More learning

Last week I spent the week in math training – second grade teachers are supposed to be experts in teaching everything! I picked up some of information about our new learning progressions, assessments for individualizing goals for students, and problem solving.

I was most excited about the problem solving without numbers they showed us. In the past we were told to cover the numbers of the problem and have discussion about solving the problem. It was OK but my students really just waited for the numbers to appear and did what they always do – add or subtract (sometimes appropriately). Even after discussion with partners and the class, some students didn’t correctly solve the problem. And a two step problem? Forget about it!

The method shown this week was different. They covered everything but the question at the end of the problem. Discussion starts with, “What do you notice? What do you wonder?” Then reveal parts of the information, a little bit at a time. I am curious to try this with my class. I wonder if this will change the way they approach a problem. It may really help them understand how to write their own problems. I notice that many students write a word problem with the data but don’t ask a question at the end. I hope this will change their thinking,

The second method was what Graham Fletcher calls 3-Act Lessons. Students watch a video and then discuss, “What do you notice? What do you wonder?” Teacher gives question to solve – or guides students to question from their wonderings – and then gives students information to solve the problem if they ask for it. They determine what information is needed. Finally, they watch a solution video. There are some videos to use on Graham’s site and some links to other sites with more 3-Act Lesson videos. This will be fun to use in class. I think students will be very motivated.

As I click on links to different blogs from Graham Fletcher’s page, I go down the rabbit hole of ideas and things to try. Of course I ended up on Marilyn Burns math blog site. All roads lead to Marilyn. Her work is amazing and I don’t know why I haven’t looked for her blog before. Her math menus ideas are going to be very helpful in our work this year on personalizing the learning.

What I’m Learning

I’ve finished reading Wonderous Words by Katie Wood Ray. There are a lot of ideas to hold. I want to explore more about teaching my students the ‘office work’ of writers. We spend a lot of time trying to come up with topics to write about in second grade. I definitely need to rethink this around what Katie says – teach them reasons to write, not topics to write about.

Good Reasons to Write (Wonderous Words pg 95):

1. Passion or intrigue for a topic or an idea

2. Audience or an occasion

3. Purpose to fulfill (to get something done or have a voice in a matter)

4. Pull of a genre

How does this idea fit into a writing curriculum that says to teach ‘small moments’ for five weeks, then …? Can I get my students to find passion or purpose when the curriculum is so formatted?

I think technology may hold a key for second graders – blogging, responding online, creating movies may inspire them. The hardest part for this age is getting through the typing! But they do want to do it all. This all comes in addition to the expected curriculum and I feel guilty when it takes a lot of time away from what they are ‘supposed’ to do. This “green belt” writing Ralph Fletcher speaks of in Joy Write does encourage writing – they just don’t know they are writing!

I also need to keep remembering what Katie says about the prewriting stage in the writing process. It is an important step that we seem to skip over when we think of writing process as a linear process. It’s why second graders stare at a blank paper and have nothing to write about. I will definitely reread some of this section and the sample student conferences when I start my year.

New Books

I don’t know any words that bring me more joy than the title of this post. My husband just shakes his head when the Amazon boxes arrive, having given up long ago trying to understand my need for new books. I have been reading and amassing some new books for my classroom this summer and have found three series of nonfiction books that I am very excited to add to my classroom library.

All three of these series are readable for second graders (especially by the mid to late part of the school year when these topics are part of our curriculum). They are high interest books with great photographs. They include nonfiction text features such as table of contents, index, glossary, headings that are not always present in easier to read nonfiction titles. Great for reading lessons on using nonfiction features. AND they will be mentor texts for our writing unit on Writing to Teach – Nonfiction.

The first series is by Jennifer S. Larson – Exploring Economics.  The title I have is Do I Need It? Or Do I Want It? Making Budget Choices. The series includes other titles about goods and services, consumers and producers, how banks work., and money. These are wonderful for financial literacy.

The next series is by Lisa J. Amstutz about animal adaptations. This series explores different habitats and explains how animals can live in these places – Polar Animal Adaptations, Desert Animal Adaptions, Ocean Animal Adaptations, and Rain Forest Animal Adaptations. The photographs are big and beautiful and the chart at the end of the book helps students remember and categorize the types of adaptations discussed.

One of the last topics we covered in science is food chains. I was surprised at how many gaps students had in the idea of what animals eat and where they live. The series by Rebecca Pettiford about food chains in different habitats will help my students with this topic. I bought Who Eats What? Prairies Food Chains, but there is also a book for arctic, desert, ocean rain forest and wetland food chains. I think my boys will love some of the more graphic pictures of animals being eaten – but they are not too gross for sensitive souls. The page with the decomposing beetles covering an animal does make me squirm a little.

Summer Reading

I am currently reading  Katie Wood Ray’s Wonderous Words. Yeah – I know – a little slow to get to it. It was on my list, you know.


I’m actually glad to discover it now. I have struggled through some of the topics she discusses and this gives me fresh ideas to try. I’m only about 1/3 of the way through the book, but am so excited to try Chapter 4’s choral reading experience. I am not sure how second graders will do early in the year choosing parts of a text that are most ‘striking’. I think it will be a grand adventure to perform mentor texts as choral reading poems. I know if we do this consistently throughout the year, the choices will get better. This will be a great way to make students more aware of writer’s craft.

I have to say that I was never taught about writer’s craft in school. I’m an avid reader but tend to read to find out what happens rather than live in the craft of the writing. My teaching team discusses this topic during the year, but I’m not sure any of us have had enough training to do a great job teaching our students. Wonderous Words is giving me tools, talking points, things to share with my team, too.

For my fun reading, I just finished Beartown and  a novella And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer both by Fredrik Backman. I read three of his works last summer – A Man Called Ove, My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry, and Britt-Marie Was Here. Definitely need to slow down and dig into the craft of this writer! Totally swept up in his stories. His novella And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer was an amazing love letter. I read it in less than an hour sitting in the jury room waiting to be called for a jury “voir dire”. Did get questioned but – whew – not selected.

Stepping In

This summer I’m reflecting on teaching as I relax and prepare for a new year. I’m stepping into the blogging world without a clue as to what I think I can accomplish. My hope is to collect thoughts and share ideas. I am looking for a broader community in an often isolated job – my island in a sea of children, grades, tasks.