Friday, December 23, 2011

More Student Directed Learning

Students are finishing their projects on "Idioms." They were asked to research and define idioms and also provide examples and meanings.

Understanding idioms and other figurative language is important as students read and comprehend more challenging texts.

Students were allowed to choose from several web tools to create their projects. Most chose Go Animate, a site I just showed them that allows you to create an animated movie.

Take a look at some of these stellar final products: cheynise by curran302

Like it? Create your own at It's free and fun! Jada 2 by curran302

Like it? Create your own at It's free and fun!

Stay tuned for more examples!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Learning Update

Lots going on in our Reading Workshop!

Students have turned in their second reading journal writing assignment (or should have turned it in by this afternoon). I'm very excited about challenging the students to write in detail about their thinking and to support their thinking with evidence from the text. These writing assignments are challenging, and I've been pushing kids to produce their best possible work.

We're also knee-deep in our second "student directed learning" project. During their "station time" they've been exploring the concept of idioms. They've been independently researching and will present what they've learned after Exhibition week.

We have also reached the point where we're taking our student version of 20 Kinds of Awesome "live." The kids have been getting their feet wet with blogging and now we're ready to share our work with the world. Our most recent post is about poetry. All students should have finished it today. You can check out your child's work at

We're also working on non-fiction reading and note-taking using a site called Wonderopolis. Kids are using that site to research things that are interesting to them.

AND on top of that, all guided reading books for the three groups must be done by December 19.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Last Week's Work Coming Home

Lots of work from last week will come home tomorrow (Monday). This will include the quiz on non fiction text types and the reading passages we've been working on.

One of the things the students are working at improving is reading different kinds of passages (both non-fiction and fiction) and answering specific questions from the text. We call these "right there" questions because the answers are "right there" in the passage. Learning how to do this is important, and also more challenging than you'd think. I gave them a lot of practice last week and they improved.

One of the other things they are working on is answering open-ended questions. I'm trying to get them to answer in detail--right now many are content with just basic answers. I'm really pushing them and grading their answers in a pretty strict way. We'll be practicing this a lot more throughout the year.

New Student Directed Learning Assignment

Our first student directed learning project wrapped up last week and was a huge success. Students explored non-fiction text types and then created something to demonstrate their learning. They were in (almost) complete control--they picked what they wanted to learn about and how they were going to present it.

The final piece of the puzzle was a "gallery walk" where students showed off their learning to their classmates. I think it worked, because when we took a quiz on Friday about non-fiction text types, the class average was about 80 percent!

We're going to try it again with a new and important topic for readers: Idioms. Students will be exploring idioms an have to do the following:

  1. Clearly explain what idioms are.
  2. Provide several examples
  3. Provide "translations" for each example
  4. Any additional information they discover along the way. (books about idioms, idiom origins a.k.a. where they come from, etc)
It's completely up to them how far they go with this. I want them to explore, discover, and enjoy. I have challenged them to present their learning in a different way than they did with the previous assignment.

They'll be working on this in class with the goal of finishing by Christmas break. Of course, if they want to work on it at home, that's good, too. Especially the research stage.

I will keep you posted as we go!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Book Projects are Complete--Part 3

The final group had a very challenging book to read, The Westing Game. It's a mystery novel that features a cast of about 20 different characters. We studied these characters very closely and then I had the students answer some questions from 4 of the characters' points of view. We used Blabberize to put a unique twist on this! Take a look & listen:

Book Projects are Complete--Part Two

The group reading Number the Stars recently completed a project that turned out really nicely. Their book was set during World War II in Denmark. So we learned a lot about history while reading this book. Students created a "VoiceThread" to share their learning. Take a look:

Be sure to have your child tell you all about this fascinating book and what they learned while doing this project. If you're having trouble figuring out how to navigate through this VoiceThread, just click the play button. Or, you can have them do it for you!

If you're having trouble viewing the project, click here:

I can't wait to get started on the next book!

Book Projects are Complete--Part One

We have wrapped up our first guided reading books (actually we finished them a couple of weeks ago). We've also finished up a project for each of the books. These projects focused on some deeper learning and required the students to really think about what they read and to write about it.

The Walk Two Moons group created a "Google Lit Trip" by creating an interactive map that tells the story of the main character's trip across the country with her grandparents. Understanding this part of the novel was absolutely necessary to make sense of the deep and complicated themes it contains. And without understanding it, they couldn't do this project! Take a look at some of these examples:

View Selena WTM in a larger map
View Cheynise WTM in a larger map
View Larger Map
View Chase WTM in a larger map
View Kaylen WTM in a larger map
View Renard WTM in a larger map
View Suhmer WTM in a larger map

I think these turned out really well. I really challenged the students to be detailed in their summaries of each place the family traveled. Students were also asked to include imaginary postcards that the main character would have sent. To view their notes, just click on any of the placemarks.

I encourage you to have your child explain their map and give a synopsis of Walk Two Moons to you. Have them share what they did and how they did it. I'm quite impressed. Stay tuned for the projects from the other two books.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Finishing Up

All Guided Reading books (Walk Two Moons, Westing Game, Number the Stars) should be COMPLETED by Tuesday, October 25!!!

We will work on book projects the week of the 25th and will start new books November 1!

Students have done a great job on their books so far.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

On the Horizon: Book Conclusions!

I know it's unbelievable, but we're approaching the conclusion of our first guided reading books. All 3 novels should be finished by the end of next week. This is great for two reasons:

1. Finishing books means you get a new one--in our case a more challenging one! That way we can build upon all we learned reading this one.

2. When I finish books with groups, I like to do a fun little project. Stay tuned for info on these. I can tell you they involve an interactive map, photos from World War II-era Denmark, and talking photos. Fun projects, in case you didn't know, is the famous "Curran Way!"

Stay tuned for details!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Weekend Reading Assignments

Lots of reading to do this weekend!

Walk Two Moons: read chapters 15-22

The Westing Game: read chapters 11-13

Number the Stars: read chapters 11-13

Not too much, not too little...just the right amount, I think. Parents, here's your homework...ask your child to tell you about their book. They're really enjoying them a lot. I think they'll have a lot to say.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Students Own the Learning

Photo Source:

This is one of my biggest goals for this year. I want students to be in charge of their learning. This is a philosophy known in education circles as "student directed learning."

The theory is that if the students direct their own learning process, they they "own it." That is, they are more invested in it, more motivated to do great job, and it's more likely that the learning will be more meaningful to them.

Of course, you can't give them total control. I have lots of things that I have to teach them. There are fifth grade standards, and it's important that they learn them. However, if I teach them in a more "student directed" manner, I think it will be more of a significant learning experience.

Here's an example of our first student-directed learning activity...learning about different types of non-fiction texts (memoir, atlas, almanac, etc.).

Here are the steps we're trying:

  1. Students choose 5 types of non-fiction they want to learn about.
  2. They complete the research on their own during stations time...they have to learn what they are, what you can learn from them, and any other info they feel is important.
  3. Finally, they have to choose a way to demonstrate that they've learned what they're supposed to (video, podcast, digital poster, wiki page, etc.)
We're "baby-stepping" our way into student directed learning, but I already like what I see. Students are engaged, working hard, and focused. They're in charge. They're in control. They're learning.

I'll keep you posted as we surge forward into this new style of learning. I'm excited to see what it turns into. Stay tuned!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Active Learning With Stations

We're trying something new in the upper grades at UPA Elementary this year...literacy stations.

Stations make the learning that goes on in the Reading Workshop much more engaging and active. It also means is that there is very little "down time" during reading time. They're pretty much constantly working.

Students rotate each day through a different set of three stations. The stations last week and this week include:

  • Independent Reading
  • Guided Reading
  • Writing About Reading using
  • Reading Skills practice (this past week we practiced summarizing)
  • Listening Station (listening to an audiobook for a special project)
  • Non-Fiction Reading Station
  • Student Directed Learning
These will change periodically as I swap stations in and out. Soon to come will be an activity station, where they work on an activity related to their guided reading book, a fluency station, where they record themselves reading out loud, and a book review station. And also, as we get the hang of things, I'll be integrating more technology and more higher level, critical thinking activities.

I will keep you posted as we move along. Feel free to work the question "What are you doing during reading stations?" into your dinnertime conversations.

Our Books

I'm running 3 reading groups this time around. We're reading three great books: Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech, The Westing Game by Ellen Rankin, and Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. (See the cute little bookshelf in the blog sidebar --->  )

I'll be meeting with students every day to guide them through these books, providing comprehension strategies and reading tips along the way.

Since they are fifth graders, and all of them are very accomplished readers, I will be assigning longer passages for them to read than they may have been used to in fourth grade. It's REALLY important that they keep up with this reading so that they don't fall behind the rest of the group.

Sometimes, they'll have to bring their books home to complete their reading assignments. This will definitely be true during weekends. They'll almost always have a few chapters to read on Saturdays and Sundays.

So please look for these books to be coming home tonight!

Sunday, September 25, 2011


Greetings! I'm proud and excited to introduce my newest blog, "18 Kinds of Awesome," designed especially for my reading workshop students and their families.

Here I will be posting information about assignments, sharing student work and more.

Please sign up for a subscription in the sidebar so that you can keep up with all that we'll be doing this year.

It's definitely going to be 18 kinds of awesome! (If not more.)