The Brown Crew: Learning Together

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Survived the first quarter

It’s true, I survived. It wasn’t easy. I spent the whole summer reading blogs and skimming twitter, planning this new year to be awesome and techy and student centered. I couldn’t wait. Then…the kids came. The kids are incredible, but they are needy. They were scared, too. They acted out. Usually the first day of school is a bit quiet, kids sitting still, getting to know me and each other. When I had kids out of seats, shouting across the room, not sitting quietly, I knew this year would be different. So…deep breath. I had to learn to shift priorities, put classroom management first, not hand over the classroom to them…just yet.

We just started the second quarter. I feel like, for the most part, things have settled in. Though I know what changes need to be made to help my students grow. The parents have been so supportive and kind. They love my classroom economy system, they (mostly) love the fact I am not sending homework this year, they love that their child is growing. I know I need to make reader’s workshop a priority–some are not reading at home…they NEED to read. We write every day, but I need to “beef” up my conferences.

I will make it through the year, a very different year for me. I am fortunate to have the other teachers in the trenches with me. Each one is so dedicated and loving, even when we want to pull our hair out. On top of some of the student issues, we have new school issues–which could be a whole new blog post. We have found our way to get through with laughter.

So, I trudge on. Some days are better than others, but I am remembering to put the children first. It’s about them.

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3 more days…

Until my students start a fabulous year with me!  It’s going to be interesting to say the least! I am at a brand new school this year. The principal is so organized and enthusiastic, the teachers seem hard working already and brimming with excitement, the rooms (well, most of them) are brand new…I love my new room.

There are also the challenges…after semi-planning activities for the first week already, I found out the chromebooks won’t be arriving until the end of the first week of school. Today I learned the wireless projector wasn’t set up properly, so not sure when that will work. I did want to cry at one point today, but I remembered it’s about the KIDS. It’s about building COMMUNITY. It’s about them knowing they MATTER. Everything else is optional.  So, I scrapped the plans, the first day “Get to Know Mrs. Brown” Kahoot, the first day Padlet about what we think about our brain, the first day centers and surveys online to easily collect that “getting to know you” info…and started over. What stayed: the books, the STEM challenges to build teamwork and begin thinking it’s OK to fail, the discussion of how it’s OUR room (not mine) and that grades don’t really matter, that choosing your own seat is powerful, and the discussion about what kind of classroom do we want to have this year.  Our school is focusing on the 4 C’s (creativity/collaboration/communication/critical thinking), so I plan to use those to help guide my lessons all year. I also read this amazing article HERE and need to get my “Be Nice*Work Hard*Think Big*” words up on the wall somewhere…

So, I will take a deep breath and remember it’s all for the students.

  Picture Source

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10 for 10: Books to encourage writing across the curriculum

August 10 for 10

I am so excited to be linking up to the Picture Book 10 for 10 community. Each year, educators, authors, readers,and anyone else can link up with a post about their 10 must have books for the classroom!  This is my first go, and it was quite a challenge to narrow them down. I decided to go with a theme of books for writing.

I love using books for teaching writing. Over the years, through classes at the South Coast Writing Project, my own research, and becoming a fellow with the UC Merced Writing Project, I have found several that are a “must use” in my classroom.

1. Sequoia by Tony Johnston: Great for figurative language models and from the viewpoint of a tree. Would be great to use to have students write a text from the viewpoint of an animal or plant.

2. Bat Loves the Night by Nicola Davies:   Another great non-fiction book that is told from a different point of view–from a bat’s view. It is essentially a narrative, but you learn facts about a bat. Great as a model for a nonfiction piece!

3. Feathers:Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart:   Yet another non fiction text that I used as a writing model this year. Lots of facts about feathers. The class loved this book. Melissa Stewart is active on twitter, and has a website with videos for young writers. A must have for all classrooms!

4. The Important Book by Margaret Wise Brown:    Love this, though I admit, upper elementary kids roll their eyes a bit when you first read it. But it is a great book to use for a culminating writing activity. I’ve had kids copy change it to “What’s Important about Electricity”, “What’s Important about Lexington and Concord”, even “What’s Important about Mrs. _____” (my child’s teacher). Last year, students wrote this style after interviewing a classmate. The easy structure invites students to focus on content and vocabulary.

5. Fortunately by Remy Charlip : Another favorite of mine with a very predictable pattern. I’ve used as a structure for writing about the plot of a story, as well as discussing the history of the Revolutionary War. I will use this year to have kids write about the history of the mission era.

6.Fireflies by Julie Brinkloe:    I love this for my personal narrative lessons. It is a simple story about a boy catching fireflies. Students can see how we can take an ordinary event and turn into a story. We don’t have to write all of our stories about trips to Disneyland or big birthday parties.

7. All the Places to Love by Patricia MacLachlan:  This is a beautiful book, both words and illustrations! I use for discussing setting, using exact vocabulary in descriptions, and I have students choose their own place to love for a writing piece.

8. I Am the Dog, I Am the Cat by Donald Hall:  A student favorite, told from the viewpoints of a cat and dog. This book has so many uses–I’ve used to teach compare and contrast and point of view, as well as introducing opinion writing. Both animals think they make the best pet, and it’s a hoot to read aloud!

9. America, I Know You by Bill Martin, Jr:  Now, no offense to the fabulous author, BUT I think the writing my students do by using this predictable structure is incredible!  (I actually end up liking it better than the actual text!)  I have used this to have my writers copy change this with their own images of what makes America so wonderful. Since I teach fourth grade, my writers make a version called, “California, I Know You”. Again, since the structure is set for my students (except I don’t make them rhyme), they can focus on vivid vocabulary and word choice. Parents love this writing!   (I could only find used copies on amazon available, but they were less than $5)

10. Animals Nobody Loves by Seymour Simon:    This is a great book! I actually have not used for writing…yet. My students read selections from the text last year, and I wrote text dependent questions to go along with it, so they could practice using text evidence when answering reading questions. However, I planned to have students write short pieces about other animals we don’t find particularly lovely. I’ve even seen ideas online to have students write poetry about the animals from this text. Kids eat this book up! The pictures are close ups and fantastic!  A must have in your library!

And there you go: 10 books I recommend for your writing library! Now, off to read others’ picks and load up my Amazon cart….





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I finally joined twitter last spring, and I have to say it has opened my eyes in the world of education! I have learned so many new trends–I hate to call them trends because I don’t see these new ideas going away.  I have seen the move to student led classrooms, building engagement in our learners, changing the school environment to fit the world we are sending our students out into! I have seen changes teachers are making to help students find a love of learning–new classroom setups and suggestions, genius projects, ditching textbooks, to name a few. It has been so exciting for me to read these ideas! My head has been swimming with ideas since I joined.

Honestly, I think ALL teachers need to be on twitter. Sometimes there are ebbs and flows in a teacher’s life. Sometimes the enthusiasm bubbles out, and sometimes you just want the week to be over and start fresh. I guess I should say I’m lucky because I have changed grade levels, schools, and classrooms so often, I don’t get a chance to stay put and teach the same thing over and over. I wouldn’t want to anyway! Twitter can and will get you enthused if you need it. I love being able to connect to teachers and authors all over. I’ve joked around with Colleen Cruz while reading her book (I get giddy thinking about it), connected with Melissa Stewart and she gave my class new suggestions for using her lovely non fiction texts, and have seen other authors or well respected educators”favorite” my posts.  How awesome to be able to connect immediately!

It takes a little bit of playing, but it’s not hard. In fact, I made a google slideshow for teachers who want to learn about twitter. I was thinking I could share with some of my staff this year.

I could go on and on, but now, if you are not on twitter, go and find me: @amybrownca. Let’s connect!I will be there, downloading sample lessons, adding books to my amazon cart, and retweeting words of wisdom I come across.

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Back to School

So, every year I plan my first day to be basically be the same–intro to the class, get to know each other, go over rules and procedures (and go over them again and again for several days), a calm and relaxed way to start our year…but this year, I have been reading many posts on blogs about challenging us to make the first day FUN.  Do the icebreakers, but don’t do ones that put kids on the spot. Don’t go over rules the first day–plan for fun so they want to come back the next day!

I have to admit, this intrigues me. I want my students to like school, to want to be there! I’ve been planning to make this year be more of a student led classroom, and this idea aligns with that philosophy.  My notebooks are filling up with ideas for the first day. I’ve already planned some music, some read alouds, a get to know someone activity using a Frayer model, some more read alouds, a “Save Fred” the gummy worm challenge, get to know me Kahoot, but not go over the rules?  Not sure I can do this…this year is going to be very interesting for several reasons. One is that I am part of a brand new school. The students will be coming from a mix of other schools. All of them probably excited, but nervous, too. Unlike previous years where most of the students were fast friends, this year most of them will be strangers to one another and me. No preconceived notions from the third grade teachers about this kid or that (I never listened to them anyway!). Another is that I can’t even get into my room until a week before school starts. One week to set up a brand new classroom (and I have no idea what furniture I have), as well as set up our school environment.  This has me anxious. To me, planning for the rules and expectations on the first day feels safe. Safe for me, safe for the students expecting it. I have a lot of changes planned for my classroom and how I run it this year. Too many? I am not sure. This will be quite an adventure. So stay tuned…what will my first day look like? Rules or no? What about you???

Great links to back to school posts that made me THINK:

Pernille Ripp (LOVE her posts. Her latest one about pictures books in the classroom is incredible)

Not a blog post but from Jon Corippo

GREAT list of back to school links here

Principal’s post with good links to check out! (Beth Houf–follow her on twitter, too! She’s awesome!)

from Elementary Shenanigans, quoting Dave Burgess, author of Teach Like a Pirate

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It’s Monday, What are You Reading?

Here we go, another Monday. Again, this a great link up from Teach Mentor Texts. I *however* am breaking the “rules” by sharing the professional reading this week, not picture books to YA. Oops. Hope you still want to read!

What did I read this week:

*I finished Notice and Note by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst. FANTASTIC. I am using this for my comprehension lessons this year. I think it will make a difference: comprehension plus great books plus dialogue between students–what could be better?


*Started The Unstoppable Writing Teacher by Colleen Cruz. Her style is very friendly, very easy to read. She admits things she did in the classroom that didn’t work out, so I already love her for admitting that. I’ve already learned a few new strategies for writing this year, and I am I only a few chapters in. I have a feeling this will be a book I keep close by this year.

*Ditch That Textbook by Matt Miller. I finished it early last week. Good book to start getting ideas on engaging your students by expanding your teaching style. I have already ditched my ELA textbooks. I didn’t use a math textbook for 2 years, but this year we have a new math program (that I piloted), so I better try to use it…Working on ditching my science and social studies texts….

*I also read some books just for me–my summer is coming to a close too quickly! One Plus One by Jojo Moyes was a great read. A slow start, but ended up being a book I would recommend. Quirky characters, quick moving story–I really like this author!

What’s next? Finish The Unstoppable Writing Teacher, review The Book Whisperer (I do every year), and start How’s It Going: A Practical Guide to Conferring with Student Writers by Carl Anderson. I want to step up that area in my writer’s workshop! I also have a few more kidlit books to finish. My son devoured  Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson, so I need to read that! I put a bunch of books on hold at the library to read, so next week I will have more kid books to share here! My Amazon wish list is HUGE, but…end of summer equals money drain, so I have to wait before filling my cart again!

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It’s Monday…err, Tuesday…what are you reading?

Good morning! Every Monday, there is a group of bloggers who blog about “It’s Monday, What are you reading?” (IMWAYR). It was started by Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee at Unleashing Readers. This year, I had my students, on padlet, share what they were reading, as well. They loved it! They learned about new books to read, shared books with one another, and helped out fellw reviewers by reminding them to reread what they wrote. Thanks to Megan for sharing this idea on her blog: read it HERE.  My class even collaborated on an IMWAYR on padlet with Megan’s students, as well as other students from the Midwest and Canada! That was a blast!

So today, even though I am a day late, here’s what I am reading:

*Notice and Note:Strategies for Close Reading by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst. I have heard about this book for ages, but the close reading part in the title threw me off, I admit. We’ve had a lot of PD in my district on close reading, and I have binders full of resources. I didn’t think I needed another book on close reading. This isn’t really the type of close reading that we’ve been doing, though (you know, the three reads on a nonfiction text). This book introduces 6 “signposts” readers can look for in texts to help them understand the text better and make deeper inferences about their books. I love it!  I plan to introduce this right away in the fall. The book is so teacher friendly, too, as they share actual lessons and resources. If you want to help with comprehension in the classroom, this is a must buy book!

*Half Upon a Time by James Riley. This is my next summer book club with my students. It’s a cute read so far. It has the twisted fairy tale elements that have been so popular in books lately. I highly recommend Rump by Liesl Shurtliff if you want a fun twisted fairy tale book! My fourth graders loved this one.

*Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper is FANTASTIC!  I plan to read this one aloud this year (I have so many read alouds planned!!).What a great book to teach empathy to students. The main character Melody cannot walk or talk, but yet her mind is brilliant. She finally gets a chance to “speak” and surprises everyone. I am thinking I will have students reading Rules by Cynthia Lord along with this, as Rules is told from the perspective of a girl who has a handicapped brother. Another lunch time book club selection from this year that made the students think!

And what I plan to read next is:

*The Unstoppable Writing Teacher by Colleen Cruz. Just received this is in the mail a few days ago and can’t wait to dive in.
*The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. Yes, I have not read this book yet…even though my class chose it as our “Book of the Year”…bad teacher…I am not a huge fantasy lover, but will read this before school starts!  I bought the graphic novel of this for students who needed more support.
What about you? What do you plan to read next?
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Reflections…and looking ahead

Inspired by this great blog:Reflections of an Intentional Teacher, I decided to share my own reflections from last year and what I plan to work on this year.

What worked well/what I am working on:

*Classroom economy-along with my teacher BFF, we started an economy system to our room. It was a mix of many types we found online. Basically the students got paid for being at school (on time), doing jobs, getting good grades on tests, behaving, turning in homework.  This year, I plan to tweak a bit as I don’t think I will be giving much homework. Also, I don’t want to emphasize grades as much, rather more of the process. I might give money instead for completing a project/assignment successfully (rather than getting a 100%).  We didn’t use paper money, but used an online piggy bank, Smart Piggy Bank. I trained bankers to enter in the amount earned. Students kept papers like this to keep track of earnings each. We spent the last 10 minutes on Fridays updating. I need to make sure I do it EVERY Friday. Sometimes, we would run out of time and have to do 3 weeks worth in one day. I don’t think that works well for students, as they need more immediate feedback.

*Classroom Talk-I have always embraced classroom discussions. I love to have my students “take off” and discuss, without raising hands, without me leading the discussion. I taught them ways to disagree politely and how to add on to someone’s thoughts. This year my principal happened to be observing me when a discussion started. She remarked my students seemed like little adults and felt comfortable stating opinions. I was pleased to hear this!  This year, of course, I am continuing this, but I think I will start the year with an anchor chart of Rules for Conversations. Peter Johnston’s fabulous book Opening Minds is a good resource if you want to bump up your classroom discussions. I happened to read it this year for a class and was thrilled to see many of things I embrace in my classroom described here. He suggests making the Rules chart after a good classroom discussion–what worked well, what didn’t work, as well as sharing sentence frames to help them piggyback, disagree with one another, and continue the conversation.

*Reader’s Workshop-my favorite part of the day in my classroom. I love reading, and I know my passion for books spills over to my students. Every year, I know many students leave my room calling themselves a reader for the first time. Well, almost every one of them. This year, I had a few good readers who read dutifully, but never seemed enthused. I need to keep adding to my library to reach every student. Yes, Amazon loves me! Donalyn Miller’s terrific book The Book Whisperer is the book to read, if you haven’t. Order it now. One thing I stepped up this year were book talks. My students loved them! They eagerly signed up to share books and waiting lists sprouted on the bulletin board for those books. I loved hearing them say to one another, “You need to read this next!” or “Can I have that when you are done, please?”  Another thing my teacher BFF and I started were optional lunch time book clubs. We chose a book, students purchased it or checked it out of the library or shared with one another, and then we met at lunch to discuss and have a snack linked to the book. They were so successful that we are continuing them this summer. Between our two classes, we had 14 students come to our first summer meeting. Not too bad. Parents from other classes heard about it, too, and asked if their students could join us. Our next meeting promises to be bigger. We spent a solid hour discussing Savvy by Ingrid Law at the park. What a great conversation we had!

I could go on and on, but this post is starting to be a lot longer than I thought. I will share other things that worked well in my classroom (and what didn’t) in future posts. Off to start planning while I have these thoughts in my head!


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Hello world!

So…I did it. I decided to start a teacher blog. I plan to share books, reading activities, my journey in learning tech, and my adventures as a 4th grade teacher. Thanks for following along with me. I look forward to this new experience.

I choose to call my blog The Brown Crew because that’s what I’d like to think of my class. Instead of me being on the stage before the class, I think all my students have something to contribute. We are a crew that works together–we all need to chip in and help out as needed.

Learn Like a Pirate by Paul Solarz has been eye opening to me. YES!  I want a classroom where all my students are engaged and WANT to be there. I read the book in May, and I quickly introduced a few new ideas to the class. One was the poster that read: We are all learners. We are all teachers. Welcome to our class.  My class loved that poster!  They were so happy to be included as a teacher, and I saw them sharing ideas and helping classmates unprompted. Just that little tweak meant a lot to them. I also added “Give Me 5″…the students were able to interrupt when they had something important to add.  All students had to be respectful of their classmates and stop and freeze when someone said “Give Me 5”. I tried to give feedback to help them learn, such as “Yes, good idea to remind us of that”, “Yes, some students may need help with this. Thank you to __ for offering to help if needed”, and “I’m not sure we needed a Give Me 5 here, but I appreciate you thinking about your classmates.”  We had success with this, and it’s something I will start right away in the fall.

Thanks for reading!



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