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The Book Whisperer: Chapter 6

Cutting the Teacher Strings

We're coming near the end of my 7 week book study with on "The Book Whisperer" by Donalyn Miller.  Myself and others have been providing our thoughts on each chapter, week after week.  Today, we're looking at the second to last chapter "Cutting the Teacher Strings".
You can read my previous posts here:

And, as always, links to the posts of others for Chapter 6 can be found at the bottom of this one.

This may be the most lengthy chapter, but it also was the most thought provoking chapter.  As I read Chapter 6 I really critically looked at my teaching practices and assessed why I do what I do.  I must confess I am guilty of what Donalyn describes - at times, I think I have taught a certain way simply because that's how others have done it.  As I progress through my teaching career I feel this happening less and less as I come into my own.  It really is so important to think about why we are bringing each and every lesson into our classrooms!

This chapter starts out looking at "tried and true" language arts standbys.  The first item looked at it the whole class novel study.  I felt some assurance reading this part.  Donalyn argues that whole class novel studies take too long, don't meet the needs of all readers, ignore student interest and devalue prior reading experience.  I agree 100% with each of these points!

I've always started the year with guided reading and worked to more independent reading around Spring Break.  As the year begins we work on the items I'll be looking for: connecting, questioning, inferencing, book talks, response journals.  We do this through guided reading small group sessions and through modeling with a whole class read aloud.  When spring rolls around we move into literature circles, fairly closely to what Faye Brownlie describes in her book: Grand Conversations, Thoughtful Responses.  (This is actually pretty similar to what Miller describes on pages 128-129.)

What I like about Brownlie's Lit. Circles is that the students do get choice, but the choice is limited.  I usually pick 6 books, present each one, and have the students pick their top 3.  From there, I put them into groups and can usually put them in the book that best fits their reading level with the bonus that they chose it!  Being that I teach grade 4, I think that the students do need the structure of a system like this, with classmates they can work with on the same topic.  Miller is writing about her experience with grade 6 students, and I think that for them, it's fine to have everyone reading different material.  In grade 4, I'm just easing and transitioning them into that model.  Maybe Miller would disagree with me, I don't know.

I've recently learned more about independent reading the Smart Learning way.  I'm really excited about adding more of this to my classroom.  The gist (as I could easily write several posts on this alone and hope to in the future) is that students are talking to each other more during quiet reading time.  (Talking and quiet, I know.  That's why it's independent reading.  Not quiet reading.)  I don't mean the whole time.  At the beginning and at the end.  Students are forced to put their minds on text by explaining what they already know in their book, answering questions about it and thinking about personal goals for their reading.  After reading, they will reflect on their goals.  There's much more to it than this, but these are the elements I hope to start in my classroom this week!

So, back to the book.....

Donalyn warns of standardized testing and comprehension tests after reading books.  I'm really fortunate that in B.C. we don't have standardized testing as many describe in the United States.  In grade 4, we do have the FSA (Foundational Skills Assessment), which tests literacy and numeracy skills, but it's not the same.  My heart goes out to those teachers who must teach to a test and then be rated on their student's achievement.   I feel that I can meet my prescribed learning outcomes in a fairly flexible way, and that by encouraging students to read more often and from a variety of genres I have no problems doing that.  This again is why I am so excited about her book challenge.

Other items cautioned against are book reports and book talks.  One time (and one time only) did I have my students complete a book report.  The process was so painstakingly long!  The quality I wanted just wasn't there, and many of them really were not motivated.  The task was too large and drawn out.  And, it sucked to mark.  I won't be doing another, that's for sure.  I've seen book reports on Pinterest done up on science fair boards, and although that intrigues me, I think it would be a similar drawn our process when time could have been better spent else where.

As for book talks, I haven't done them or seen them done in the way that Donalyn writes about.  That too seems really long and drawn out.  I do the "Say Something" strategy from Faye Brownlie's book I mentioned above.  I really like it!  It's quick, fast moving, and can be done in smaller groups.  Now, I do this with students during guided reading or literature circles who are all reading the same book, so there isn't any persuasion to get others' to read the book also.  Which is why I am interested in the book commercials Donalyn writes about on page 137.  It sounds really fun and like something that can be done at any time you have a few spare moments.  This is something I will try to add into my classroom for sure.

Other practices warned against include: round robin and popcorn reading, reading incentive programs, and reading logs.  I don't do any of these in my classroom, and this post is getting quite long, so I'm just going to leave it at that.

Chapter 6 sparked your interest?  Click the links below to read some more posts!

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The Book Whisperer: Chapter 5

Walking the Walk

Welcome to week five of a seven week book study!  Some blogging friends and myself are sharing our thoughts each Monday until mid-November about the book "The Book Whisperer" by Donalyn Miller.   You can get to the other ladies posts at the end of this one.

You can read my previous posts here:
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4

In Chapter 5, Donalyn stresses the importance of reading frequently and talking about reading with your students.  She says that students give her credibility because they know she's talking about her passion, not just something they need to get done for marks.  It's our job as teachers to be reading role models for our students, so we'd better be reading ourselves.

Sadly, according to a study she shares, many teachers aren't reading much.  On average 4 books a year!  How can we ask our students to read 40 (as Donalyn does, or 30 in my case)  books a year if we are only reading 4?  Don't be a hypocrite!  I know our lives as teachers are quite busy, and I'm sure you already know that too.  So, honestly, I can see why teachers are only reading 4 books a year.  I'm not sure exactly how many I read myself.... I can tell you it isn't 30 or 40 though.

Miller doesn't leave you hanging, feeling bad about your hypocritical self!  She shares her tips on how to improve as a reader (for teachers, not students!) to be able to better serve as a reading role model for your class.

When I look at this list, it makes me feel better.  It makes the task sound manageable.   

I told you last week that I was reading the first book in the Fablehaven series.  Well, I'm proud to say it is written on my book challenge sheet and I'm working on book two!

My students were really thrilled when they learned that I was also doing the book challenge.  And I will be honest, some of them are beating me!

How do you serve as a reading role model for your students?
I'd love to know about it in the comments!

Want to read some more?  Click the links to see more posts on Chapter 5!

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A Halloween Freebie and Giveaway


I love Halloween!  It's such a fun day at school.  I really try to enjoy the days where we get to take a break, and just be together and enjoy each other.  Halloween is one of those days.  We are super lucky that Halloween is on a Friday this year!
No matter what school I am at in our district, Halloween is usually the same, routine-wise.  Costumes in the afternoon and a costume parade in the gym at 1:00.  It's awesome to see all the kids dressed up.  Typically there are several teachers dressed up too.  I am one of those teachers!  In the past, I've dressed up as a nurse, as Mary Poppins, and Olive Oyl.  I am doing a partner costume with a colleague this year - but I'm not willing to reveal what it is just yet!!
After the costume parade, we come back to class for a little party.  Parents usually provide snacks, which I really appreciate.  I try to request healthy snacks as much as possible.  Click here to see some excellent healthy Halloween snacks.
No matter the holiday, I like to give a little gift to my class. 
Here's what my students are getting this year:

A pencil, pencil topper eraser, plastic teeth and two eyeball chocolates.  They're all bagged up and ready to go.  I'm feeling very efficient!

This year, we're going to integrate a little math into Halloween. I'm going to ask my students to bring their Halloween candy to school on Monday.  If you didn't want to do this, you could have students graph any candy given out at school.  Or, you could poll your students on their favourite type of Halloween candy and just graph that.


But wait!  There's more!

Enter the Rafflecopter Giveaway below to win some TpT money!  We're giving away one $25 Gift Certificate and four $10 Gift Certificates.  The more stores you follow, the more entries you get.  Good luck!

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How do you celebrate Halloween in your classroom?   

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Building Your Classroom Community

We all know that building a strong classroom community is key.  I tend to do a blog post around this every September-ish.  I wanted to put these all together in one big post and add in some details that are relevant to this year.

1. Use Social Responsibility Themed Picture Books

Last year, Crystal and I came up with a series of social responsibility themed books to start the year off with.  I blogged about those books briefly, here.  This year, I kept the lessons the same, but added in one more detail.  You may know, that I am a huge fan of the Smart Learning process.  They've got some amazing goals strips which help students keep track of their learning intentions, whether it be looking for the big idea, asking questions, making connections.... I added a photocopied version of strip to their worksheet.

For these first few lessons, I guided them through by giving them the goals I wanted them to focus on.  Later in the year they will pick their own goals.  Students highlighted the goals on their paper to keep them in mind as we read.

It seems a bit like I'm going off topic here.  I promise, I'm heading back to classroom community.

For each of these lessons, I've asked them to highlight goals that are relevant to ensuring they get the social responsibility message.  For example, one book I have them read is Do Unto Otters.


This book is so much fun!  The kids like all the little side bits.  I try my best to read them in different voices.

For this book, I had them highlight "feelings" and "message/theme".

At the end of the story, we talked about these two pieces and how they related to the story.

Here's a picture of the anchor chart I created with my students after reading.

2. Create a Class Agreement

I first wrote about my class agreement in 2012, in this post.  I wrote about it again last year here.  

We brainstorm what we what our classroom to look like, sound like and feel like.  I did that on the Smart Board, but retyped my scrawly writing for the next day.  It's virtually impossible for me to write neatly on that board.

We then look at the items, and try to combine them into 3 big ideas.  Each colour represents pieces my class thought went together.

Next, each colour has to become a sentence.  Usually the 3 sentences are pretty similar from year to year.  They tend to have to do with being responsible, respectful and safe.  If you click on the links I referenced above, you'll see my class agreements from past years, while different, have a very similar message.

On the next day, I have those sentences written up on chart paper.  We review it one last time.  If the class feels they can commit to this for the entire year, and no revisions need to be made, we each sign it.

This then hangs in the room all year long.  Any time there is an incident, I can refer to the class agreement.  I ask students to reference the piece they weren't following.  It works great for accountability!

3. Use a Positive Notes System

I actually introduce Positive Notes before we do our class agreement.  I talk a little bit about Positive Notes in this post here. I always introduce these after reading "Have You Filled a Bucket Today".  This is one of the social responsibility books I mentioned above.


This book is quite popular, and they have a great website.  Some of the Positive Notes I use are downloaded under the free resources tab on their site.

If you are unfamiliar with the story, the premise that everyone carries around an invisible bucket.  You can fill it by doing kind things, and you can take from it being doing mean things.  After we read the story, we created this bucket filler/dipper anchor chart:

The next day, I like to get the ball rolling by giving everyone a bucket.  This starts the process for them to give to others.

I hope this helped give you some new ideas for building a positive classroom community.  How do you do this in your classroom?  I'd love to hear about it in the comments! 

If you're needing some other ideas to start the year, my First Weeks Pinterest board will help you out!

Pin this post so you can reference it again later! 

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The Book Whisperer: Chapter 4

Reading Freedom

We are half way through my book study.  Some blogging friends and myself are sharing our thoughts each Monday until mid-November about the book "The Book Whisperer" by Donalyn Miller.   You can get to the other ladies posts at the end of this one.  You might even see a few freebies along the way!

You can read my previous posts here:
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3

Chapter 4 is so full of information!  I figured I would share the two aspects that made me really thing about my teaching style. 

1. Choosing Books 

Donalyn describes her first few weeks of school and how she build the love of reading in her classroom and gets her students to trust that her recommendations come from a reader's perspective, not that of a teacher.  She writes about a class discussion on how to choose books.  Her students give her answers like you would expect: "I look at the cover" or "I read the back".  She has to help them with questions like, "Who has chosen a book because it is short?  Who has chosen a book to read by checking how long it is?"  Before they will be honest with her, she has to be honest with them.  I know I've selected a book before because it was short.  Who hasn't?  And why isn't that okay to share with my students?  Really, it is.  Thanks, Donalyn for making me realize that!

2. Reading Requirement

I was really hesitant when I heard that Donalyn requires her students read 40 books in the year.  I think a realistic goal for my grade 4s would be 20.  Her students are only 2 years older and need to read twice as many books??  I was really happy when I got to page 76 and she provided her justification.  She's right - if you have high expectations, your students will rise to meet them.  But again, I think 40 is just too many for grade 4.  So, I'm going with 30.  If it's too easy, then awesome!  I will up it to 40.  If it's too difficult for some (which I know there will be some that this will be a big challenge for) we will take Donalyn's approach here too: she celebrates with the students who didn't meet the goal by having them compare how many books they read this year compared to last year.  Celebrating this achievement is so motivating and uplifting.  

I think it's important to note that I would NEVER create some sort of challenge board display.  You know, with the rockets launching toward the moon type thing.  Who ever is in the back with that rocket without enough jet fuel is just going to feel terrible about themselves, and really, we don't need that.  Celebrate successes, people.
There are genre requirements to the 40 book challenge.  The thinking here is that if you don't require students to read a variety of books - they won't.  I agree, I have had a student in the past read nothing but the "Captain Underpants" and "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" series over and over again.  I've read them both.  I've enjoyed them both.  But, there's really only so much there.  Here are the requirements I will give to my students (for 30 books, not 40):

Poetry Anthologies: 1
Traditional Literature: 2 
Realistic Fiction: 4
Historical Fiction: 2
Graphic Novel: 1
Fantasy: 2
Science Fiction: 1
Mystery: 1
Informational: 3
Biography/Autobiography/Memoir: 1
Adventure: 3
Chapter Book Choice: 9

I really am getting more excited about the reading requirements, even as I type this.  The very first reading expectation in the B.C. curriculum for every grade is "read and demonstrate an understanding of a variety of literary, graphic, and informational texts, using a range of strategies to construct meaning".  So really, this book requirement is perfect - and it adds in student choice, which we know is oh, so important.  

I did change my requirements from Donalyn's, by lowering some numbers to match my 30 book goal, but also by adding in two categories: graphic novel and adventure.  I'm sure that these could really fit into other categories, but I want to make sure students view books of these categories too.  I did have a tough time deciding on numbers, and I'll admit, these may reflect my choices.  Okay, they do.  I'm not a fantasy or science fiction fan.  I don't really like historical fiction.  I did keep the chapter book choice the same as Donalyn presents: 9 books.  That way, students can find their book niche and stick with it if that's what they'd prefer to do.  Donalyn says books over 350 pages count as two books, which I like as it prevents students from selecting books only because they are short.

I introduced this to my class this past week.  They are really excited about it!  I told them that if they were currently working on a novel it would count toward the challenge when they had finished.  I have two students with a book checked off already! I'm hoping some read over this 3 day weekend and will be able to start of their challenges as well.

I'm currently reading "Fablehaven" by Brandon Mull.  This book came to me by recommendation from a student.  I've started doing a Book Frenzy every Monday.  During this time students can recommend books to one another and book shop.  I was really hesitant to say I'd read the book because it was out of my genre.  But then, I realized that would be totally hypocritical! So, I'm reading "Fablehaven".  And I have to tell you, I love it.  I can not wait until Book Frenzy to tell my student how much I am loving his recommendation!

How do you give your students reading freedom? 
What are some of your favourite reading lessons to start out the year?
I'd love to hear about it in the comments!

Read more about Chapter 4!

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Dream Big Bulletin Board: Part 2

Today I'm showing off the finished version of my back to school bulletin board.  I first blogged about the preparation stages a few weeks ago.  You can read about that by clicking here.

Just a reminder, here is my inspiration for the board.

Making the giant book ahead of time was really genius.  When we got into school, it was super quick to get the board all put together.

We used two white plastic table cloths from the dollar store to create clouds.  Simply staple the bottom and fold up.  That way, you don't see the staples on the bottom edge.  Shape and staple the top and stuff all the extra inside for volume.

The cover of the giant book was stapled on with a heavy duty staple gun.  We then hot glued the pages of the book to the cover.

The green you see in the picture above is the start of a vine.  It's just twisted tissue paper.  We twisted and stapled all the way up to the ceiling.  Curled up pipe cleaners and leaves cut from lime tissue paper were also stapled on.

The title seemed to not have enough weight on its own.  To solve that, we placed each letter on top of a paper plate.  I love that technique!  It's really eye catching.

And that's it!  Board complete!

Are you interested in even more bulletin board ideas? Do you want to save time by finding them all in one place? Follow the image or button below to grab your copy of my free bulletin board inspiration guide. 

Take me to the guide!

Inspired by this post? Save it to Pinterest using the image below.


Helping to inspire,
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The Book Whisperer: Chapter 3

There's a Time and a Place

Welcome to week three of a seven week book study!  Some blogging friends and myself are sharing our thoughts each Monday until mid-November about "The Book Whisperer" by Donalyn Miller.   You can get to the other ladies posts at the end of this one.  You might even see a few freebies along the way!

You can read my chapter 1 post by clicking here and chapter two here.

Chapter 3 focuses on independent reading: when and where.  Like myself, Miller has set aside time every day for her students to independently read.  However, she has also come up with several other times to sneak reading in!

She argues that every moment of the day in the classroom should be filled with learning.  Early finisher jobs such as mazes and colouring sheets, and helping the teacher with jobs around the room are distracting and simply busy work.  I had to really think about this one, to be honest.  Sometimes I just need help.  Maybe that's greedy of me.  Maybe I'm stealing precious moments of learning time from my students.  I have word searches and Suduko available in a free time binder.  I'll be honest, there are some colouring sheets in there.  I allow my students to Zentangle.  These are valuable for improving visual spatial growth, relaxation, critical thinking.... I guess if I was strictly a language arts teacher, teaching blocks to different groups of students all day I would agree with her more.  For me, quietly reading is one option of many for free time and my students are trained to not be distracting.  I would also argue that an activity like colouring can be really calming and perhaps needed for some students to self-regulate throughout the day.  I do, however, really love her suggestion to read while waiting to get your class pictures taken.  That's genius!

Click below to see the other ladies' posts for Chapter 3!

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Calm, Alert and Learning: Chapter 1

Have you read the book "Calm, Alert and Learning" by Stuart Shanker yet?  I'm doing a book study with my colleagues.  Today I'm talking about Chapter 1 which is all about the biological domain.  If you're interested, I blogged about the introduction here.

The biological domain refers to energy levels in the nervous system.  Children who are optimally regulated in this domain are able to maintain a sufficient amount of energy throughout the day, follow healthy daily routines, recoup after a difficult experience and have good physical health.  What's interesting is that Shanker states children with problems in the biological domain usually have problems in another domain as well.

He starts with a description of the sympathetic nervous system and parasympathetic nervous system.  I won't go into the biology here, but his purpose was for us to understand the need to up-regulate (hypoactive) or down-regulate (hyperactive) from a certain state to become optimally regulated.

I thought this quote served as a good reminder that just like in anything else, children need practice before we can expect them to become successful at a skill.  Talking about the way our body feels when hyper or hypo regulated, and the strategies we can use to change that, are necessary.

Another quote I connected with.  Sometimes I feel like such a nagging bag to kids, like I'm on them every second. This makes me feel a little better, like my nagging is necessary.  I'm always 99% of the time polite about it!  It's also true that I need to set an example by being optimally regulated myself.  I try my best to clearly express why I am annoyed, upset, or distracted by something and the strategies I am using to regulate.  I feel it's important that kids know it's impossible to be optimally regulated all the time, even as adults.

This brings up the "what's fair isn't always equal" philosophy.  Some people need different ways to regulate, and that's okay too.

I've used this self-regulation survey in the past.  It's inspired by a colleague, Nancy Maxfield.  I co-taught with her my first year, she's lovely!


This is great for getting kids to think about what they need in the classroom.  At first, I can help them and over time (hopefully!) they can begin to internalize and self-regulate.

How can we help students self-regulate the biological domain?  Here are some of Shanker's suggestions:

It's always nice to see that you are doing some of the things experts are suggesting.  My room is clutter free and I've got nice, big windows for natural light.  I put a lot of thought into my seating arrangements, especially for certain individuals.  My classroom schedule is quite predictable, with the same items happening at the start of day, right after recess and right after lunch day after day.  

There are, of course, some things to work on.  I have collected up a few fidgets, but would really like to have some more options.  The one thing I would, love, love, LOVE is if we could change our bell from a buzzer to a nice soft chime.  Wouldn't that be lovely?  At my last school the bell was so loud and so long, it was painful. 

Another option mentioned is the "How Does Your Engine Run?" chart from the Alert Program.  I first heard of this two years ago when I heard Colleen Politano speak.  She's another expert in self-regulation and a lovely person!  I tried this with my class that year, and it didn't work for us.  It was my fault, really.  I needed to remind them to self-assess at the start of each part of the day, and I just didn't remember.  This is something I am going to try again, though slightly different this year.

My school also follows the Zones of Regulations program.  In that program, you are assessing your emotional state and relating it to 4 colours: blue, green, red, or yellow.  Green is the optimal state for learning. I modified the "How Does Your Engine Run?" idea to suit the Zones model.  Here is what it looks like:

Not the best shot, but I wasn't thinking about sharing it when I took the picture.  Sorry! 

The idea is to keep this on their desk, with a paper clip on the top.  They can slide the paperclip to their current Zone.  Crystal and I were debating how best to do this, and we worried that having a large on on the board would be too public and some might be tempted to lie, because they didn't want to publicly admit that they were in a zone other than green.  This way is more personal, but teachers still have viewing access.

That's all for Chapter 1, folks!

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