Sunday, December 2, 2012

Fractions: The New "F" Word for Fifth Grade Math Teachers for the Second Quarter

If you are a fifth grade math teacher you must have fractions on the brain right now. We all know fractions unequivocally dominate the common core math standards for the second quarter. In Philadelphia, we have 40 instructional days to teach our students everything they ever wanted to know about fractions.

My quest to conquer fractions with my students begins tomorrow. Since we will be so intently and uniquely focused on fractions for such a long time, I wanted to start the unit of instruction with something that would really grab my students' attention.

If you know fifth graders, you know nothing gets their senses more heightened than the mention of CANDY. That's why we are beginning our unit on fractions with a "Candy Dilemma". Tomorrow, I plan to put four Twizzlers at each of the tables where five of my students sit. Once the comments like "What are they for?" and "Are we allowed to eat them?" die down, and I know I have everyone's full attention. I will pose this challenge: Any group that can figure out how to share the four licorice strips equally among the five people at their table will be allowed to eat the candy.

I'm pretty sure temporary chaos will ensue as the kids frantically try to come up with a quick solution. Before anybody gets to tear into their bags, I'll use a quick clapping signal to get everybody's attention, and I'll add that I am giving each group play dough to help them work out their sharing strategy without manhandling the candy before they get to eat it.

I'm thinking it's going to take a little while before the kids figure out that the Twizzlers need to be cut into fifths so everybody can have 4/5's of a piece to make the sharing equal. Once I've guided each group to the proper solution, everyone will get the Candy Voucher linked below, and I'll explain there will be a whole piece of licorice available for anyone who can turn in a voucher that is completed correctly.

Once the vouchers are turned in and everybody is happily munching a tasty treat, we'll have a nice little discussion about fractions. I'll assess what the children already know and fill them in on where we are headed for math in the second quarter. All-in-all, I'm thinking it will be a successful introduction into our study of fractions.

If you want to try this lesson with your students, all you'll need is a package of Twizzlers, some play dough, and the candy voucher from the link below. If you use the activity, I'd love to hear how it went. Please stop back on leave a comment.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Spice Up your Reading Log Repertoire

Do you know the song "Dirty Little Secret" by the All American Rejects? Well, I have a dirty little secret I'd like to share with you. Those closest to me already know my secret, but today I am going to share it with a much larger audience on the world-wide web. Here goes nothing...I LOVE reading logs.

I know many teachers consider reading logs to be a chore. First of all, they are cumbersome. An entire class set of books is not a light load to carry back and forth from school. Secondly, they are dense. Replying to reading responses, is not as straightforward as grading a multiple choice test. Lastly, they can become monotonous. A teacher who does not switch up the prompts they assign, can quickly become bored reading the same content over and over each week.

Call me a freak of nature if you want to, but I actually look forward to reading my students' reading responses and replying to them. I see reading logs as more than just a way of monitoring my students' independent reading habits and their comprehension skills. I see them as a tool to be used to encourage and nuture a love of reading in my students.

Based on what my students say in their responses, I can match them up with books I think they will enjoy. By personalizing my replies, I can guide each student on a journey of self-discovery. I can lead some of them to see that they don't hate books as much as they thought they did. I can show them the beauty of the mental images created by the carefully crafted words of skilled authors. I can praise their progress, and show them "a way around" when they encounter an obstacle.

For all these reasons, I put A LOT of effort into reading logs. This hard work starts right from the beginning of the year when we decorate our logs with collages of all the things we love. Once the outside of the logs are decorated, I ask my students to write a reader's autobiography after sharing mine with them. Once I have an idea of how each child sees his or herself as a read, we are off and running.

Initially, I use pre-formatted prompts that align with the fifth grade reading standards, but that doesn't last for long. Ideally, I like to use my written replies in the children's logs to guide each reader on their own individual journey. What I ask the children to reflect upon and write about is personal to what they are reading and where they are in terms of their skills. It's no easy task, but it's worth it to me. Creating independent readers who love good books is one of my main teaching focuses.

Occasionally, we take a break from the personalized dialogue format, and do something just for fun. The children always love the holiday-themed prompts I use every once and awhile. These prompts are very popular with my students, and the work the children produce in response to them always astounds me. What the children create when we do these holiday-themed prompts always demonstrates thoughtful analysis and sophisticated application.

This weekend I gathered up some of the holiday-themed prompts I use in my reading logs and compiled them in a packet. The packet is available on my TeachersPayTeachers store if you want to take a look at it. Even if you don't look at the packet, please take some time to think about how you are using reading logs with your students. If you are only using them to monitor independent reading and comprehension, maybe you'll reconsider their purpose in your literacy program.