Launching the Reader’s Workshop

Last school year I had a vision: I wanted every one of my seniors to read a book.  I wanted them to have choice. I wanted a classroom library. I wanted to incorporate a reader’s workshop into my curriculum.

I started in April and with the help of you and a grant from The Book Love Foundation, I have been able to increase my library from a measly 104 books to almost 600 books with more on the way. I have an online check-out system for students that has every title in it. I have labeled every book with my name and stamped it with a “property of Sluiter Nation” stamp. I’ve sorted each book into a category so students can “shop” by interest (fantasy, sci-fi, sports, life in high school, etc) when they are looking for something to read.

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We started school with a week of procedures and figuring out where our starting point was. Students took their first SRI (Scholastic Reading Inventory) Test of the year. I had them record these scores.

We talked about goals and increasing SRI scores and reading stamina. I gave them a tour of my classroom library and its categories.  I did book talks of some of my favorite things to read that are available to them in the classroom library.

And this week, I turned my 134 eighth and ninth graders loose to check out books.

It was exhilarating.

Each hour, students crowded the back of my room searching for the book that they wouldn’t hate. Some searching for a particular author or series.

I kept track of requests for authors, titles, and subjects that I didn’t have. I started wait lists for books that were checked out early in the day, but had lots of requests.

By the end of book check out day, I had six pages of book check outs that I had to enter into my book check out program on my computer.  It was the best kind of overwhelm.

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Today (Tuesday) students calculated their reading rate: how many pages they could read per hour (by counting how many pages we could comfortably read in 10 minutes and multiplying by 6). When the 10 minutes were up, many students were complaining that they wanted to read longer because they had just gotten into their books.

My usually chatty junior high classes were silently immersed in books. Almost every student. I only had to take three kids aside out of 134 and discuss being respectful to our sacred reading time. Three.

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We have a long road ahead, but this week was the start. Kids are reading. All the books I’ve lovingly collected and organized are out there.

I really can’t wait to get a groove, learn what works and what doesn’t, and see kids discover reading. Some kids are doubtful and I can tell who will be my “project kids”; but some…oh…some.  They are on fire about this.

That is what keeps me fired up too.

Project 365 {week 36}

Along with starting school this week,

I was finally able to let the rest of the world know about my pregnancy.

It was like a HUGE weight lifted.

While we were busy busy busy this week, it was a great one.

Ok, so I didn’t get a picture on Sunday, August 30. I was napping.

September 1: I packed my first lunch for Eddie's school career. He requested the family picture.

September 1: I packed my first lunch for Eddie’s school career. He requested the family picture.

September 2: First day of school and soccer. When did he get so big?

September 2: First day of school and soccer. When did he get so big?

September 3: Eddie and I get about an hour alone together 3 days a week after school. It's very relaxing.

September 3: Eddie and I get about an hour alone together 3 days a week after school. It’s very relaxing.

September 4: new book alert!  And so far, I can't wait to tell my students about it...and I'm not even done with it yet!

September 4: new book alert! And so far, I can’t wait to tell my students about it…and I’m not even done with it yet!

September 5: Went to see Carrie (the musical). It was good!  Really!

September 5: Went to see Carrie (the musical). It was good! Really!

September 6:  It wouldn't be the first week of school without spending part of my Saturday in my classroom. But look at all the books!  yay books!

September 6: It wouldn’t be the first week of school without spending part of my Saturday in my classroom. But look at all the books! yay books!

This week was exhausting and I can’t believe it’s time to start all over again.

But it’s ok.

Because it’s the good kind of exhausting where you know you worked hard.

even more changes

I’ve mentioned that there is a THING that has been really blocking my writing lately as well as making life, well, a bit difficult for me lately.

We’ve known about this THING since July 5:

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Because of my history of miscarriage, we kept it quiet from most people other than family and very very close friends until August 1st when we saw this:

2014-08-01 15.37.32-1At 8 weeks, healthy as can be with a heartbeat of 177.

And then we were still quiet because I wanted to tell my new principal before he found out via the social media grapevine.

But now he knows.

And so do you.

12.5 weeks and healthy, although the first trimester was full of nausea and vomit and exhaustion (I am sure that explains some of my cancelled plans, facebook statuses, and lameness over the past couple months).

Due March 13 (yes, Charlie’s birthday), 2015.

 

Kindergarten

Dear Eddie,

Today you start Kindergarten.

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We have been talking about it for months. You have vacillated between super excitement to absolute tears of nervousness. Choosing a lunch box/bag was all excitement. As was picking new batman, light up, tennis shoes.

But each night for the past week and a half you have held onto me (or daddy) and cried out your anxiety and fears. Your biggest stress is that you are so afraid you will miss me and daddy. You have been going to daycare your whole life from 7:00am to almost 5pm. You are used to being away from us. BUT you have also had Brooke and Evan with you as your buddies since you were two. They even were in your preschool class last year. Now you have to move on to something new without your besties.

I can see where that is scary.

But Eddie, I know you don’t believe me, but you will be amazing in Kindergarten.  While your fears break my heart because I can so very much remember feeling anxious like that, you are such a wonderful, smart little boy.

You will easily make friends and get to know your teacher, Mr. F, quickly.  You will learn so much this year. You love reading and math and noticing things…you will get to do all those things this year!  And more!  You will sing songs and do crafts and play outside. You will learn to tie your shoes and say your phone number. You will be reading to ME by the end of the school year!

I want you to know it’s Ok to be scared and nervous. Change can be super scary. I’m changing schools this year too, remember. And I’m a little nervous too!  I have taught high school kids, mostly 11th and 12th graders for 12 years!  Now I am going to teach 8th grade. That is a little scary.  So right now? You and I are both starting new schools and we are both nervous.

And it is OK. Because at 3:45, I will be there at the door to pick you up. And we will have an hour together before daddy and Charlie get home where we can rest or have a snack or just cuddle. Whatever you need.

I could say I can’t believe you’re old enough for school and that time has flown and all that stuff, and it’s true, but the truth is, you are ready. You are not a baby or a toddler anymore.  You are a very busy five-year old boy who is in love with learning and playing.

While I’ve been a little wistful (I only teared up once…when they showed that dang video at Kindergarten orientation that said this was your first step toward graduation. Sheesh), I have been mostly just proud.

I love how you hold your head a little higher when you tell people you are going to go to Kindergarten. I love how you look up with me with your proud little smile because you are proud of yourself and you KNOW I am beaming for you too.

You got this, my Eddie Bear. You do.

And I got you. I am here when you need to cry out your fears and anxieties, yes. But I am also here to listen to all the things you have learned and all the fun you have had.

Kindergarten is the start of a whole new part of your life…one you will excel at. One you will CRUSH.

I love you so much, my Eddie.

See you after school.

Love,

Mommy

Project 365 {week 35}

This week was back to work for me,

the last week of daycare EVER for Eddie,

and a test of how grumpy mornings will be around here starting this week.

August 24: This is my view from the couch. I am so over this view.

August 24: This is my view from the couch. I am so over this view.

August 25: Kindergarten orientation! Eddie is pretty excited about meeting Mr. F and seeing his classroom!

August 25: Kindergarten orientation! Eddie is pretty excited about meeting Mr. F and seeing his classroom!

August 26: My first day back to work, so dessert.

August 26: My first day back to work, so dessert.

August 27: Red sky in the morning.  Also I am going to work before the sun is up.

August 27: Red sky in the morning. Also I am going to work before the sun is up.

August 28: dude. My new school feeds us SO WELL. I mean, even better than I feed my own family.

August 28: dude. My new school feeds us SO WELL. I mean, even better than I feed my own family.

August 29: Charlie is sort of obsessed with his doctor kit lately. He listened to my ears, nose, mouth, and legs.

August 29: Charlie is sort of obsessed with his doctor kit lately. He listened to my ears, nose, mouth, and legs.

August 30: The room is ready to go. Let's hope I am too!

August 30: The room is ready to go. Let’s hope I am too!

Our family is ready to start school.

There are some nerves, yes, but overall it’s time to get going with a fall schedule.

So here we go!

Netflix and Kindness

netflix

Eddie and I have been talking a LOT about the new school year.  Just today we filled out a questionnaire together from his teacher. It asked Eddie all sorts of questions about what kind of kid he is and what his interests are.  One of the last questions was “what would you like me to know about you?”

Eddie said, “that I am special.”

On the parent questionnaire, it asked many of the same questions, but in more detail. In the section about what our (as parents) expectations for Kindergarten are, I put that not only do we hope that K continues to foster Eddie’s natural curiosity and wonder about reading and math and other things, but we hope he continues to be a kind, helpful leader as well.

Also today, Eddie hung out with his aunt and uncle and little cousin, Lilly which Cortney and I moved some book shelves to my classroom. When we went to pick the boys up, my sister-in-law told us how helpful and kind Eddie was with Lilly, even counting to make her laugh when she was upset earlier.

One of my favorite Eddie traits is his kindness and willingness to help out.  His compassion even shows in the sorts of movies and shows he likes to watch.

All summer he and Charlie have loved watching Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.  I love this show because not only does it remind me of my favorite childhood show, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, but because the boys sing the little jingles and refer to the show after they see it.

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Much of the show teaches manner and kindness and doing “the right thing” which Eddie has definitely taken to heart. Even when Charlie is mean to him, it takes a LOT for Eddie to hit or push back.  He just doesn’t want to hurt his little brother.s

Most of the shows Eddie chooses for he and Charlie to watch are like this: Curious George, Super Why, Arthur, and Wild Krats all show characters making good choices.

Before having to go back to school, Eddie and I had a movie “day” during Charlie’s nap. He chose The Fox and the Hound.

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This was the very first movie my mom took me to see in the movie theater when I was about Eddie’s age.  Watching it though, I don’t remember it being so dang sad. Eddie noticed too, but kept saying, “they will be friends in the end. you watch. I bet.”  And he was right.

My boy believes in kindness and doing the right thing, and I am so glad that Netflix gives us lots of choices that encourage that belief in Eddie.

Rare Bird {book review}

I must be in a memoir and memoir-style mood.

After reading the fictionalized memoir of Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, I read a very real memoir by a good friend who lost her 12-year old son Jack in a freak accident.

Anna is the writer behind An Inch of Gray who wrote about life and refurbishing old furniture until the day her son was swept down a raging river and her world changed.

Continue Reading…

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Project 365 {week 34}

Our last week of summer schedule.

August 17: Lazy Sunday is lazy

August 17: Lazy Sunday is lazy

August 18: homemade blueberry muffins with blueberries picked from grandpa and grandma's house = 2 thumbs up!

August 18: homemade blueberry muffins with blueberries picked from grandpa and grandma’s house = 2 thumbs up!

August 19: back to school hair cuts. No more dirty  hippie children.

August 19: back to school hair cuts. No more dirty hippie children.

August 20: pie made by a friend is the best pie.

August 20: pie made by a friend is the best pie.

August 21 & 22: Lots of lazy around the house these last couple days of our summer schedule. No agenda other than play.

August 21 & 22: Lots of lazy around the house these last couple days of our summer schedule. No agenda other than play.

August 23: Spending a Saturday morning getting the classroom library put together. A few more bookcases are needed though. I have over 100 more books to fit in!

August 23: Spending a Saturday morning getting the classroom library put together. A few more bookcases are needed though. I have over 100 more books to fit in!

Monday is our last day together before I go back to work.

I’m only a little sad to see it end.

I’m mostly excited for the new adventures Eddie and I will both have this school year.

Back to School Supply Crazy

It’s back to school time, yo.

Some of you are doing the Snoopy dance because it means your kids will be leaving the nest for another academic year instead of spending the better part of their day making you a referee to all their shenanigans.

Some of you are twisting your hands in knots and holding back (or not) tears as your little ladies and gents start school for the first time.

If you are like me your sort of doing all of the above. I am THRILLED to go back to work and our regularly scheduled programming of daycare/work days that give my boys the much-needed structure and stimulus they require to get through their day without ripping each other’s faces off.  On the other hand, I am starting the year in a new building teaching a new grade, and my Eddie Bear will be starting Kindergarten all day, every day. Changes are ahead for us, that is for sure.

Because Eddie is a school of choice kid and no longer in daycare, we have to bring him and pick him up from school.  That means Cortney will have to drop him off over an hour before school starts so he can do the before school program, and I’ll have to leave my school in a super timely manner to make the 35-minute commute to pick him up when school lets out.

Gone are my days of staying after school for hours. Instead, I will be picking up a Kindergartener, getting him started on his homework, getting dinner started, and unpacking and repacking a lunch box.

School starts for students around here the day after Labor Day (Sept 2), but I have to report back next week already.  Of course, since I am setting up a whole new classroom and teaching all new curricula, I have been in lots already.

SO. MUCH. TO. DO.

SO. MUCH. TO. DO.

I know I am not the only teacher who has been in school early either. If I throw it out on Facebook that I am “going in”, many of my teacher friends will join the rally call that they too are in the trenches already. Getting ready for those kiddos.

And of course, since Eddie is going into Kindergarten, we got the supply list email. Actually, the kids don’t need to bring in anything individually; his teacher just sent us a list of donation items.  And you better believe I will be checking some things off his list for him even though I have my own classroom to buy for.

I’ve read countless articles in the past week about how much we teachers put into our classrooms out of pocket, and nodded along to each one. Many of you know that I am building a classroom library for my students (my wish list is here), and I have put in a lot of my own money to that scouring the scholastic book sales, church book sales, library sales, etc.

See those shelves? That is where my classroom library will live!

See those shelves? That is where my classroom library will live!

I also buy almost everything that goes to my students in school supplies. I work in an at-risk district and we can’t really require kids to buy anything for school. Many of them can’t afford what they do need. So I supply almost everything for my students. Our district gives us $100 per teacher. That can get used up on poster board and expo markers really quickly. And I need each of my students to have something to journal in. And post-it’s for close reading.  And tissues so we don’t spread germs all over creation. And many other things.

So I signed up for Adopt A Classroom (adoptaclassroom.org). If you search for Katie Sluiter in Michigan, you will find my class. Or you can search for a teacher in your state or district and donate funds that they can use to purchase items for their classroom.

I had a few friends ask me for specific needs. Things that I purchase every single year.  For that I made yet another Amazon wishlist.

My husband likes the list too because it helps to see what we need to budget for over the course of the year. I also look at it for when I have to place my classroom order with school and try to prioritize what I NEED versus what I can get by without.

Every year is a juggling act, ya know?

See? It's coming along!

See? It’s coming along!

But even with that (and a lot because of some huge generosity from friends), I will be making a big donation to Eddie’s teacher too. For one, Mr. F is a teacher and I understand the plight, but more importantly, he has MY CHILD this year.  And if I am willing to shell out hundreds for other people’s kids, I sure as heck am going to do it for my own!

I know I am preaching to the choir when I tell you how important it is to support teachers and those supply lists that come home. And if they don’t come home, bless a teacher with a gift card to Staples or Target or  Amazon or Barnes and Noble for books. If you don’t have kids, consider anonymously giving at a local school or finding someone on Adopt a Classroom.

Project 365 {week 33}

This post is late mostly because this particular week is not our favorite and it’s hard to go back to it after it’s done.

But.

Here it is.

Except for August 10. Because I didn’t snap a picture. Which is dumb because we celebrated what would have been Cort’s dad’s 58th birthday with beach and homemade peach pie. It was glorious. I just didn’t take a picture.

August 11: I went to make banana bread and found this one taste-testing the brown bananas. Spoiler: he did not love it.

August 11: I went to make banana bread and found this one taste-testing the brown bananas. Spoiler: he did not love it.

August 12 apparently didn’t get a picture either. If I remember correctly it was not a good day.

August 13: after date night with this guy, he plays with his new phone. We went with Galaxy S5's and LOVE them already!

August 13: after date night with this guy, he plays with his new phone. We went with Galaxy S5’s and LOVE them already!

August 14: This day. Sigh. So hard. Took the boys to the pier to "see" Papa Steve.

August 14: This day. Sigh. So hard. Took the boys to the pier to “see” Papa Steve.

August 15: This kid is non-stop terror. It's time for school schedule.

August 15: This kid is non-stop terror. It’s time for school schedule.

August 16: The week of bad national news and rough grieving ended the way it needed to with lots of laughter and the best ribs EVER with awesome friends.

August 16: The week of bad national news and rough grieving ended the way it needed to with lots of laughter and the best ribs EVER with awesome friends.

This week put a lot on my heart with the death of Robin Williams and the horrible nightmare in Ferguson.

Add that to missing Cortney’s dad for nine years,

well…

it would have been easy to blow off the whole week as sucky.

But we still found moments of joy.

We still laughed.

And that’s what you have to do, right?

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