Tuesday, February 24, 2015


When you grow up in Boston, the Red Sox become part of your life at a young age.  Everybody on the block could emulate every player's batting stance.  You knew the lineup inside and out.  You could recite their batting averages on command and you knew the last time they had hit a home run. They were giants! Remy, Scott, Burleson, Fisk, Evans, Lynn, Hobson, Rice, Carbo, Tiant, Stanley, Eck, Lee and Yaz were fan favorites. The Green Monster was a mile high and going to games was the greatest thing that could happen all summer long.

I remember those days like it was yesterday.  Baseball was my favorite sport. The spring rains eventually vanished and you knew Opening Day was just around the corner. It was a great time of year.

As the season rolled along, I'd watch the games with my friends, brothers and my Dad.  Most years led to heartache, but we still followed and loved the Sox.

My passion for the Red Sox turned into playing Little League. Quite often, my brothers were in the same league.  I might not have ever been on any great teams in my youth, but that didn't stop my passion. Whether it was baseball, el socko, whiffle ball or stick ball, we'd muster up a game with the neighborhood kids.

One of my favorite memories of Little League was the smell of fresh cut grass, baseballs puffing into mitts, the ping from the aluminum bats, the chatter, the chewing gum, and the parents cheering us on.

I remember seeing my Mom or Dad in the stands.  Regardless of a bad loss, an error, or an 0 for 4, they were proud. I liked it when they attended games.

My Dad loved taking us to the field after work.  There would be ten kids in the outfield trying to catch what seemed like mammoth hits.  I swear the ball stayed in the air for hours. Those sure were the good old days.

Now...over thirty five years later...I sit on the beginning of baseball season.  I'm not talking about my beloved Red Sox this time or Little League.  I'm talking about my son Ciaran's T-Ball season.

This weekend brings a father and son to a baseball field 3,000 miles from Boston and Fenway Park. The names and faces will be different, but the fresh cut grass, chatter, pinging from bats, and cheers will sound the same, except this time, it will be my wife and I cheering my son on.

Right now the fields in Boston are covered in snow.  It's as high as five feet in some areas.  Their Opening Day is a few months away, but I can't stop thinking about what a winter they've had this year.  From northern Maine to Rhode Island to Connecticut, the baseball fields will come to life with passionate fans and players later next month.

This is Ciaran's first team sport. As team manager, my priority is for the kids to have fun!

I'm sure the little ones will run to the wrong base, chase butterflies in the outfield, ask for ice cream as they are walking to home plate, put the glove on the wrong hand, ask if its over, lose things, and the entire team will chase the ball at once.

Would you have it any other way?

Go Scrappers!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

A Busy but Fulfilling Week

The UCLA Writing Project reached out and asked me to present in the San Gabriel Valley this past Thursday. I was granted sub release time from the district.
I focused on the following:
* storytelling
* narrative writing
* descriptive writing
* revision strategies
* offering feedback
They were the most amazing participants. They got involved in the workshop from the very beginning. Hats off to them! The professionalism from the teachers was top notch.
This was my first presentation in front of an unfamiliar group and I enjoyed the entire session.
I'm looking forward to more opportunities like this down the road.

I gave the participants some resources to use in their classrooms.  

Please feel free to download the Topic Chart or Show Me Writing pictured below.

I am going to present at a District Common Core Parent Night this coming Thursday. I will show the parents how to help their child with writing strategies at home. I am looking forward to speaking to parents about something I am so passionate about. 

First graders sure are smart!  I had the opportunity to model storytelling and narrative writing in two first grade classrooms on my campus this Friday.  It was a little similar to the San Gabriel lesson. I felt like I kept the students engaged, while their participation made for a super lesson.

Is it me or do first graders notice everything?  Their retelling of my story was impressive.  They knew every event in sequential order. I can't wait to see their completed writing samples. Hats off to their teachers for having them so prepared.

I'm looking forward to meeting up with fellow educational bloggers this Friday night in Anaheim.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Inquiry and Presentations

My class has been inspired by inquiry this year. We use inquiry across all curriculum. It seems like every question leads to another four or five.  I believe inquiry taps into higher level thinking and the students seem eager to learn more.

I asked the students to think of one question of inquiry they would like to explore.  The subject matter could range from any genre or topic.  We discussed some questions as a starting point.

Why do animals migrate?
Why is sand different on various beaches?
Why are ocean currents stronger in some places?
What causes wind patterns?
Why do some animals return to their birthplace?

I started my own path to inquiry. I came up with the following questions:
How are islands formed?
Are there different types of islands?
How does animal and plant life reach certain islands?
Why are some islands uninhabited?

I modeled how to find the information on the chrome books. We check them out once a week for an hour.

Students use the district search engine and I walk the room during the lesson to monitor progress.  Students will find articles, videos, images and other media that relates to their topic of interest.

Additional information will surface. Did you know some islands float?

Students keep track of their inquiry using the template pictured below.  If you like the data collector you can download from my TPT store free here.
They are allowed to note take on other paper as well.

Here is a sample of how my data collector might look.

Students are expected to present their information to the class.  They may do a traditional presentation. This is where the student stands at the front of the class and orally presents their research using index cards, charts, notes, bulleted points, etc.

Students in my class also have the flexibility to present the information anyway they would like. They might choose to make posters, charts or graphs.  Students may dress in character and play the part.  Some might opt to do a Powerpoint or Google presentation.  I showed the class how do put together a Google presentation this week.

The creativity is endless.  I only gave a few suggestions to the class as I didn't want to mention something they were thinking about for their presentation.  I wanted to let them be creative and surprise their classmates.

This project will target several Common Core Standards.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:
Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience with appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details, speaking clearly at an understandable pace.

Comprehension and Collaboration:

Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 3 topics and texts, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.
Research to Build and Present Knowledge:
Conduct short research projects that build knowledge about a topic.

Production and Distribution of Writing:

With guidance and support from adults, produce writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task and purpose. (Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in standards 1-3 above

Key Ideas and Details:

Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers.
Use text features and search tools (e.g., key words, sidebars, hyperlinks) to locate information relevant to a given topic efficiently.
Come to discussions prepared, having read or studied required material; explicitly draw on that preparation and other information known about the topic to explore ideas under discussion.
Speak in complete sentences when appropriate to task and situation in order to provide requested detail or clarification.
Compare and contrast the most important points and key details presented in two texts on the same topic.
Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.

Introduce a topic and group related information together; include illustrations when useful to aiding comprehension.

Develop the topic with facts, definitions, and details.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Guest Post From the Mrs.

Hi all!  It's Christy!  It has been a long time since I have done a guest post on Sean's blog.  A lot has changed since my last post.  I am now a TOSA (teacher on special assignment) for our school district. I feel like that job description warrants a cape; don't you?

I am working as a Language Arts Resource Teacher.  The irony is not lost on me that I am the one in this position when my husband is such an amazing teacher!  Let's just say that I talk to him constantly about the job, use him as a sounding board, and run all my crazy ideas by him.

I have learned so much in my short time in this new position.  My favorite thing to do is plan and brainstorm with my fellow teachers and co-workers.  I thought I would share a few of the gems I have learned.  I am so excited to take this knowledge back to my classroom.  These tips might not be the usual teacher tips that we all seek out; however, I feel that they are truly transformative.
  1. Purpose- As teachers, we often get distracted by all of the cute "stuff" that is out there.  It is so easy to get lost in the time of year, Pinterest, and our co-workers file cabinets that we forget what our real focus should be.  Only two things should drive our purpose in our classroom- our students and our standards.  If we start with our students' needs and the standards we are charged with teaching then our path will become much clearer.  We will be able to wade through all the good ideas out there with much more ease.
  2. Product- What do I want my students to know and be able to do at the end of my unit of study?  I like to have my final product be some sort of writing piece.  Yes, writing!  It does not matter to me if my content area is science, social studies, math, etc.  I like to challenge my students to synthesize their thinking in writing.  
  3. Reflection- Reflecting on your practice as a teacher is crucial!  I am a reflective person by nature and I have come to realize that this process comes more naturally to me than it does to others; however, I feel it is so valuable to student success!  If I want my students to look at their mistakes, misunderstandings, and areas of weakness, I have to be willing to do the same.
  4. Collaboration-  The days of closing the door and doing everything by myself are long gone!  This job is way too hard and far too important to ignore the benefits of consulting my colleagues and learning from multiple sources.
  5. Fun- Placing fun last on the list does not mean that I value it least!  Our goal, as educators, should be to get our students to love learning.  I taught Kindergarten for 12 years for just this reason!  I wanted to be a kindergarten teacher so I could make students' first school experience positive. My recent K-5 experience has taught me that you don't need to be the first school interaction that students have.  You don't even need to have a whole year with them!  Sometimes, just one meaningful and impactful experience is enough.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Effective Conferencing With Young Writers

One of my favorite parts about teaching writing is the conference time with my students.  You can learn so much about a child's thinking, direction, motivation, path, or vision during this crucial time. 

A simple glance over a student’s shoulder, alongside a few inquiring questions, can make for a successful conference. You will start to read the students’ entries quickly and skim the writing. You may meet with students individually or in small groups.  

You may ask the writer/s some overarching questions:
Do you have any questions?
Please explain this...
Where are you going with the next step in your writing?
Compliment positive observations!

I have had one-minute conferences with major success. I scan the writing sample and I give necessary feedback. If a student is struggling with detail, I ask her/him to add a few adjectives. If the writing contains simple words, I ask the students to use more synonyms. I don’t ask the students to change too many things at once because they will return to their desks confused.

During this time, you don’t need to break out a red pen and correct every single mistake. Giving students a post-it note with one word, question, or comment that inspires them to revise, is truly effective.  Try to narrow the focus.

"What are you going to do when you return to your seat?"
"I am going to a write a more interesting hook and a add few more adjectives to my writing."

Remember, writing is a process, and most corrections can be made during editing and revision time. I don’t allow my students to make too many simple spelling, grammar, punctuation, or organization errors when the final copy is due. Try to keep the purpose of the lesson as a focal point.

I know it isn't easy finding the time in the day to meet with students, but I have some suggestions for you.    

Several teachers have asked how I manage to meet with all my students. I always let them know it is not easy, but these are my suggestions:

Once you teach your lesson, give the students a few minutes to get started. Remember to make a game of this. “Class, you wrote for 15 minutes yesterday, let’s go for 17 minutes today.” Believe me, there will be a student who will keep track of time unsolicited. Start walking the room after a few minutes. 

Additional Conference Time Suggestions:
  • Silent reading time (Pull a Group)
  • During Morning Work (Pull a group)
  • When students finish assignments (One on one time)
  • During the actual writing activity (Walk the room)
  • When a transition is going on and a student is clearly ready, pull him or her aside and have a quick conference.
I understand you may not have much free planning time. I noted some possible time-slots above, but you still may find it difficult to make time. This is why I conference in my own classroom throughout the day, whenever there is a spare moment. By the end of the day, I will have an idea what most students are working on as a writer. 

You don’t have to conference with every student every day; you only need to have a conference when you feel it is necessary.

Use the knowledge you gain about your students’ writing to help drive your instruction.  If the class seems to misunderstand a concept, make that your next writing lesson.