Monday, July 25, 2011

Last of the Book Recommendations!

   Wow, now that our new year is about to start, it's time to finish our book recommendations.  I'm going to leave off the pictures this time.
   Boone's favorite was Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.  Boone says, "I liked it because J. K. Rowling made it seem as if it was really happening.  I recommend this book to you if you like magic and scary things.  My favorite character is Harry."
   Katelyn recommends How Puppies Grow by Millicent Ellis Selsam and Neil Johnson.   She says, "You will like this book if you like dogs.  I picked this book because I know I love dogs."
   Corey's pick is Mister Monday.  He says it's "Because it has lots of adventure.  What got me hooked on this book was when a boy named Arthur was in P.E. and on a run when asthma strikes him!  There is only 1 thing that can save him... A key... to the kingdom..."
   Max liked Nancy, You Call This Wasting Time?  A comic book by Jerry Scott.  Max says, "I would recommend this book for those who like comics and things that are hilarious.  The author really got a picture in my mind when I was reading this book.  But it only has an O.K. vocabulary.  Why don't you try it out?"  (p.s. from me - not sure if this book is still in print - it belonged to my own children who are grown now.)
   Summer recommends Rent a Third Grader by B. B. Hiller, "because it has a happy ending and nobody dies!  It's a good book for people that like horses and lots of different settings.  I also think this is a good book for boys or girls.  I encourage you to try this book!"
   Gregory liked The Secret of the Old Mill by Franklin W. Dixon.  He says, "I recommend this book to readers who like strange mysteries.  It's about two kids who get into a mess with two cases:  the counterfeit case and the sabuting(?) case.  They get in and out of trouble.  What kind of trouble?  How?  To answer these questions you will have to read the book."
   Luke recommends Titanic by Anna Claybourne and Katie Daynes "because it tells the exciting story of how this "unsinkable" ship had such a tragic end.  The book lets you discover the luxury and greatness of the ship, as if you were actually there.  From and Irish shipyard to the North Atlantic Ocean, this book follows the ship's story."
  Cooper liked Weird But True 2.  "I recommend this book because, I learned 10 new things from it.  And it has 300 facts, like:  Your eyes produce a teaspoon of tears every hour.  It's on page 127."
   Garret's love all year has been the R.L. Stine books.  This time he recommends Weirdo Halloween.  "I like this book because it is scary and that it is set on Halloween.  My favorite character is the orange alien."
  Sorry Savannah - you didn't put the book title on yours, and I didn't catch it before you left for the summer.
This has been a rather eclectic collection, determined by our classroom library and their home libraries, and also, I suspect, by their latest read.  This was a great authentic writing assignment, and the students did it with relish.  I can "hear" our mini lessons and book talks in their writing.  We'll definitely do this again!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

More Book Recommendations

Bree recommends A Spell Behind Bars.  She says, "I like this book because it's a mixture between mystery and scaryness.  It is the second book of the series.  It's by Bovayne.  The first book in the series is A Turn in the Grave.  p.s. from me:  These books are a little hard to find, but worth it.  They are written in Roald Dahl style.

Finn recommends Swindle.  He says, "I recommend it because it is about some kids who have a valuable baseball card and someone stole it.  They try to get it back.  You will like this book if you like suspense and adventure.

Aiden says, "I recommend the Boxcar Children.  I like the whole series because they are mysteries and I like mysteries.  The books have very good details and I can visualize it perfectly."

Tiernan recommends The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.  He says, "It is about a boy named Greg who has a no-so-good life with his bully-brother Roderick, his little brother Manny, and his mom and dad.  He goes to school with his best friend Rowley.  It is a series of books about this boy.  I recommend these books to people who like humor."

Kaytee recommends Dork Diaries.  She says, "I recommend this book to people who like Diary of a Wimpy Kid,  and humor.  This book is about a girl in Middle School name Nikki and she thinks her life absolutely STINKS!  Read this book and find out if she keeps her boring old life or dies trying to change it.

Cole recommends Goddess Girls:  Athena the Wise.  He says, "At the beginning Athena finds out that she is a goddess, not a human and has to leave her best friend.  You will like it if you like Greek Mythology."  Bre also recommends this book.  "I like this book because it gives a little bit of facts about Greek Mythology.  I like the main character because her dad is Zeus.  I like to laugh about this book, because her mom is a fly.  I recommend this book to readers who would like to learn some Greek Mythology."

Me again.  Wow, this turned into quite a blog post.  I still have 10 more to go.  So the rest I'll intersperse with other ideas.  I'm excited that I've figured out more about how to place the book covers and even make them smaller.  I'm learning right along with my Schmardies!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Book Recommendations from Schmardies!

Thanks to Mr. Schu Reads on Twitter for the great idea:  One of our final assignments for the year was to recommend a favorite book for next year's Schmardies.  I did ask that they mostly stick to books in our classroom library to make it easier for new students to find them right away.  Here are a few.  More to follow on future blogs:

Sarah says "the book I recommend is Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo.  I recommend it to people who love dogs.  This book is about a girl named Opal.  She finds a dog in the middle of a Winn Dixie grocery store.  The ultra-shaggy dog would have been sent to the pound if Opal didn't think of something quick.  So, she claimed the dog was hers and gave it the name Winn Dixie.  The two of them have lots of fun.  Until a big thunderstorm, and Winn Dixie runs away.  You'll have to read the book to find out if Winn Dixie ever comes back.  You will love this funny story about Winn Dixie and Opal." Eliza also recommends this book.  She says, "I like this book because it has humor, excitement, and a little sadness.  Kate DiCamillo - I think she is a VERY good author.  She is actually my favorite author!  I KNOW you'll like this book if you like clever dogs, humor and great stories.  :)"

Connor S. recommends Warriors, Into the Wild by  Erin Hunter.  "I think it's a good book because the author helps me visualize.  The book is about when Rusty, a house cat, meets a wild cat and has a decision to join the wild or not.  You can get it at the school library.  If you like this book by Erin Hunter, then you will like more books by her."  Lucas also recommends this book.  He says, "I like this book because it has lots of action and adventure.  The book is about a cat named Rusty that walks into the forest and finds a clan.  He enters it and gets his clan name.  What is it?  You ask.  Well, you will have to read the book to find out.  I love this whole series.  This book was also a favorite of Conner C.'s.  He says, "I like this book because it is about a lot of clan fighting for food and survival.  You will like this book if you like adventure and a different point of view than people.  Look for it in our classroom book club books."

Alex recommends another book from the Warriors series, Warriors:  Forest of Secrets by Erin Hunter.  Alex says, "I recommend it because it has a lot of adventure in it.  I recommend this book to people who like adventure."

Jack recommends Franny K. Stein Mad Scientist by Jim Benton.  Jack didn't specify which one, but the above is in our classroom library, along with a few others.  Here are Jack's comments:  "I recommend this book because it is funny.  It also is kind of weird.  I would recommend this book to people who like weird inventions and humor.

I am so impressed by these 2nd and 3rd graders book reviews, especially when we didn't really talk about reviewing books much.  (It would be a great genre study!).  Just goes to show what an authentic writing assignment can generate!  :)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Outside our Comfort Zone

 "Solo" - we enjoy the woods, write about our experiences, ponder our existence.
 A team building activity - how many nails can you pile on the one sticking up?  Winner was 13!
Rock climbing takes us outside our comfort zone.

    My Schmardies are so lucky - we are an Expeditionary Learning, Outward Bound School.  The pictures above were taking during our "Winter Voyage."  We went overnight to a camp for some winter team building and learning.  You can see that we didn't have a whole lot of snow (February in Colorado!), but some great learning took place anyway.
     Gifted kids generally do pretty well academically.  They know the "answers."  They don't always shine at physical activities, and once they figure that out, they quit trying.  That's their perfectionism at work.
     When our "Discovery" classrooms were placed at our school, it was supposed to be temporary, to fill this school as it grew, waiting while another school was being built.  We were supposed to stay for 3 years, and then move on to the new location.  So our students at first didn't go on the "Voyages."  (Our Adventure Ed overnight trips are called Voyages.)  But many of them had siblings who were not in the Discovery classrooms, and they did go on the Voyages.  Soon our students were wanting to go too.  Our 5/6 Discovery teacher and I got together to compare notes.  We liked this school!  It was challenging our gifted students in a way that a "regular" curriculum could not.  The Adventure Ed piece not only includes Voyages, but also rock climbing in the gym, and survival studies and techniques, among other things.  Our students did the rock climbing during PE, and what we noticed were students going outside their comfort zone.  One day the first year I heard one of my students say, "My goal was to get to the top of the rock wall.  At first I couldn't do it, but today I did!"  My 5/6 colleague and I kept hearing things like this over and over from our students.  We both had experience with gifted kids, and this was new.  Perseverance is a character trait for our school, and we were seeing it with our students!  In spite of their perfectionism, they were willing to keep trying.  The spirit of the school promotes personal best over competition.  And our students were thriving.
     We put it to our Administration, and then our SAC (School Advisory) committee.  Could we stay?  Could we have a home here?  We really felt like we belonged.  That was new too - in my previous experiences, we were considered an oddity, something to be "put up with," or at worst, laughed at or scorned.  I often heard from other teachers that I had the easiest job, because my kids were smart.  But that wasn't happening here!  The school motto is, "We are Crew, not passengers."  We were definitely part of the crew!  SAC agreed with us, and had to put on a presentation for the district.  The district officials were amazed.  Generally schools were happy to pass the gifted kids on, for a variety of reasons.  In fact, our 6th graders had been at 3 different sites in just a few years!    It was unprecedented, but the district approved it.  And here we are, 5 years later.  Still growing (including me!)  Still thriving.  Always Crew.  Happy to be outside our comfort zone.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

That Ugly Word, "Boring!"

     I hate that word, boring.  When I taught regular ed, I always cringed when families explained their child's behavior by telling me the child was bored.  I took it as a personal blow, like I wasn't doing my job.  I realized how silly that was when I had to call a parent in for his son's behavior.  He immediately started with the "B" word.  (His son was a very bright first grader).  But the behaviors were happening when we lined up!  So I was able to say, "Mr. J., that may very well be, but C. needs to keep his hands to himself when we are lining up!"  Mr. J. got it.  He never brought the "B word up again.  
     Below is a quote from Dr. Sylvia Rimm, a Child Psychologist who specializes in need of gifted children:  

     10. "The word “boring” can be a descriptor of a variety of problems, including lack of challenge, fear of challenge, insecurity that others are doing better, thoughts that their teacher doesn’t likes them, or half a dozen other problems."

     This comes from a Duke Digest where Dr. Rimm discusses how we should listen to what gifted children DON'T say.  The URL is below and was Tweeted by Byrdseed Gifted:
  (Thanks for the Blog idea!)  

     I was glad to read this.  Ironically, now that I teach only gifted kids, the "B" word comes up way less often.  But occasionally I have a student, especially at the beginning of the year, who complains of being bored to his or her family.  It usually turns out to be bravado, the 'ole syndrome of feeling inadequate and knowing that using that dreaded word "Bored" will get the families' attention.  And it really does!  The family usually thinks, WOW, my child is in Gifted and STILL bored!  Now what do we do!!!!  And what they do is come to me, of course.  This is a good thing, as I can show them what the problem might be - whether it's math or reading.  It's almost always not really a problem - it's the student's worry that they aren't matching up to their peers.  
     Another quote from Dr. Rimm's article states, "In order for gifted children to build the resilience required for leading fulfilling adult lives, they will have to learn to cope with some less successful experiences. Because they have often been extraordinarily successful, coping will not always be easy for them. Parents and teachers who listen to what children say, as well as to what they give clues about but avoid saying, are better able to guide and support them as they develop confidence and resilience."  

     If you're the parent of a gifted student, don't always believe the "B" word.  Do some detective work.  I find that almost all of my students lead such a rich "inner life" and love to read so much, that they really don't get bored.  Something else is at work.  As Dr. Rimm said, we need to listen harder to them.  

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Schmardies Speak!

     It seems I'm only Blogging on Sundays.  Have to fix that.
     Last week I gave my students a quick writing prompt - "What is different now that you're in Discovery?"  (Discovery is what we call our gifted classes).  I asked them to think about before and after.  Remember, these students are 7 and 8 years old.
     Here are some quotes from their work - I did fix their spelling:
     "You get to do harder things."
     "Discovery is good because it helps people who learn with one side of their brain use both."  (He was saying that he learns with math and science, but now with everything.)
     "I think that it feels good to be in discovery because we get to do work and don't always get everything right."  Wow, I LOVE that one!
     "Being in Discovery means that I have a lot of background knowledge."  (What a great way to think about knowing lots of stuff!)
     "I think Discovery means a class that has no limitation to learning.  It feels like a friendly learning environment."  (Love this kid!)
     "It feels good to be smart."
     "Discovery makes me feel happy because you're with a bunch of smarty pants."  (Smile - I sometimes call them "Schmardies" and sometimes Smarty Pants.)
     "Discovery is fun, and it feels good to know you're part of it, but it gets hard here and there."  (Yes!  I'm doing my job!)
     "It feels like I can understand the people with me a lot better than I did before because we're all gifted - I finally got a best friend."  (Affective needs taken care of - check!)
     "Ever since I've been in Discovery it seems I've been getting much smarter.  I've been learning new techniques on lots of interesting subjects.  I feel much more comfortable in Discovery than in my old elementary school."
     "Discovery has changed my life."
     "Being in Discovery is a privilege that only certain people have."  (And a privilege to teach!)
     "It definitely feels good to be in Discovery.  When I first started, I was a little worried that all the kids would be smarter than me."
     "I felt scared at first now I'm not.  It means a lot to me."
     Several of the kids talked about how scared or worried they were when they began the year.  Some were worried they wouldn't do well, others were worried they wouldn't make friends.  Some said their friends teased them about it.  The beginning of the year with new Discovery students is always hard for all of us.  We not only have to get to know each other, to become "crew," but we have to overcome all their worries, and the fact that they are no longer the only one in the class who knows all the answers.  In the beginning it's really hard to get them to take turns - they are used to their teacher letting them shout everything out, because they were usually the only one who did.  But then we hit that magic two weeks, three weeks, and six weeks, and everything falls in place.
     My final quote is from a Discovery friend who just turned 7.  "It means a lot to me to be in Discovery.  When I was in first grade, things were way too easy.  I also skipped kindergarten.  I mean I went through a lot just to get here.  Sometimes I visit friends from my old school and they tease me about being in Discovery.  All that affects me a lot.  The beginning was hard, but it gets better as the days pass.  Now there is finally something in my life.  It feels much different than regular school."
     They were upset when I called time up - so hopefully I can get them to write more later.  Their voices are eloquent!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Why Doesn’t Their Writing Match Their Reading?

      For years I’ve wondered why my gifted students writing skills don’t seem to match their reading skills.  I know that part of it is the fact that their fine motor skills are still developing.  But there seems to be more involved.  To a student, their reading skills are at least a grade level above their chronological age.  This doesn’t apply to their writing skills, which are usually either on grade level, or below.  Of course, there are a few exceptions, but on the whole this has been what I’ve noticed. 
       Everyone is struggling with standardized testing.  And gifted kids don’t always do well with the testing.  Either they overthink it, they just haven’t bought into it, or they have test anxiety due to their perfectionism.  My district is asking why, because our gifted kids don’t always make “AYP,” or Adequate Yearly Progress.  The district feels that we don’t have enough Gifted kids making the top score, “Advanced,” in reading and writing.  Even though my students are great readers, the test has them write out their thinking about reading, and the writing part holds them back.  (Our kids do get lots of Advanced scores in math, for whatever reason). 
       I’ve always played down the test, thinking that it was better they not get anxious about it.  (I still feel this is true).  But there has been more pressure than ever this year to have my students do well.   So I tried some new strategies with my 3rd graders, who have to take the test in the spring.  I had them keep a reading notebook all year.  They had to respond almost daily to what they were reading – sometimes with a prompt, sometimes with whatever they were thinking.  My students did a good job with this, and even if it didn’t help their test scores, I think they got a lot out of it.  Another strategy I really stressed was good handwriting on the test, because “strangers” won’t try to read your messy handwriting, they’ll just give you a low score.  Wow, did that backfire.  My students really took what I said to heart.  And because they were being so careful, several of them didn’t finish the test.  We won’t know their scores until Fall, but I’m pretty sure they won’t be advanced.  AAAAK!  I was frustrated. But when I thought about it, I also had to smile at how endearingly industrious they were.  They worked hard the whole time they were testing, and I can’t find any fault with that!
       I had my “AHA” moment when I was skimming some information about gifted kids.  (Forgive me, I can’t remember exactly where and what I was reading).  It mentioned something about writing and asynchronous development.  Oh my goodness, I could not believe I hadn’t thought of that before!
       I first heard the term asynchronous development when I was taking a graduate course for my gifted endorsement.  It’s such a cool term, and I could connect it right away with my own children, especially my son.  When he was 4 he loved Legos, but couldn’t make what he was envisioning, because of his fine motor skills.  This was very frustrating for him.  And so I’ve always equated it more with things outside of school, as well as social development.  Sometimes I have tunnel vision.  But of course asynchronous development would have a bearing on my student’s writing!  I suppose to the district it will sound like an excuse.  But it’s got me to thinking.  I want to work on this some more, to see if there is a way to help them catch up to themselves.  Interestingly, I’ve also had a student who loved to write, but was below grade level in reading.  Her writing was sometimes difficult to read, because of the spelling, but she knew what it said, and she was very prolific.  By the end of that year she had gained two grade levels in reading, but not in spelling.  I’m confident that will catch up with her too.   
       Asynchronous development!  Yes!  Not an excuse, but certainly a place to begin! 

Sunday, April 3, 2011


          It's Sunday night, and our two-week Spring Break is coming to a close.  It always goes too quickly.  But I'm anxious to start learning with my Schmardies again.  They are young enough to still love school with a capital L.  Many of them (not all, of course!) will tell me break was too long, that they'd rather be in school.  It always energizes me!
         I’m perpetually amazed at how a good break changes me.  I go from being exhausted in mind and body, back to raring to go with lots of new ideas again.  I can look back on frustrating behaviors and administrative problems with fresh eyes.   My lesson plans are ready, I did some cleaning in our classroom, and I feel organized.  I love that! 
This break I learned a lot too.  I started a Twitter account, and am having a great time crafting my PLN (Professional Learning Network).  I’ve even found some other Teachers of Gifted Kids, and am excited about sharing ideas.   I learned about some things I want to try with my students: to map book characters (other uses too!), Skype (which I have done with my daughter, but not at school), Cover It Live, Max My,, which is a “Sticky Note” type of place for younger kids.  I know that’s a lot, and I’ll be grateful if we are able to get good at one or two of them.  But it’s so cool to have new ways to share our learning!
I also started this Blog during break.  It’s been harder to come up with ideas than I thought.  But I’m sure that once I’m back amongst the Schmardies, ideas will start to flow again.  We have a class Blog too – check it out!  It’s at That’s something else we’ll be working more on.  To date we’ve just been chatting with each other, and most of it has been done at home.  I’ve posted a few questions for them to think about and answer.  The students have had a good time posting math problems and jokes for one another.  But I notice that several students are not blogging, for whatever reason.  It’s down to maybe 3 or 4 dedicated bloggers.  We started it about two months ago, and I think it needs refreshing.  This will mean I’ll need to sign up for the computer carts more often so we can blog in class.  I’m thinking it would be fun to blog about books we’re reading, so stay tuned.  One large benefit of blogging with them has been their punctuation skills.  I decided to insist on capitals and periods.   Even Gifted kids have to be reminded a million times.  I have our Kidblog set up so that I have to approve every post and comment.  (This is for safety also).  I don’t post their comments and posts unless they have good punctuation.  At first I felt kind of Scroogeish for doing that, but wow, it’s made a real difference in a couple of our bloggers.  They want to blog so badly, that it’s worth it to them to “do it right.”  By the end of the year hopefully it will just come naturally.
Time to get ready for tomorrow - It's Sunday night, and our two-week Spring Break is coming to a close.  

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Are Self-Contained Gifted Classrooms Elitist?

I’ve been so fortunate that both of my gifted teaching assignments (in two very different states) have been in districts with self-contained classrooms for gifted students.  From what I’ve seen, this is pretty rare, and can often be controversial.  Many think it’s elitist, and I must confess, I had some of those thoughts too, before my oldest entered a similar classroom situation when he was in second grade.   Through those experiences, and experiences of my own in the classroom, I’ve found that there are some valid reasons for these students to be together all day in the same classroom.

 The social benefit – being with academic peers - is reason enough for self-contained gifted classrooms.  I was not totally convinced of this until the second year I taught gifted kids.   It was January, and I discovered I was getting a new student, “J”.  I wondered at his mother’s insistence on moving him in the middle of the year.  It meant that he had to switch schools, abandon social bonds and friendships already made, and start over with a new teacher - and he was only a first grader.   “J” came in his first day crying and hanging on to his mother.  I thought, “Ho boy, here we go.”  After awhile he calmed down, and his mother left.  Our first subject was reading.  We were doing book clubs, and I had to guess a little as to where “J” might fit in best.  He did not seem in the mood to read one-on-one with me yet.
He came to the group a little teary again, and appeared to be angry that he was not in his usual classroom.  He slouched way down in his chair.  I passed him one of the books (this book group was just starting one). I believe it was one of the “Magic Tree House Series” books by Mary Pope Osborne.  I reasoned that even if “J” was at a reading level above these books, he would still enjoy them, and I knew it was important for him to feel successful that first day. 
We started reading and discussing the book, and what happened was amazing.  “J” began shifting in his seat – at each student’s reading and discussion; he sat up a little more.  Before long he was sitting up straight, and smiling.  His whole attitude said, “These kids are just like me!  I belong here!”  “J” was happy the rest of the day.  He never looked back, and soon became a class leader. 

Not Elitist – As Necessary as Breathing
Self-contained classrooms  aren’t elitist!  If they seem so, it’s because the adults make it seem so.  The kids are often in the same place on the “Bell Curve” as students with disabling learning needs – they’re just at the opposite end of the curve.
The transition isn’t always as easy as “J’s” was, but over the years I’ve seen it happen with my students again and again.  Often their previous teachers tell me I’m going to have my hands full with a student, and more often than not, I don’t.  They just fit.  They don’t have to act out to be noticed or get attention, or because the lesson is going too slowly for them.  Being in a room surrounded by intellectual equals is just what some kids need to let go of all that and focus on the task at hand - learning.  
To “J” and countless other students who have always wondered why they are different from others, being able to say, “I belong here” is epic.