Sunday, August 30, 2015

Homeschool: Common Core and More!

This past week marked all three of my boys' return to school! Now, the oldest is a junior in college, the middle son started 4th grade at our local elementary school, and my youngest is in 3rd grade and is homeschooled.  Some homeschoolers view the Common Core State Standards as a "bad word" and avoid anything to do with it at all costs. But for me, I see the beauty of homeschool as allowing me to{finally!} teach in a way that I know is best for my little learner. Perhaps there is just too much public school teacher in me, but I know that part of my responsibility to my son is to make sure that he receives a well-rounded education. That includes being prepared for standardized tests (he's required to take one this year), for high school and beyond, and being prepared just in case he returns to public school. There are parts of the CCSS that I know are important and follow best practices, while there are other methods, content, and teaching strategies that I know work and are a good fit for my 3rd grader. Plus, I encourage him to take the lead, communicate with me, and help to plan units of interest. {that's why we started with science this week!}

See this, that appears to be a mess?  This is what the homeschool table looked like just 30 minutes into our day on Monday! A highlight of the week for my son was putting the finishing touches on his North Carolina lapbook.  Earlier in the summer he had researched and took notes on the geography, animal and plant life, and interesting facts about this great state.  {That hits CCSS Reading Informational text and Range of Writing!}

We went on vacation to Emerald Isle, N.C., and he had a lot of photos to sort through to use in the lapbook.  I had some pages and elements made for the lapbook, but he totally designed it himself and had to make decisions on what to include as well as creating the layout of the book.

I made the cut!  This is me with 2 of my boys!

In Math, we are spending a lot of time refining addition and subtraction fact fluency, working on place value, and beginning multiplication.  The latter was something my son really wanted to work on even though it wasn't in the curriculum until a little later in the year  That is another perk of homeschooling: I can move and change our "sequence" part of the curriculum so that it is more student-led and interest-led.  Anyway, what I want to share with you is a fun game we played using a deck of cards and an eraser.  This is great for partners to play to work on subtraction facts. Player takes two cards from the deck and makes a subtraction sentence (being sure to place the larger number first).  If player can solve the sentence correctly, he/she keeps the cards.  Player with the most cards wins!

Writing is a major focus for us this year, as it is an area in which my son needs to grow. He keeps a journal that is used at the start of the day after devotions.  It is used as a brain warm-up and to get his writing muscles nice and strong!

He also keeps a Reader's Notebook that houses an interactive notebook (we use and LOVE Nicole Shelby's Reading Interactive Notebook resource.)   We worked on asking questions during reading and will apply this knowledge to the reading of Freckle Juice by Judy Blume this week! The notebook is also where he takes notes and responds in writing to his reading.

In writing, he is working on sentence structure and on writing complete sentences in grammar.  This was a narrative writing I had him do to his assess his writing skills at the beginning of the year so that I had a baseline from which to start.

This summer my son became interested in using chalk pastels and wanted to continue using this medium.  He followed a tutorial I found on Pinterest to make this tornado drawing.  This week he will be writing about his drawing!

And yes, there is more!  In science we read about the ocean from our textbook since we just returned from the beach a few weeks ago.  My son is a kinesthetic learner and loves science experiments. In the pics below are highlights from conducting an experiment to learn why the ocean is salty.

During and after the reading in the textbook, he completed this main idea and details page.  You can download a set of these organizers for fiction and nonfiction for FREE here.  I wanted to work on this skill set because it was a weak area for him last year.

And that is just a peek into our jam-packed first week back to a "normal"schedule.  In the summer, we do school, but it is on a more relaxed schedule and we focus on reading, writing, math, and areas of interest.  We are off to a strong start and I'm looking forward to starting our spelling curriculum and to reading Freckle Juice this week!

Have you started back to school?  Whether you are a teacher in a classroom or a homeschool mom, share what you are excited to be teaching and learning this week!

Have a Blessed Week!

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Why I Won't Send My Child to Public School

"Why don't you send Christopher to school?"  "Why are you homeschooling him?  It's best that he be in school."

Yes, these are questions that I have heard many times.  Too many times.  And if you homeschool, chances are you have heard them too!

If you have followed my blog for awhile, you may or may not know that I first started homeschooling my son back in January of 2014 when he was in first grade.  He had some wonderful teachers at school when he was in preschool and in the primary grades.  He also has Selective Mutism.  That muddies the water just a little.  More on this later...

And before I go any further, I feel it is important to make the disclaimer that I taught in the public schools for 14 years, I taught in private schools for 7 years, and at some point, all three of my boys have been in public and private schools. My middle son is in public school and is thriving.  My oldest attended a private high school where he did exceptionally well.  I am a public school teacher supporter; I am a supporter of teachers (public, private, and homeschool).  

My response to the above questions that I am asked frequently is, "It's complicated".  And indeed it is, as there were many factors that went into this decision.  But, in the long run, it's what is best for my child at this time, this season of his life.  And, I am blessed that I am now retired from teaching and have the time, passion, and health to homeschool him.

So, why do I not send my child to public school if I am such a big supporter?  Do I not put "my money where my mouth is?"  Here's why:

  • My son, at the tender age of 8, has attended both private and public schools.  He was diagnosed with Selective Mutism when he was three years old.  He has never talked aloud to his teachers or friends at school.  Not even on the playground.  He hates school.  Yes hate is a strong word, but it is how he feels about school.  From the time he was in preschool, he was a nervous wreck before school and would throw tantrums after school at home.  Sometimes these would last for hours. I am aware that effective treatment for S.M. includes desensitization.  A big, fancy word for exposure therapy.  In any case, I am aware that he shouldn't learn to avoid his fears, but right now this child is at risk for transposing his negative feelings for school onto learning.  He isn't being as successful as he could at school on social, emotional, and academic levels.

  • And the last thing that I want is for my child to hate learning. In order to try and keep the little flame that he does have alive, I feel that at-home learning is best for him. Best for him right now.  Because right now, even though he had wonderful report cards, this child detests school and associates learning with such negative, fearful emotions.

  • At school- at any school- he is compliant with rules.  He would do nothing to draw attention to himself and that includes getting into trouble.  So, he became a rigid rule follower so as not to be singled out and have to move a card or have his clip moved.  This is exactly what he just told me yesterday.  What parents and teacher want is for kids to be respectful and obedient.  However, my son has taken it to a new level and has become almost crippled with fear and is extremely stifled.

  • He finished out last year with an amazing second grade teacher whom he loved.  And he did whisper to her.  And he got pretty good grades.  Except, that he has some areas that I am concerned about now that he's in third grade:  He is a poor speller, has difficulty hearing sounds in words to encode, has weak reading comprehension {probably because he reads too fast, skips words, and inserts words}, and his writing is below grade level. I believe several of these are a direct result of not speaking in class. He cannot spell a word by "stretching out the sounds like a rubber band" because he can't (physically and emotionally he cannot) speak out loud at school.

  • Something else that I noticed is that he is a kinesthetic learner. You would never know this unless you observed him at home. I have observed him in a classroom setting since he was a three year old, during which sometimes he knew I was in class with him and other times he did not see me. He is stone silent at school and can literally sit for hours doing seatwork.  On the other hand, at home he enjoys standing to do his work, he hums, sings, taps his pencil, stomps his feet and LOVES hands-on learning. He also likes to interject my teaching with his own thoughts and questions.  He is a noisy learner as well.  If you observed him in class, you would think he enjoyed worksheets, was an auditory learner, and was a shy kid who liked to stay in his seat.

So, not sending my child to public school or any school for that matter, is what is best for him. It isn't in his best interest to spend all year preparing for a high stakes test, completing lots of seatwork, remaining silent all day long, being scared to speak, playing alone at recess, or trying to be something he's not. 

 I don't have issues with the teachers.  I love them, I really do!  It's the system that I have issues with and when coupled with my son's personality and diagnosis, it is just not working.  But, it's not even just that.  It's because we have tried private school, we have tried public school, and we have tried homeschooling in the past.  And what is apparent is that this child loves to learn. This child likes to move it, move it! This child is very curious, a go-getter, and an independent learner. And I need to fan that flame and help him to get caught up in his weak areas and to build off of his strengths. I want him to love learning. I want him to see himself as a learner.  I want him to awake each day and be excited about what he will learn instead of feeling fear, anticipation, dread, and anxiety.

Will he return to school at some point?  Maybe, maybe not.  He has told me that he would like to go to middle school to play the trumpet in the band.  That just makes my heart smile!

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Friday, August 21, 2015

Collage Friday: Back From the Beach and Back to the Books!

Happy Friday! You made it! 

Today I am linking up with Homegrown Learners for my first ever "Collage Friday"!  I am sharing with you a peek into my week, which by the way, was the last week of summer vacation for all three of my boys!

Collage Friday at Homegrown Learners

Last Saturday we spent all day and part of the evening in the car driving home from Emerald Isle, N.C. We love the beach and especially love the pristine and non-commercialized beaches of Emerald Isle. It was a bear of a trip (and we actually did see a black bear cross the road on our trip home!) and it took me all week to get caught up and back into our summer routine. Just in time for our schedule to change again next week.

Today was a blessing as the two youngest boys and I had lunch with my oldest son who is starting his junior year in college as a history major! Yes, I have three boys, and yes there is a BIG age difference!  

I have one son who starts 4th grade on Monday at our local elementary school and the 3rd grader is getting ready for "Not Back to School" on Monday.  I homeschool year round and both boys work on a modified schedule. My middle son worked this summer on a review of 3rd grade, independent reading, and his multiplication facts as well as writing while I was working with his younger brother.  See, that is what happens when mom is a teacher! 
Actually, I keep it light and fun, so as not to snuff out their love for learning that they have. My 3rd grader started a lap book about North Carolina before vacation, and he will finish next week. We all had a fun time looking through the pictures we took on vacation, especially the one of the jellyfish that my nephew caught.

We love using this "paper tape" that you can stick on book pages to take notes. And it peels right off!

This week my youngest also started using Time 4 Learning for a jump start in math before he begins his Horizon's Math for grade 3. He is enjoying working on the computer and is very independent since math is one of his favorites.  I will be writing a review of our experience with Time 4 Learning, but so far, I am very impressed with how thorough and how motivating the site is! And speaking of math, both boys like using XtraMath for developing fact fluency!

With reading, we have been using a month long free trial subscription to Reading Eggs, which we used before and both my sons enjoy the game-like nature of the site as well as the digital books. I finished a Flat Stanley read-aloud (YAY! for Stanley) and Christopher (the 3rd grader) is reading Humphrey's World of Pets for his independent reading.

So this week has been a transition week for all of us! The boys are excited to start a brand new year, but are not looking forward to getting up early!

More pictures to come next week as we hit the ground running!

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Saturday, August 8, 2015

Using Summer Beach Art to Write a Descriptive Paragraph

My family is a little different from most in that I homeschool my 8 year old while my nine year old attends public school.  The oldest is almost 22 and attends college!  That also makes our family a little unique because of the huge age gap between the younger boys and the oldest, but that is a story {maybe} for another day!   :-)

In any case, I like to school year round.  It gets interesting with one boy having "to do school" while the other does not.  I have "required"  "summer school" activities for both of them to prevent the summer slide and do my best all year round to make learning fun, active, and student-centered.  

The 8 year old has a great affinity for arts and crafts.  Knowing that one of our favorite places is the beach, when I found this "beach art" tutorial, I knew it would be perfect for him.  I found it on Introducing the Hodgepodge's blog.  Click here to see the post/tutorial.  My son was even more excited to learn that this project used pastel chalks, which, by the way, required a trip to the craft store where we snagged a large pack for $5!

Now, before we started, I knew that I would integrate this art lesson with writing and science (we are studying the beaches of North Carolina and learning about oceans in our science text). But, I didn't tell my little artists at the beginning about the writing.  They are both reluctant writers, and I wanted them to enjoy the art lesson.

After about an hour or so, we finished our masterpieces.  Mine is in the middle.  I didn't leave enough room on the beach to add umbrellas or anything else for that matter, but it reflects my preference for remote beaches.  Even though we read and looked at the pictures in the tutorial for the lesson together, it is really neat how we all created a different beach scene.
My nine year old included many details in his drawing:

We completed these on a Friday.  On Monday, I introduced the descriptive writing paragraph and told my nine year old that he didn't have to do this since he had other summer school things he could do.  After I showed him my paragraph and did a short lesson, he decided to dive right in.  His younger brother was not so thrilled; writing and spelling don't come as easily to him as it does to his two older brothers.  But no worries!  I came into this lesson prepared.

Both the boys had previously learned how to write a paragraph but needed a little extra help and a refresher.  The writing purpose was to describe the beach art drawing.  I told them that I wanted them to give so much detail that the reader would be able to picture in their mind the drawing without ever seeing it.  I shared the above picture to both boys and emphasized that I knew they could do it even though it would stretch their brain and require them to work hard.

I shared my paragraph with them as a model, but told them that their writing would be different from mine just like our drawings are all different.  We reviewed adjectives (which they both have a solid understanding of)  and they identified my adjectives, and then they wrote adjectives on their white boards that described their drawings. I talked about how their writing should include what the beach, ocean, and sky looked like, smelled like, what it sounded like, what it felt like, and tasted like.

Then, I shared this "paragraph skeleton" graphic organizer that I created to provide a visual of the different components of a paragraph.

I also shared "Paragraph Pal" to help them visualize the different components of a paragraph~

Then they got to work on completing their graphic organizers. Later, they used the organizer to write their paragraphs.

The simile my 9 year old used ("...golden sand [looked] like Midas touched the sand")  He had an excellent teacher this year, and I am so grateful for her!

My little writer followed the organizer to generate ideas and details that supported the topic sentence.  We need to work on sentence structure and indentation. He took a risk by using quotation marks; we will do a mini-lesson on quotation usage.

The last part was to display our work in the playroom/homeschool room.  My 8 year old did not want his writing to be photographed, and so I respected his request.

Next, we may write a story about our beach art.  After we had all the pictures placed on the wall together, the boys talked about how maybe this one long stretch of beach and these three pictures represent 3 different parts of the same beach.  Hmm...  I'm thinking of the three of us writing a story together!

If you would like to use the graphic organizers and the Paragraph Pal, you can click the picture below to download a copy from my TpT store for FREE.  It's just a little packet that includes some of the pages I used.

I hope you can use the printables.  Let me know how you plan to use them!

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Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Fluency Fix-Up ; Using the STOP Strategy

Happy Summer!  
And Happy Back to School to those of you that have started your new year!

Today I am linking up with my friends from The Reading Crew to discuss all things fluency!  I have written several posts about fluency {both reading and writing} here on my blog, but today I want to share with you a brand new "fix up" strategy that I have been using with my "speedy readers" in grades 1-5.  

I'm sure that you have had readers in your classroom that read way too fast.  They may or may not make many miscues, but usually their comprehension suffers because of their rapid speed. It's as serious a problem as those that read too slow.

Mini Case Study

I'm going to use my 8 year old son as an example. He is entering third grade and reads at a level "P".  This was his level in early June at the end of second grade. I know he can read at higher levels {up to "R" at least} because I listen to him read every day and I have given him running records (goes along with having a mom for a teacher!).  However, his comprehension is very weak and very literal.  He struggles to give a summary, a retelling, or the main idea.  On the other hand, just today he gave a beautiful summary of the chapter I read aloud 3 days ago from the Flat Stanley book I am reading aloud at lunch time.

So, I definitely know that he is an auditory learner.  And I know that he races, speeds when he reads.  He makes many miscues, many omissions, and rarely self-corrects.  And then afterwards, he doesn't really know what he read.  When reminded, he will slow down.  When reminded, he will monitor his speed.  And I know that he will slow down during assessments such as running records. He takes those seriously. I also know that he reads too fast when reading independently, and consequently, his comprehension suffers.

The STOP Strategy

The strategy that I use with my son and other children that read too fast is the STOP strategy.  Now, awhile ago I read about something similar but it only had the STP letters and the wording was a little different.  Here is what I came up with to use with speedy readers.

Stop at the end of each paragraph/page
Think about what you read and how you read (speed)
Organize your thoughts.  Questions?  Understand?
Put it in your own words

When readers are speed reading, I usually say tongue and cheek, "I have to give you a speeding ticket".  There are several strategies I use, but very quickly I want to talk about this strategy.  This is developed for readers of all ages, but should be broken down into the different steps. Explicit instruction should be given for the "T", the "O", and the "P".  Built into this is a self-monitoring component for speed.  Students need to be aware of when they are reading too fast.  There are other strategies you can use like recording them reading, for example, so they can hear how they sound.  And of course they should hear examples of appropriate speed from either a read-aloud or from an audio book during a listening to reading center.  Once they know they are "speed reading", then they can adjust their speed and slow down or reread at a slower rate.

Also built into this is a self-monitoring for understanding. Do I understand or remember what I just read?  And if the answer is "no", then I need to reread.  I have my son stop at the end if each page for fiction/literature.  For nonfiction I'll have him stop at the end of long paragraphs or sections.  Eventually, my scaffolding should diminish and he should be monitoring completely on his own. And, hopefully, he will internalize all of this strategy work and it will become automatic. I also remind students many times that all of  these "reminders" are what good readers do.  In addition, I tell students that eventually all of this "talk" will be done silently in their brain, but for now while we are learning, it is helpful to talk out loud to a teacher or a buddy/partner.

That is it in a nutshell.  I have students glue the STOP page in their reading notebooks to reference later.  I sometimes will laminate the half sheet and have students use as a bookmark and they can check off the parts of the STOP strategy that they used that day.  When I am first teaching the strategy, I will have them circle the section that we are focusing on.  My readers (including my son) love the whole race car analogy, putting on the brakes, and getting speeding tickets. They like the STOP sign reminder as well.  It keeps it lighthearted and fun.

If you would like a copy of this strategy, just click the picture above or click here to download a copy on Google Drive.

Make sure you check out the other bloggers who posted about fluency by checking the linky below.  Do you have a fun fluency strategy to share?  Make sure you link up!

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Sunday, August 2, 2015

Learn Like a PIRATE Book Study: Active & 21st Century Learning

Students who can't wait to get to class and are as excited to enter school as they are when it's dismissal time. Students who are excited to learn and are prepared for the future. This is every teacher's dream!  And it can become a reality with PIRATE                                                           teaching and PIRATE                                                                         learning!

Today's post is a continuation of my book study for Learn Like a PIRATE  by Paul Solarz . Since I will be homeschooling this year, I am sharing how I can apply PIRATE learning at home. On deck today are two PIRATE learning characteristics:  Active Learning and Twenty-First Century Skills. Whether you teach in a public or private school or homeschool, PIRATE learning will transform your students and your teaching!

Active Learning

As a homeschool teacher, I know that I have an advantage here, as I only have one child that I am teaching; yet I am also limited in other ways.  In this chapter, Solarz shares ideas for active learning such as simulations, debates, and reader's theater, just to name a few. He goes into great detail about these specific activities that not only get students involved in their learning, but also has them directing their own learning and collaborating with others in fun and meaningful ways.  Now, it is a little difficult for my son to participate in a debate or simulation at home, but there are many other ways for him to be an active learner.

I am an eclectic kind of homeschool teacher.  Much of what we do at home is active and student-led learning.  I have my curricular objectives mapped out for the year, my textbooks, and materials gathered, but I also include plenty of room for my son to make suggestions and take the lead.  At 8 years old? You bet!  Here's an example.  

We started our homeschool year this past Monday. Since we had visited the Gettysburg Battle Fields in June and my son was enthralled with this time period, I created a unit study of the Civil War and thought we would begin with this integrated unit.  However, my son expressed interest in learning more about North Carolina.  We vacation at Emerald Isle and he had made a Lap Book last year and wanted to create a new one this year.  So, I ran with his interest and created an informational activity where he would read a nonfiction book from the library and create a new Lap Book this year.  He is working on it before, during, and after vacation. When we come home, he will compile the pictures he took with the digital camera, the pamphlets and post cards he collected, and other information from some places we visited (e.g. Fort Macon), and finish the Lap Book. This involves reading, writing, art, social studies, and science (learning about North Carolina's weather and coastal and aquatic life).  Five subjects integrated and my son leads his own learning. Plus he is more motivated to write (an area that he dislikes) and learn because he is invested in this unit.  He has ownership.  Score!

Writing notes for the Lap Book!

Now, if you are in the classroom, you may not be able to be as flexible as I can be, but you can still provide numerous opportunities for students to explore their interests!  This chapter has many, many more ideas for how you can do that, including Project Based Learning and technology ideas for numerous content areas.

Twenty-First Century Skills

Now, to be honest, this chapter was challenging to me, as much of it was brand new information. And, it is a lot of information!  21st century learning is more than making use of technology in the classroom.  It's all about students being able to transfer their learning to new situations in school, in the workplace, and/or in college.  Solarz shares that he wanted his students to transfer their learning when they left his class for middle school, to be successful, and to be excited about learning.  He was thinking beyond his classroom and wondering "What skills do my students need to be successful after they leave?"  After researching, Solarz identified 34 skills in 11 categories for 21st century learning. Many of these skills have to do with collaborating and working with others.  That makes it challenging for my situation, as my son is the only child being homeschooled.  However, he can still work on some of these skills when he is at co-op, at Sunday School, at clubs, and when playing sports.  It won't be as formal as it would in a learning environment, but it is a start.  Plus, he is only 8, so he many years to work on this.

Solarz spends this chapter carefully explaining the skills, providing examples, and guides the reader how to infuse 21st century skills in the classroom.  These skills do include technology, but they also include life and career skills, Habits of Mind, communication, collaboration, and creativity, just to name some of them.  I am in complete awe as to how Mr. Solarz is able to accomplish all that he does in his innovative classroom!  You will be too after you read this chapter!

Of course, your grade level will determine which of the skills are appropriate for your classroom.  You may be overwhelmed like I was after reading and rereading this chapter.  However, if we as teachers just take one step in helping our students to be 21st century learners, then we are moving in the right direction!  Out of all the PIRATE learning, this is the area where I need to grow the most, whether I am teaching at home or in a classroom.

In our homeschool, I focus a lot on Habits of Mind, especially metacognition and risk-taking. As well, I want my son to know what he knows and what he doesn't know and know what to do and when to do it, which are skills under the "Reflection and Awareness" category.  I also want him to wonder and ask questions, to have the stamina to stay with a task until it is finished, and to stay focused without distraction.  These are all 21st century skills that all of us can infuse into our classrooms.  Solarz discusses the importance of giving students feedback that is specific to 21st century learning to guide students in acquiring these skills. This is such an important part of the learning process!  And this will be my personal goal this year: to provide specific feedback to my son- not so much about content, but about his use of 21st century skills.

This may be a different type of thinking for many of us, as 21st century learning has us focusing less on content and more on these skills.  It's similar to thinking that the process is more important than the final product.  Yes, I want my son to learn facts about the state of North Carolina, learn specific geography skills and content, and to create a beautiful Lap Book, but I also want him to continue to ask questions to guide his learning, to know how to read, take notes, and manipulate the information, how to complete a task without me leading the way from start to completion, and how to set a goal and make a plan to reach it. These are the skills that will help him this year, in high school, and in college.

Seems like a lot, doesn't it?  Well, it is, but this book is written in such as easy-to-read format and includes so many concrete, specific examples, that you will probably find yourself thinking, "Hey, I can do this!".  And you can!  You really can!

How do you foster active learning in your classroom?  Are you familiar with Twenty-First Century learning?  How have you implemented these skills in your homeschool or classroom?  

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