Sunday, August 12, 2012

School Starts, Pregnancy, Common Core, and an Educational Shift

I didn't really plan to take more than a week off on the blog; sometimes, these things just happen! The school district where I teach began school last week. We had three days of teacher in-service, then started school on Thursday. This week starts our first full week of school. I am both excited and exhausted! I worked each day last week in my room well after in-service or school was over (4:30 most days). I woke up yesterday morning with a running list in my head of things I needed to do before Monday. I ended up going to work in my classroom for about two and a half hours, then brought home with me a lot of other things to work on this weekend!

Part of my exhaustion is the pregnancy, and entirely non-school-related. Today I am officially 31 weeks pregnant, with approximately nine weeks to go. I don't know where the time has gone! It seems like I have been pregnant forever, and for no time at all. Many things are ready for our little one, but there seems to still be so much to do! We are having a little girl, which almost everyone in our families seems thrilled about. We seem to have an abundance of boys, so girls are rare! With that comes cute clothes and accessories. I will post pictures of the baby's room when it's finally done. Pinterest has been my friend in planning, and my mom has helped me do a lot of the hard work involved.

Housework has fallen behind during the last week, but my reading and prep for school has never been more on target. I have decided to make some changes to my classroom this year, both  in the classroom itself and in the curriculum and way I teach. Tennessee is one of the many states around the nation adopting the Common Core standards. We are implementing Math this year, piloting Reading and Language Arts, and will fully implement R/LA next school year. This means many changes to my class over the next two years. Not only will we adopt new CC standards, but we are expected to simultaneously change the way we teach.

Common Core assessments will look very different from our old-school state TCAP tests. TCAP testing has been entirely multiple choice; in teaching students how to take these tests, the focus was taken off learning and put onto test-taking skills. Oftentimes, students' scores did not reflect actual mastery, but their ability to take standardized tests. New CC assessments should reflect more each student's skills. Although they have not been fully developed, our students did begin taking new Constructed Response Assessments last year as part of a pilot program.

CRAs are at the opposite end of the spectrum from TCAPs. They require students to read, then respond to a series of short answer questions. This year, students will also be required to cite evidence from the text in their responses. Math students will take actual CRAs; R/LA students will take pilot tests again this year.

This change in assessing has caused a change in teaching, at least for me. I went in search of the best research-based ways to teach students -- the methods that get results. Of course, for me that meant reading lots of books and blogs! Some resources I have turned to recently:

  • Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer and her blog of the same name on Education Week -- I have followed her blog for several months, but I read her book in the past week or so. I took pages and pages of notes, and hawked the title on Facebook and Twitter. It is a must-read for any reading teacher. You can also follow her on Twitter
  • The Sisters' The Daily 5 and CAFE -- I am halfway through The Daily 5 and my mind is racing with the possibilities for implementing some of their strategies in my 7th and 8th grade classrooms. A two-plus-hour block is obviously out of the question, as I see my students for no more than an hour per day. I also have the task of teaching both Reading and Language Arts in that hour, which most schools do in separate class periods. So the Daily 5 could not be fully implemented in my classes. However, from The Book Whisperer, I am moving away from Accelerated Reader and towards free choices for independent reading. I feel that using strategies from the Daily 5 will help with my students' ability to self-manage during independent reading time. 
  • NPR's new 100 Best-Ever Teen Novels List -- This list is brand-new and filled with great titles for YA readers. I don't have many of these books in my classroom library yet, but I have a long to-get list now!
  • The Twitter #TitleTalk chat -- A project manned by Donalyn Miller and teacher Colby Sharp, #TitleTalk is a monthly chat that offers suggestions for teachers. This month, they discussed which books they would be reading aloud to kick off the school year. Among the titles mentioned were Katherine Applegate's new The One and Only Ivan and R.J. Palacio's Wonder. You can read the archives from past #TitleTalks by clicking here.

I'm diving back into The Daily 5 for now. More later (and reviews, I promise!). I've been reading quite a bit of YA literature, also, as part of my plan to read all of the books in my classroom library.


  1. It has been a long time since I've stopped by! I have almost completely abandoned Google Reader (too overwhelming) and keep forgetting about blogs I like. I was thinking about the Southern Festival of Books today and I thought of you and your blog. I found this neat new site called Blogtrottr that lets me subscribe to blogs via email (for blogs who don't offer the option) so I'm going to subscribe that way. Now I won't miss anything. Like you expecting! Did I even know? I don't think so. Has it been that long? Anyway, congrats. I know you're very excited. Don't work too hard. Pregnancy is so tiring, as I'm sure you know. =O)

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