarely or never work directly with children might not understand the importance of taking time-on-task efforts seriously.  What do you think?

Today many classroom teachers have inclusion classrooms--those are classrooms that include children with multiple needs.  I'm a big fan of inclusion, but I worry that sometimes the classroom teachers get left with the job of providing all the services even when a child has the legal right to specialized help.  That's why I believe it is very important that we take service delivery seriously and make every effort to give every child the care and direct time-on-task they're entitled to.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Special Educator-Classroom Teacher Collaboration?

Over my tenure of 28 years in the classroom, one debate that has been a constant is the debate related to the best systems for special educator/classroom teacher collaboration.

As I understand it, the special educator brings the focus of specific students with identified learning challenges/styles (I don't like the word "disability.") and the classroom teacher brings the focus of teaching all students in the class well to the planning table.  Yet, in many cases and many schools, there is no time to sit at the planning table so much of the collaboration is done on the fly--never a good idea especially when it comes to teaching children well.  Hence, time for collaboration is a first issue with regard to this debate.

Today the distinction between special educators and regular educators is blurry because all teachers have the job today to differentiate, personalize, and teach the student rather than the curriculum.  Hence how does this affect the collaboration as schools move from factories to learning communities and the roles and responsibilities of all educators change?

Also there's the issue of teaching time.  While students with IEPs are legally suppose to receive a specific number of minutes per week with targeted support, that time is often connected to multiple other students and goals as well as the issue that most systems probably couldn't support the required minutes of each child to the letter of the law--that would simply be too expensive. Hence special educator teams spread themselves out as much as possible to meet all the needs--needs which are often complex including social, emotional, and physical issues too.

Plus, rather than categorizing students as those with special needs, some students are simply difficult to teach for a large number of reasons. When we look at students as "easy to teach" and "difficult to teach," it changes the way we think about our time and efforts.  Difficult to teach students often don't grasp essential skills such as getting along with others, reading, writing, and math with ease. For these students, school may be the least natural learning environment. Figuring out the best way to teach "difficult to teach" students in engaging, successful ways is a challenge, a challenge that profits from apt special educator/classroom teacher coordination and collaboration.

You can see that I'm just beginning to think about this collaboration in different ways--looking at both sides of the issue and trying to tease out the main points.

One action that I believe can help this debate is a start-of-the-year focus on students with special needs.  Rather than assuming that all teachers are on the same page with this topic, I believe a yearly review would help.  The review would include the following:
  • Introduction and review of the special educator's role and responsibility so subject-area and classroom teachers know what they can expect.
  • A review of the IEP plan including what that means, how to read the plan, and how to short list the primary student goals.
  • A list of what special educators expect of classroom teachers--what they hope classroom teachers will do to support the collaboration as well as to support students with identified special needs.
  • Conversation time about what works, what doesn't, and what is still unclear about the two roles.
  • Scheduling so that all teachers can begin servicing all children on day one of school.  At my sister's former school they did this--all teachers and specialists created schedules in a common room on one morning prior to the start of the year, and then on day one all were set to teach.  She said it was amazing and helped to get every child off to a terrific start because their needs were met from day one.
How do you and your learning community coordinate special education and regular education needs?  What works best with regard to optimal service to students?  How can we all contribute to make this debate one that serves students well.  

Teachers/Students: Navigating Multiple Leaders, Colleagues, and Initiatives

As I dropped my son off at college yesterday, I was wondering how he'll navigate the multiple classes, initiatives, clubs, and sports he'll be involved in.

Then this morning, as I queried our ELL department about expectations and schedules, I was reminded of my own need to navigate multiple initiatives, teachers, and leaders during the school year.

As I've mentioned numerous times, most classroom and subject-area teachers are spending most of the minutes in the day with time-on-task direct responsibility for students. The minimal planning time during the school day and many hours before and after school are spent crafting differentiated learning experiences to meet students' needs.  Plus, now with the growing need for teachers to meet multiple score points, the pressure is on to help every child learn many, many standards while also creating positive, happy, vibrant, 21st century learning communities. It's a mighty task.

This mighty task is complicated when a classroom teacher has to respond to multiple colleagues, leaders and initiatives. For example I work with the following leaders and colleagues with regard to teaching the children in my class: ELL, special needs, occupational and physical therapists, speech therapist, math coach, reading intervention teacher, math/science curriculum director, ela/social studies curriculum director, guidance, school nurse, art teacher, music teacher, gym teacher, librarian, technology integration specialist, teaching assistants, grade-level colleagues, instrumental teachers, and possibly the adaptive physical education teacher. That's a lot of professionals to coordinate with--all professionals who bring expertise and care to children.

What will help to streamline these efforts so that most of the time from most of the professionals is spent on dedicated, targeted time-on-task with students--what I believe to be the most critical factor with regard to teaching children well.

First, lead time for planning and scheduling is imperative.  It's my belief that on students' day one all systems should be ready for student service.  That means all schedules set, priorities met, and collaboration/communication protocols ready.  In most school systems that doesn't happen because there simply isn't enough lead time for this work.  Classroom teachers deal with this by spending multiple days in the classroom during summer vacation to set up their rooms, plan their lessons, and coordinate via email because it's not possible for us to start the year without this planning, but with regards to the coordination with multiple leaders and teachers, this typically requires in-school, person-to-person collaborative time.  Hence, this is an issue schools may want to take a closer look at.

Next, it's advantageous for leaders and teachers if expectations are clearly stated.  For example, a director could state the following in person or via email: "This is what you can expect from me this year.  I am available to help out with grade-level planning, individual student problem solving, materials acquisition, field trip plans, and trouble shooting new standards.  You can expect an update from me once a month, and if you have questions in the meantime the best way to reach me is via email at this address: ___. I've attached a list of the year's main objectives and a calendar of the main events.  If you would like help related to specific classroom lessons, you should contact my associate, _____." That kind of clarity helps teachers understand who does what and how to contact people when needed.

After that, it's important that all collaborating teachers and leaders realize the schedule restrictions, and the fact that teachers who spend most of the day with students have little daily time for collaboration during the school year.

How do you navigate the multiple, valuable leaders and teachers you work with on a daily basis? How are the expectations, roles, and responsibilities clearly defined for your help?  What protocols, systems, and communication promote successful collaboration, and what systems and actions serve to hinder this effort?

There's much to think about as schools move from factory models to learning communities, and effective collaboration is an important consideration in this regard.

Report Cards that Matter

Have you ever sat down at a parent conference to discuss a report card only to realize that the measures don't match your mission or pursuit as a classroom teacher?  Or have you ever sat down to write a report card and realized that you collected all the wrong data during the year?  It's important to understand the "report card" well prior to the start of the year so that you collect the right evidence and teach the matching skills.  In today's changing world of education there's multiple report cards utilized in schools throughout the country. What's important in this regard is that your "report card" match your intent and effort.  Hence, with this in mind, I've created my own report card--a "card" that will lead my work this year.  Of course, I'll also collect information and teach standards related to the many other reporting documents I'm required to fill out, but the one below is the one I'll hold as the central focus of my work in the year to come.

Let me know if I'm missing anything as I'd like to have a final version ready prior to the first day of school--one that I'll probably ask students to fill out on day one.

Student Report Card: School Year 2013-2014

Name: ______________________________________________________

Birthday: ___________________________________

Age: _________________________

Date: ___________________________

  • Are you happy at school?  Why or why not?  What can I do to help you to be a happy student each day?
  • Do you feel good each day?  Do you have enough to eat and drink?  Is the food you're eating making you feel energized and alert?  Do you have enough time to play, stretch your legs, and be outside? What can I do to help you be as healthy as you can be?
  • Do you feel like a valued member of our learning community?  Why or why not?
  • How can the community welcome you with greater energy, positivity, and respect?
  • Do you contribute to our learning community?  What gifts, energy, questions, actions, and ideas do you bring?  How do you help us to develop a vibrant, purposeful, happy learning community?
  • Does our learning community represent the values you have related to learning and community?  If not, how can we change that to make our learning community more inclusive and welcoming?
  • Do you read every day?  If not, why not?  
  • Do you read with fluency and expression?  How can we work together to grow that skill?
  • Do you understand what you read?  If so, what strategies help you with this?  If not, how can we build this skill?
  • Do you enjoy reading? If not, why?  If so, what's helping?
  • Do you read with others?  How can we build book clubs, literature circles, and literary discussions into your reading program?
  • Do you like read aloud?  If so, why?  If not, why not and how can we make it better?
  • Do you share your thoughts and understanding about books in blogs, stories, journal entries, and letters?  If not, how can we build that into your reading repertoire with strength?
  • Do you like to write?  If not, why not?  How can I help?
  • Do you write every day?  How can we make this happen?
  • How would you like to grow as a writer? How can I help?
  • Can you write in many genres such as letter, story, memoir, informational text, persuasive essay, multimedia composition, and more? Let's practice this and build fluency and facility with writing?
  • Do you have a positive attitude towards math?  Attitude matters and if you don't have a positive attitude, how can we change that?
  • What basic math skills have you mastered, and what foundation skills do you need to master?
  • How can I help you to become a successful math student?  How do you like to learn math best?  What math questions do you have?  
Social Studies/Science
  • What questions do you have about the world around you?  What are you curious about, what do you want to know, understand, and/or master?
  • What tools help you to learn about the world around you?  How do you use those tools?
  • How do you like to learn best?  How can we make that happen in the classroom?
  • Do you share your learning with others?  If so, how? If not, why not?
  • Does your learning impact your life, community, and/or world?  Is this important to you? Why or why not?
  • What knowledge, concept, and skill points will help you to live a better life in a better world?
Teachers and Leaders
  • Are teachers and leaders responding to and meeting your needs as a learner? If not, what do they need to do?
  • Are you asking questions often and letting teachers and leaders know what you need to learn well and be successful?
Life Long Learning
  • Since life is a series of learning opportunities, challenges, and accomplishments, do you feel that you're gaining and developing the knowledge, concept, skills, and tools you'll need to be a successful learner?  If not, how can we change that?
  • Is the order and routine of your learning positive and helpful as you think of yourself as a life long learner?  How can we change or re-prioritize the efforts to better meet your life long learning needs?
  • Are you making progress as a learner?  If yes, what progress have you made and how do you know you've made that progress?  If not, what's holding you back?  How can we help?
What other thoughts and ideas do you have about your learning and our learning community?  I want to know. I'm here to help you. 

Book Sort

Today I'll make time for the dreaded book sort. I have about 1,000 beloved books in my classroom, and it's time to sort through them all so that the books remaining are accessible and attractive to fourth grade readers.

This is a dreaded chore for many reasons.  First, some books will need to be tossed because they're too tattered and worn to attract a reader, and it's always difficult to toss a beloved book. Next, the question of how to sort the books is always in the back of your mind--what's the best way to organize all these books so that students know where to find them and where to put them away.

Last year's efforts worked well and I'll do much of the same this year.  Having the books in baskets all over the room helped with ready access and organization.  This year I'll work more at the labeling as well as sorting the nonfiction/informational books with greater intent.

Reading is a mainstay in my classroom, an activity I'll even devote more time to this year than in the past because of all the teaching activities this one holds the greatest potential for student growth and success. The book sort is one step in this direction.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Welcome to Fourth Grade!

This is the way I'll start fourth grade this year.  

Welcome to Fourth Grade!

This is your learning community.

What is a learning community?  A learning community is the team of students, teachers, leaders, and family members who work together to learn, create, and communicate.

Let's figure out just how large our learning community is. First, we have 23 students, 1 classroom teacher, 1 special educator, 2 teaching assistants, 5 specialist teachers, 3 therapists, 1 student teacher, 1 interventionists, 1 math coach, 2 curriculum directors, 1 principal, ___ family members, and 13,100 community members. That's a LARGE learning community.

The learning community is here to serve your learning goals, and in return it's your job to contribute to the learning community.

How can you take from and give to the learning community so that you're a successful learner?

First, know that the learning community can serve you well.  If you need something, ask--don't stay stuck!  Next, work with others. Often the ideas of many contribute to the best big idea, solution, or decision. Encourage one another. The path to learning is full of mistakes and detours, that's why encouragement helps us to push forward towards our goals. Knowing your learning destinations and goals are important too as that helps you to chart your path. Sharing those goals with the learning community helps also because your classmates, teachers, family members, and community can assist you on your learning journey if they know where you want to go.

Contribute to your learning community too. If you have the skill or knowledge someone else is striving for, help them out.  If you know a strategy or helpful hint, share your ideas. Understand that no one is the "best," and no one is the "worst," instead we're all on a path to be the best that we can be as we become experts at knowing how to learn and what we want to learn. Knowing yourself as a learner and effective effort are the BEST ingredient to learning success.

As your teacher, I am your learning coach. I'm here to help you in every way that I can to develop your essential reading, writing, and math skills, and to learn all that you can about subjects that interest you and subjects that have been chosen for the whole fourth grade to learn about, subjects such as culture, United States geography, endangered species, plate tectonics, and animal adaptation.

I feel fortunate to travel a year of your life-long learning journey with you. I'm wondering what learning adventures we'll have as we meet challenges and share successes. As we journey together, I don't want you to forget that this learning community belongs to you--you're the main characters in this fourth grade story, so never hesitate to let me know what you need, what you're wondering about, and where you want to go.  I'll support you in every way that I can.

Now it's your turn to start the adventure. What questions do you have?  What can I do for you? What do you need? Where do you want to be a year from today?

Your teacher,
Ms. Maureen Devlin

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Farm Days Field Study: Details

Drumlin Farm
Learning doesn't just happen between the four walls of the classroom. In fact, some will argue that most learning happens outside of the four walls of the classroom.  That's one reason why we've created the Farm Days Field Studies with Drumlin Farm's dedicated education coordinator, Robin Stuart. Instead of traveling to three different locations, we synthesized three field explorations into one multi-day field study titled Farm Days.

We want students to realize that learning can happen anywhere, and that learning related to biology, anthropology, environmental studies, history, and even technology often happens in the field. Over a series of three to four day-long visits, students will study curriculum objectives in the field.

Each field day students will dress for the weather and outdoor exploration, and we'll bring along parent volunteers, "Wonder" scientific notebooks, and lunches. The field days will be scheduled once per month in September, October, and November, and a fourth trip in the spring if we can get the funding. Each day will have a unique focus that matches our curriculum objectives.

Day One: What Scientists Do: Human and Environment Interaction
During the first day, students will focus on the theme of human and environment interaction. During that time they will explore the following questions:
  • What is a scientist?
  • What tools does a scientist use including the five senses?
  • What is data?
  • What does it mean to collect data over time?
  • What is a habitat?
  • What does a habitat need to be viable?
Students will explore multiple habitats using their senses to chart information in their science "wonder" notebooks. By making observations, asking questions, and recording information the students will conduct scientific study as they compare two habitats. This contemplative and active exploration will provide students with the experience, in part, of what it means to be a scientist. Later in the day students will have the chance to understand the connection of farms and people. They'll study the farm as a habitat and participate in both livestock and crop chores. Prior to and after the visit, we'll match our in-class efforts with the field experience by focusing our close reading/reading response work on passages related to farms, habitats, the five senses, and scientific exploration. We also have corresponding habitat videos that connect with this field study, related writing choices, and possible extended field studies on our playground. 

Day Two: Native American Life and the Land
Our fourth grade curriculum focuses on culture beginning with students' individual culture and expanding to Native American cultures and cultures throughout United States regions. During the October Farm Days field study students will imagine what it was like to live 1,000 years ago, a time before the technology we know today existed.  Students will explore what life might have been like for Native Americans in our region including food, shelter, tools and technology, and reading the landscape: relationships between people, land, plants, and animals then and now. Students will engage in a number of hands-on activities including cooking, nature walks/exploration, skill building games, and artifacts. Both during the field study and afterwards, students will chart their experiences in their "Wonder" notebooks.  In class they'll have the chance to view related videos, read related literature, chart questions, and research areas of interest.

Day Three: Animal and Plant Adaptations
During this day students will be introduced to the main animal groups. Then students will learn about the adaptations of specific groups through guided inquiry and exploration related to animals that live at Drumlin Farm.  Later in the day students will have the chance to visit a variety of habitats looking for signs of animal life and adaptations.  Classroom close reading/reading response activities will focus on the science of animal adaptation either prior to or following this field study utilizing an animal adaptation study kit and website we've used in the past. We also have videos that connect to this unit.

Day Four: Spring Visit: Habitat Change and Animal/Habitat Protection (funding?)
In the spring students will return to Drumlin Farm to do another guided sensory habitat exploration noting seasonal changes.  Students will utilize previously collected data and hypothesis during this exploration. During this visit students will also focus on the issues of extinction, habitat loss, and pollution--factors that affect the land we live in.  We'll look for ways that we can work to protect habitats and species.  These efforts will connect with our spring endangered species research project and geology studies. Two more field studies including a trip to Franklin Park Zoo and a trip to Wolf Hollow as well as visits from Dr. Sheffels, a local geologist, will also inform our research, writing, and presentation work at this time. 

I'm excited about this change in field trips because rather than a "drive-by" experience, students will establish a relationship with an organization that contributes to education and the environment over multiple visits. We'll think about ways that we can pre-assess and post-assess students' knowledge and experience related to this visit in the days to come as we put the finishing touches on the planning and funding for the experiences. If you have any ideas to offer us, please do. We're looking forward to these field studies as ways to develop student skill and knowledge as well as our grade level learning community spirit and investment.

Related Post
Farm Days Continue

Close Reading
Teacher Resource for Close Reading
Habitats of the World
The Five Senses
Native American Culture and the Land
Animal Adaptation
A Child's Life on a Farm 1890-1915
Children in the Field: Child Farm Labor Editorial
Children Working on Farms: Another Point of View
The Debate on Child Farm Labor: 60 Minutes
How to Bring Extinct Animals Back to Life
Escape from Extinction
Extinction Countdown
Protecting Habitats
Make a Nature Journal
Keeping a Nature Journal
Introduction to the Nature Journal

Five Senses Poem

Related Articles

Maker Station: STEAM Grant

LearnLaunch Link
Our STEAM WPSF grant is beginning to take shape.

Susan Cherwinski, @SusanCherwinski, and I found a time in the schedule, requested approval, started a crowdshare idea/links collection doc, and are now beginning to reach out to our PLN near and far for links and information.

Matt Arguello, @Matt_Arguello, an educator from Los Angeles was the first to answer our call with the following links:
Also, our grade-level colleagues, Trang Aronian and Kor Rogers, have decided to join the pilot. A pilot that will combine STEAM exploration tools and activities with Google's 20% time intent to provide students' with a self-directed, teacher-guided research, creation, invention, and exploration time.

The next stage is lots of reading and research to get the project going.  Then at the start of the year, we'll query the students and parents for more ideas about materials and activities.

We've also scheduled a LearnLaunch event as part of our research.

There are many events that can take your attention away from what's important at the beginning of the school year, but planning an initiative like this places you right where you should be--planning for optimal, student-centered learning and innovation.

If you have ideas or links for us, please let us know.  As my son recently stated about a job prospect, "It's great to be a part of something new, the process of building and creating a positive endeavor."


Plastic Bottle Creations
Paper Roll Furniture
Motorized Toy
Take apart station
Hacking Toys and Machines

Related Posts and Ideas
Self-selected, research, invention, explore choices.

MA Educators: Are You Asking These Questions?

It's a big year for MA educators, and these are some questions they may be asking:
  • What's my evaluation system timeline?
  • When will I meet with my evaluator to discuss my goals?
  • How many pieces of evidence am I required to collect for my evaluation?
  • What does my system require for evidence collection?
  • When is my RETELL year?
  • What are our system's DDM's?
  • What, if any, curriculum changes are in place for this year?
  • What local initiatives are in place for this year, and what are my expectations in this regard?
  • What certification documents require administrative signature?
  • What paperwork is required for recertification or certification?
  • Does the system pay for my certification fee(s)?
  • Is there course reimbursement money available? 
  • Is there money available for professional development conferences or courses?
  • What supports are in place to help me with recertification, the new evaluations system, RETELL, DDM's, new curriculum standards, and other initiatives?
  • What is the timeline for this year's initiatives?
  • Other questions?
Transparent, organized systems that support initiatives streamline these efforts leaving educators with the time they need to teach children well. 

School Dreams Focus the Path

The last night of a glorious vacation was met with the familiar pre-school year dreams, one after another. These dreams are commonly experienced by students, educators, and leaders prior to the start of every school year. The dreams wake you up to the exciting and challenging realities ahead setting the stage for your focus goals, actions, attitudes and efforts.

Who will you be this year as a teacher?  What practices from the past will you repeat, and what practices will you change to best meet students' needs, interests, and passions?  What do you want to accomplish by the end of the school year ahead?  How will you pattern your schedule to achieve your goals and care for your life's priorities at the same time--priorities such as family, health, hobbies, and friends. These are the questions that lay the foundation for the year ahead.

My focus this year includes the following:
  • Optimal test scores for all students.
  • 21st Century/Life-Long Learning Design: Communication, Creativity, Collaboration, and Critical Thinking skills focus. 
  • Happiness, engagement, and meaningful learning for all students.
What can I do to make this happen?
  • Work closely with families, students, and colleagues to set goals, coach, and responsively teach.
  • Develop a strong literacy and numeracy foundation for each child with explicit teaching, time for practice, focused coaching, and formative assessments.
  • Engaging learning design that embeds standards, optimal tools, effective strategies, and relevant content.
  • Developing students' learning to learn mindsets with explicit lessons related to growth mindset, collaborative learning, teamwork, effective use of tools, questioning, audience, and critical thinking. 
What does this look like in real-time?
  • Completing all professional tasks with the focus on teaching students well.
    • Creating an NCTE presentation, "Multimedia Literacy Studio," that is standards-based, student-centered, and effective as evidenced by students' performance, scores, and positive attitudes.
    • Creating a MassCUE presentation, "The 24-7 Classroom," that creates a pattern for in-school/out-of-school schedules and routines that promote positive, effective student learning. 
    • Contributing to state and local educator evaluation systems in a way that streamlines the system so that teachers' time, effort, and professional learning are reserved for optimal student-centered, effective teaching. 
    • Focusing the NBPTS recertification efforts on work that makes a difference for children. 
    • Using RETELL to develop my teaching repertoire.
    • Contributing to the District Determined Measures (DDM) conversations in ways that help to develop student learning and success. 
  • Contributing to school culture in ways that forward our collective learning and efforts with regard to teaching children well. 
  • Following a weekly pattern that is balanced with regard to professional and personal time with time for health, friends and family, and professional efforts.
There are many competing interests in education.  There is always the temptation to complain rather than make positive change.  It is difficult to stay the course with so many distractions in the way.  Questions such as these will help you navigate the path:
  • Does this effort, conversation, question, or debate contribute to my goals of teaching children well?
  • Will this activity help me to meet my teaching goals?
  • Will this make a difference for children?  Will this enrich the student-student or teacher-student relationships?
  • Does this contribute to a positive school culture--a culture that empowers students and supports their individual and collective goals?
The challenge to teach children well--all children--is a powerful, challenging goal, one that I'm ready to embrace with my PLN at school, in the community, and online. Onward!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Streamline Educator Evaluation Systems

As I think about the new Massachusetts' educator evaluation system, I want to promote streamlined efforts.  To streamline these efforts means that more time, money, and energy will be preserved for efforts that directly impact students in positive ways.

How can these systems be streamlined.

I suggest the following.
  • Provide educators with professional development time and materials at the start of the year for self reflection and goal writing. During this time educators choose from a menu of options including self study, guided study, and focus groups as a way to learn and interact with the new system. 
  • Administrators decide on system-wide evidence and evaluation document system.  It should be a simple-to-use, streamlined, cost-effective system. 
  • Plan early year meeting with each evaluator and educator team.  During those meetings identify and discuss the following:
    • educator goals.
    • educator evidence quantity and types and evidence collection vehicle (notebook, online venue. . .)
    • educator's evaluation timeline and expectations.
    • educator's certification or re-certification timeline and plan. Evaluator signs related documents.
  • Evaluator makes a number of short visits to the classroom throughout the year.  The visits are followed by actionable statements written by the evaluator for the educator. The educator responds to actionable statements in writing. These are included in the educator's final evaluation. If the statements are worrisome, the educator can contact the Union for guidance. 
  • Educator preps for mid-year meeting by organizing evidence, reviewing and listing progress on goals, and preparing meeting questions. 
  • Meet at mid-year to review evidence collected to date, progress on stated-goals, review of all evaluation areas.
  • Educator preps for end year meeting by writing up a synopsis of evidence, goals met, and other information that depicts the educator's good work and efforts. 
  • End year meeting and review. Educator and evaluator review end-of-year summary and evaluations.  If the educator is troubled by the evaluation, he/she works with Union prior to signing the evaluation.

Note: Massachusetts' educators and administrators will also be involved with new curriculum initiatives, district determined measures, RETELL, and recertification (for many).  This is a year where focused, streamlined efforts will be critical in order to save most professional time for service to children, not service to multiple adult systems.

Related Posts:
Effective Education: Planning and Decision Time Lines
Educator Evaluation Scores: Report or Not?
Summer Study-Shift
Navigating Multiple Massachusetts' Initiatives
TeachFocus: Massachusetts New Evaluation Standards' Review

Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Rascal of a Goal

A challenging goal continues to evade me--I cannot catch this rascal of a goal, and I know it's because my intent and strategy have not been aimed in the right direction.

As a mom, I watch my own children race after goals they haven't caught yet--like slippery eels, these goals escape our grasp leaving us with a mix of denial, frustration, hopelessness, and humility.

What to do?

First, don't give up. I was with a person recently who finally caught one of those elusive goals. The individual's happiness and sense of peace was incredible. Proof that no matter how tough the goal, if it's worthy then you should continue the pursuit.

Next, re-strategize. Throw out the old unsuccessful repeated attempts to reach the goal and seek new coaching, strategies, and effort.

And, accept the humility that goes with goals unmet--that humility is a good teacher in many ways.

Finally, restart the effort.

So today with new guiding principals, strategies, and effort I'll recharge and keep moving towards this evasive goal. There will always be a goal out there that's challenging. It's much easier to give up on it and deny its existence, but I believe we're much stronger if we face our goals and challenges and move towards meeting them. That makes life the vigorous journey we look forward to.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Building Something that Matters: STEAM Share and Environmental Awareness

One of the best ways to start the school year is to identify one or two initiatives that you're really excited about. That brings the passion, energy, and learning focus to the forefront.

When our team met this week we carefully created a common schedule that includes substantial standards-based efforts in reading, writing, and math as well as the following exciting "new learning" events.

Last year, my energized and passionate colleague and I explored STEAM (science, tech, engineering, art, and math) initiatives in our classrooms.  The children were excited and there was tremendous investment and learning. This year we hope to collaborate and expand our STEAM share efforts more with a designated time each week, students from all fourth grade classrooms, and a grant for maker station materials and supplies.  This effort requires the following steps:
  • Finding time in the busy schedule (we did that!).
  • Research - we've done a lot and will continue to do more.
  • System-wide approval: we've made the requests and have our fingers crossed.
  • Grant writing--once we get approval, we'll research and write the grant.
  • Classroom set-up: we've already planned and in some cases created the initial set-up.
  • Student introduction: I've started putting aside videos and notes for this.
  • Initial Explore Menus: That will be easy since we'll build off last year's efforts starting with the successful projects, processes, and links we used last year then building out as we learn more.
  • Support: Once we get going we'll enlist support from family members and perhaps high school students and other volunteers.  We'll also seek out local tech start-ups who want to try out their products through our association with Learn Launch
In an effort to build environmental awareness and develop students' ability to learn outside of the four walls of the classroom, our grade level is working with Drumlin Farm, an Audubon association, to integrate grade-level content related to habitats, Native American culture, animal adaptation, STEAM, close reading, informational text, and writing into a rich three to four day field study experience. The children will visit the farm on three or four separate days. During that time they will engage in hands-on exploration, creation, and participation activities that grow their understanding in the content areas above.  There are many reasons why I'm looking forward to this experience, an activity that will provide children with the real-life experience of what it's like to learn in the field as a biologist, anthropologist, writer, farmer, researcher, and environmentalist. 

As we planned, we were cognizant of the grade-level expectations as well as the need to inspire and engage all of our students with multiple learning venues. We're looking forward to a dynamic year ahead. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

It's Summer Vacation: Stop Planning?

Here's the dilemma, it's summer vacation yet many teachers are planning, asking questions, setting up their rooms, preparing lessons, and communicating with colleagues and leaders.

Yet, it's summer vacation and many teachers are vacationing with family, taking some time to read a good book, engaging in hobbies, and having fun.

In the old days, teaching was a lot different. The doors closed for summer vacation and you rarely heard a peep from colleagues or leaders until that late August introduction letter that noted a few changes in staff and schedules. There were no scores to meet, few deadlines to worry about, and only a few leaders who often were teachers at the same time. Our day was shorter, the curriculum less structured, fewer changes year to year, and a steady pace.

Was the old better than the new or is the new better than the old? I can't say as there's been so much change not only in schools but all around schools too. Should we not communicate and share throughout the summer--that's hard to say too because only two days after I enter school in the fall, I'll start spending most of my time each day with 20plus children--the better planned I am, the better job I can do. Yet, I don't want to overwhelm or trouble colleagues who are finally having a few days to spend with loved ones at the beach, mountains, overseas or anywhere else they choose.

It's summer vacation and the reality is that we all make different choices as far as when we work, how we work, and when we play--tech access makes those choices easier than ever before.  I also know after many years of teaching no matter how you choose to play and plan, when the school year starts, you're ready because the children wouldn't accept anything less.

Hence, play or plan or a little of both, my recommendation is if you want to play, turn off the computer or better, leave it at home, and escape with friends and family, and if you want to plan go ahead, email the questions, prep the room, attend the workshops, and write your plans.  It's not an either-or proposition, it's a do what you can when you can world.

And about the past vs. the present.  I try to bring forward as many of the wonderful practices from the past, but I also try to adopt and create new and wonderful practice for today too.  Again, it's not one or the other, it's a blend of what's best for the children you teach.

Teachers New and Experienced: UClass Helps You Find and Share Just Right Lessons

I joined UClass*, and I'm adding my lessons to that twitter-like stream for lesson share. Why UClass? I like UClass because the lessons are  standards-based, teacher-created, and easy to find and access.

I think the quick ease of share with UClass will make this platform a must-have for teachers throughout the globe. With a click of the finger, we can access a multitude of ideas or lessons to wake-up our thinking, direct our lesson design work, meet standards, learn from one another, and teach children well.

As the site gains members, the quality of the lessons will grow.  In time, similar to trending topics on Twitter, the lessons that are really powerful will begin to be shared.  As I write this I wonder how UClass will give teachers that "like" ability so we can vote for the lessons we think have the greatest clout when it comes to helping our learners grow with engagement, skill, concept, and confidence.

So join UClass today.  It's free.  Let me know how you like it.

Note: As mentioned before I've started to beta test a number of online venues.  I've chosen UClass as one of those venues.  I only choose products that I believe will impact children with strength.

*UClass is paying me a small stipend to participate in their start-up.

ELA Scope and Sequence: A 2013-2014 Road Map for Language Arts

Fourth Grade ELA/Social Studies Scope and Sequence: Devlin Notes


Social Studies, Special Events,


Student writing journals
Google Docs
Animoto Account

Reading Workshop, Read Aloud, Reading Across the Disciplines/Curriculum, Reading Responses: Reading letters, Journals, Specific response.

RL10: By the end of the year, read and comprehend literature and information texts at the high edn of the grades 3-4 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range

RL2: Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text; summarize the text

RI2: Determine the main idea of a text and explain how it supported by details

RL3: Describe in depth a character, setting, or event in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g. a character’s thoughts, words, or actions)

RL4: Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including those that allude to significant characters in mythology

RL7: Make connections between the text in the story or drama and a visual or oral presentation of the text, identifying where each version reflects specific descriptions and directions in the text

RL2: Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text; summarize the text
Determining Importance

RIT4: Determine the meaning of general academic and domain-specific words or phrases in a text relevant to a grade 4 topic or subject area

RI5: Compare and contrast the overall structure (i.e. chronology comparison, cause/effect, problem/solution) of events, ideas, or information in two or more texts
(traditional tale comparisons? fiction/nonfiction about same topic?--employed with many units of study)

Writing Workshop, Writing Across the Disciplines/Curriculum, Portfolio Work

W4: Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience

W4: Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience

W5: With guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, and editing
W6: With some guidance and support from adults, use technology, including the internet, to produce and publish writing as well as interact and collaborate with others  (possible examples: digital story, animoto poem, research presentation, photo booth essay)
Current Events with TFK, Other Resources


Open Circle/Responsive Classroom


poetry folders

Launching RW

Reading Strategies/Genre Review:
  • introducing genre/comp strategies through picture books/short response.

Read Aloud:
Gold Threaded Dress
Picture Books across Genre
  • A letter to the teacher - All About Me???
  • A story?
  • (something meaningful)

Launching WW

W5: With guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, and editingWhat is my Culture?

Scholars Project?
  • paragraph structure, explanatory text

W7: Conduct short research projects that build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic

Digital Project:
  • Meet the Class movie (simple introductory drama script-using photobooth)

RL5: Explain major differences between poems, drama, and prose, and refer to the structural elements of poems and drama when writing or speaking about a text
What’s My Culture
  • culture flags
  • history of skin
  • culture films from lib.

Native American Culture
  • compare/contrast NA cultures using easy-to-read informational books from the library.
  • Films used to introduce regions as well.

Field Studies:
Farm Days - Drumlin Farm


Presentation Boards
iMovie/Garage Band
Google Docs
Personal Narrative Picture Books/Chapter Books
Review Strategies:
  • Schema
  • Monitor for Meaning
  • Summarizing
  • Sensory Imagining

Read Aloud
Mentor texts, Personal Narratives
Immigration/Family History Stories (rea/fiction)

  • shorts
  • essays
  • literary essay (?-see SL4)


W1: Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information

W2: Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly

SL4: Report on a topic, or text, tell a story, or recount an experieicne in an organized manner, using appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details to support main ideas or themes

RI9: Integrate information from two texts on the same topic in order to write and speak about the subject knowledgeably (compare two texts?)

Culture Project
  • Writing paragraphs about culture.
  • Creating culture posters
  • Culture Museum.

RI7: Interpret information presented visually, orally, or quantitatively (i.e. in charts, graphs, diagrams, time lines, animation, or interactive elements on web pages) and explain how the information contributes to an understanding of the text in which it appears

W2: Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly

W7: Conduct short research projects that build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic

Field Study/Event:
  • Farm Days: Drumlin Farm
  • Promised Lands?

Introduce/Review Strategies:
  • Asking Questions
  • Informational Text
  • Realistic Fiction
  • Determining Importance
  • Focus on character

Read Aloud
Fictional Narratives - chapter books and picture books

RL3: Describe in depth a character, setting, or event in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g. a character’s thoughts, words, or actions)
Culture Project (cont)
  • Writing paragraphs about culture.
  • Creating culture posters
  • Culture Museum.
  • Explanatory Text

Field Studies: Farm Days Drumlin Farm

Reading Strategies:
  • Inferring
Poetry Writing
  • “Self Portrait Poetry Anthology”?”
  • “Gifts of Poetry”
  • I Am poems/Poems that Speak to Me (animoto)

  • Gifts of Story: Holiday Project (online or off)

  • Story Folders or home-made books?

Special Event: Story teller, writer in residence?
Feb. Vacation
Reading Strategies:
  • Inferring
  • Grade
  • Benchmarks

Read Aloud

Personal Narrative

W3: Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear even sequences

Personal Narrative:
  • Family History Stories (small moment, recent and/or long ago)
Fictional Narrative? (starts md-Nov)
Author in residence? Gonzalez? (WPSF grant?)
  • Focus on character development?

Digital Project:
  • Digital Stories
Project: (Jan/Feb)
  • Class Newspaper
  • Opinion Essay Oral Presentation: Speech/Debate?

Feb. Vacation - March
Reading Strategies:
  • Determining Importance

Mcas Examples across genre
Fictional Narrative (continues)
  • storybook recordings/hard copies as holiday gifts?

MCAS Prep for Writing
  • genre review each week
  • independent test trial
  • explanatory text
  • reading response
Field Study:
  • Something great to write about on MCAS - Aquarium? Adaptation related?

Reading Strategy:
  • Synthesizing
  • Determining Importance
Informational Text
  • Project/Research: ES
  • Drama/script as part of ES study/presentation
  • Explanatory Text

RI7: Interpret information presented visually, orally, or quantitatively (i.e. in charts, graphs, diagrams, time lines, animation, or interactive elements on web pages) and explain how the information contributes to an understanding of the text in which it appears

W2: Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly

RI9: Integrate information from two texts on the same topic in order to write and speak about the subject knowledgeably

Endangered Species Projects

Field Study/Events:
  • zoo trip; Franlink Park
  • Multimedia ES presentations
  • ES Museum/Present
  • Wheelock Family Theater
Genre Study

  • Benchmarks
Explain it:
  • writing matched w/math, science study
Plate Tectonics with Dr. Sheffels (6 lessons)
Genre Study:
  • review  genre through summer reading emphases.
Genre Study:
  • Summer journal start w/genre writing -online or off.
U.S. Regions
Digital Project:
  • U.S. Regions/GoogleEarth?
  • Regions books?

Field Study:
  • Wolf Hollow?

  • Summer Journals/Blogs
  • (online or off)