I have officially finished another school year.  Our last day with students was Tuesday, and we had a work day on Wednesday.  Thursday and Friday were professional development days.  We were very fortunate to have a guest speaker (Ken Williams) come in and talk to us about Professional Learning Communities (PLC).  Our district will implement PLC in the upcoming school year.  This workshop gave me a good idea of how to prepare and what to expect.

Why I'm excited for my district to implement Professional Learning Committees

Here are my five big takeaways from this workshop.

Teachers need to work as a team to do what's best for all students.  This goes beyond sharing copies and ideas.  We will be composing a list of what is most important for every child to learn and creating a plan to ensure that students master these concepts.  This requires a set time each week, not to plan lessons but to plan interventions and enrichment for specific students.  This may include flexible grouping across classrooms and/or involving specialists.

Expectations should be set at the first PLC meeting.  For example, everyone must be on time and prepared.  Other norms are also set such as not having cell phones out.  Whatever the expectations are, they should be set by, agreed upon and acted on by each group member.  

Every student must meet or exceed the "bar".  The bar is a set of standards from a unit, quarter or trimester that each child must meet. (Five was recommended, but not set in stone.)   The recommendation was to look at a unit, and select the most critical standards that every child must accomplish.  That does not mean to let the other standards go by the wayside.  Of course, you teach them with the same rigor as you always have.  However, all students must at least reach or exceed the bar that is set.  With this being our first year, we will start by focusing our PLC on one subject - yet to be determined.

The bar is set by the teachers.  I liked the recommendation that teachers first work independently to determine what they feel are the most critical standards.  Once each teacher has their "top five" most essential standards, the team can come together, share their ideas, state their cases, and come to a consensus on what the most critical standards are.  Having teachers create the bar gives them the ownership they need to make sure that the plan is meaningful.  It also allows them more flexibility than if the "must learn" standards were handed to them from administration.

Formative assessment and planning are keys to success.  Now, I have always been a believer in using formative assessment to drive my instruction.  I have shared ideas that worked with my colleagues and asked for help when I was stuck.  This takeaway was more of a validation to an idea I have had in place for a long time.  However, now I feel pushed to take this idea to a new level.  Although my colleagues and I have always been willing to share ideas, we have never explored the idea of flexible grouping across the grade level.  This is something new.  I am excited to give it a try, as I think the students will benefit from different delivery models.

Does your district have PLC in place?  I would love to hear any advice if you do.

***I hope that all of you have a wonderful summer whether it has already started or is just around the corner.  Enjoy!

Thank you!
I love a mentor text to help explain content.  Today I would like to share a great one for teaching ecosystems.  The goal of the lesson was to introduce students to the Ohio's Fourth Grade Science Standard that states, "Changes in an organism’s environment are sometimes beneficial to its survival and sometimes harmful."

This post shares a great mentor text for showing the effects of change on the environment.  A free graphic organizer is included.

The book is called Aliens from Earth.  From the text to the illustrations, it is the perfect mentor text to help explain animals' effects on the environment.  The book tells stories of how different animals came and "invaded" new territories.  The "invasion" seems harmless at first, but students soon learn of all the problems  that can be caused when an animal enters a new environment.

A fantastic book for showing very clear examples of how changes in the environment affect ecosystems.

One example I shared with my class was how fire ants arrived in our country entirely by accident.  They hitched a ride on a cargo ship from South Africa.  Once the fire ants arrived in the United States, their population flourished, as they had no natural predators.  Unfortunately, fire ants cause billions of dollars in destruction every year.  Ruining air conditioners and killing crops are a couple of examples of their destructive behavior.

Here is the illustration from the example in the above paragraph.  As you can see, all of the animal species are labeled.  I like how they are coded alien (a) or native (n).  This helps students to see how the native animal were affected by the change in their environment.

Aliens from Earth is a fantastic book for showing very clear examples of how changes in the environment affect ecosystems.

This book and the science concept lend themselves to reviewing cause and effect.  The text is very clear about the effects of the "invasions" to the natural balance of the ecosystems and how they caused a variety of problems.  Below are a couple of cause and effect relationships found in this book.

Cause - Some of the gypsy moths that were brought here from Europe escaped, and they have no predators.
Effect - Gypsy moth destroy over a million acres of forest each year.

Cause - The brown tree snake came to Guam on a military cargo ship.  There are no natural predators.
Effect - Some of Guam's native birds are now extinct.

I created a graphic organizer for students to continue practicing cause and effect.  You can easily use the organizer with this book or any other mentor text that has a cause and effect structure.  You can download it by clicking here or on the picture below.

This cause and effect organizer is free!  It goes great with the mentor text found on this post.

If you teach ecosystems or a unit on informational reading, I highly recommend this book.  It is well-organized, full of great information & illustrations, and highly engaging for our young readers.

Thank you!
I love books!  I mean I really love books!  One of my biggest missions is to get students to enjoy reading as much as I do.  A huge part of that mission is finding books of high interest that are at a "just right" reading level.  Today I'd like to share three sites that have helped me do just that.

This post shares three great websites for finding just right books for your classroom library.

I share all of these sites with my students and parents.   They are perfect to link up if you have a classroom webpage.  

Spaghetti Book Club - This site has book reviews for kids, by kids.  The books are explained and revered like only kids can do.  Reading positive reviews from peers can be a very powerful motivator for students.  I love how the students also post illustrations to go with their reviews.

What Should I Read Next? - This site is perfect when you have a reluctant reader who finally finds book that he/she loves.  All you need to do is type in the title, and the site will produce a list of books with similar themes at a similar level.  I love using this site when I am ordering new books for my classroom library.  Every year, there seems that students gravitate toward certain books.  This site is great for finding similar books.

 Guysread - This is an awesome site designed to encourage young males to love reading.  You can find a wide variety of book categories that appeal to guys, including "Creepy and Weird", "Tales and Scales" and "The Wild West".  When you click on a book title, you get a short review and a chance to rate the book for yourself.  This feature encourages students to come back, contribute to the site, and find more great books.  Seeing high ratings from peers can be a strong motivator for our students.

These sites are all easy and fun to use.  Enjoy!

Three Great Sites to Find Books for Kids

Thank you!
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