Express Yourself

Be who you are and say how you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind.
--Dr. Seuss

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Trail of Breadcrumbs Spanish Grammar and Composition for 4th Grade Teachers Coming in August to Houston!

I will be presenting with Gretchen Bernabei on August 1st at  Town and Country's Norris Center. We will be presenting in Spanish and English. This workshop is tailored to meet the needs of 4th grade bilingual and esl teachers. We will focus our training on the teaching of grammar and composition in Spanish. I am so excited to be presenting with Gretchen Bernabei. It will be such a treat. I cannot wait to share what I have been tinkering with in my bilingual classrooms these past three years. I hope you can join us!

¡Andale ya! 

Please use the link below to find out more information:

¡Andale ya! Spanish Grammar and Composition with Trail of Breadcrumbs

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¡Andale ya! Spanish Grammar and Composition with Trail of Breadcrumbs

Getting Kids Ready for the Fourth grade STAAR in Spanish with Maureen Ucles and Gretchen Bernabei
August 1$240
Norris Conference Center, Houston, Texas

Click here to register!

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Houston's Dual Language Conference

Vivian Pratts and friends have put together Houston's First Annual Dual Language Conference. It is slated for April 28th in Humble, Texas. I will be presenting, along with Omaly Sandoval, Vivian Pratts, and Dr. Sandra Mercuri.  I will be presenting two sessions on teaching grammar in both languages and also adding text structures to teach expository text. My daughter, Elizabeth Ucles, will also speak at the beginning of the day about growing up as a dual language student.  This will be a blast! I look forward to seeing you there!


It has been a long time since I posted anything. I've been too busy this year. I've had to manage three classes, collaborate with the colleagues on my campus, and collaborate and plan with 28 wonderful 4th teachers of Writing in SBISD. In addition to that, I've helped with tutorials twice a week, plan, organize, and teach five Saturday Writing Camps at Edgewood. Now that it is spring break, I started thinking that it might be a good time to post.

This year has been super crazy. The first week of school was breezy, but then I experienced Harvey. I was out of school the Friday of the first week of school. We then returned two weeks later. My house didn't suffer much damage, but my roof begged for mercy from the winds and rain. I had to get a part of it repaired along with the ceiling in one of my rooms. The mental strain, however, was more taxing. I left my house during the hurricane to seek shelter at hotel nearby. The strain of not knowing if my immediate area would or would not flood was tremendous. When I hear it rain now, I get nervous thinking about those five days of sitting and watching my area flood. I become anxious because of the flooding and think about the health of my roof as well. This event really brought home the realization that this weather event could happen again because of the crazy nature of our weather and the melting of the polar ice caps. There have been four Nor'easter in the last three weeks in the New England area! That is super crazy. My mom's house almost flooded in Ohio due the amount of rainfall in her area. She was making plans to evacuate or climb to the second floor to wait it out.  It feels that no place is safe from our changing climate and weather.

I started the year two weeks behind. Then in January we experienced two days of ice and snow. I usually don't mind snow days, but since we missed due to Harvey, I wasn't happy about that. I definitely need to be out because the streets were bad. I certainly didn't want to drive to work on slick roads. That makes my school and district 12 teaching days behind. I really wish that I had those days back. The STAAR Writing test will be administered on April 10th. That leaves me with only three weeks to review and refine all the grammar, usage, spelling, composition and revision techniques that my students will need into order to be successful. I feel really behind even though I planned methodically all year long. My weekends and weekdays have been filled with grading, providing feedback, and then adjusting to the data. I felt really tired before spring break. I have worked almost non stop grading notebooks and classwork, planning the next three weeks, making copies necessary for that time, and cleaning up my classroom. I get my best work done in a quiet atmosphere at school. Today there was no line to use the copier. The school was quietly awaiting the return for the last push before the test. After the test?  Is is over? No, the party is just getting started. We have STAAR Reading and Math to work to refine and review. That will be fun! 

My thoughts right now? Stay focused and positive.  I want to build confidence through competence. I will review and share a few more Writing techniques. We are almost to the finish line. This time, however, is not for the faint of heart! Like Truman once said, "If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen!" The pressure is increasing, but I wouldn't like it any other way. Crunch time is my favorite time of the year. Vamos a ver lo que pasa. We will see what happens. These next three weeks will be a whirlwind of creativity, planning, adjustment, and calm in the midst of this STAAR Nor'easter. To my fellow Writing teachers: Take a deep breath and know...we got this!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Working with Simultaneous Bilinguals-Adding Ideas to the Memory Kernel

Each day I thank the good Lord for allowing me to work with my simultaneous bilingual and to promote biliteracy every single day! They are a joy to teach and have been making such process. I believe that they are making substantial progress is because the structure of language that I have in my classroom. In order for the brain to learn it needs two things: what I am teaching has to make sense and it has to be relevant. I also believe that bilinguals need to seek out patterns. Learning English and Spanish language patterns are vital. Breaking things down so that the students can see and experience  patterns through mentor text, my writing, and their writing, has paid dividends. We had previously studied the narrative structure using something as simple as Little Miss Muffet. We sketched out the nursery rhyme in four quadrants. I exposed them to such academic language such as protagonist, antagonist, exposition, setting, tension, suspense, rising action, conflict, resolution, plot structure, denouement, resolution and falling action. They sketched and acted out the structure in groups. I added hand gestures to accompany the narrative structure "play".  This way, they had to know their part, and the audience helped them with their lines. In others words, they really learned the academic language through the nursery rhyme, sketching, adapting it to a presentation, two picture books (Red, the Crayon Story and Too Many Frogs). They made a story board using Too Many Frogs making sure to include the aforementioned literacy terms.  I connected the learning immediately to Gretchen Bernabei's Memory Kernel because it has all the components. I didn't even have to ask them if the narrative structure was similar to the Memory Kernel. They already told me that it does. I love the connections. I am sure the synapse are popping and the dendrites are growing! Today, one of my sweet boys said, "Ms. Ucles I am so sleepy today to start class. I didn't sleep well last night. I think I might be grouchy. I may be the antagonist today!" Then another student added, "I am going to be the protagonist then!" It was rather fun! I said to the first student, "Maybe you will be the protagonist after a while. Go drink some water and wash your face to see if that helps!" 

Today we revisited the Memory Kernel Essay that we explored last week. The students looked over three Memory Kernel ideas to develop further. I showed them how to take the Memory Kernel sentences and add ideas. I modeled the process in two groups today. One group had the time to finish adding the ideas with my special revision pens. I asked them to write each sentence on lined paper. The important idea was to write the sentence from their notebook. Then I showed them how I would leave lots of lines of space because I wanted to explore or explode the idea or sentence. I used a different colored pen to explore the idea because I wanted to track the movement of the mind. The loved using my revision pens. I was surprised about how much they actually wrote. I am going to finish tomorrow working with my groups on this process. What is next?

By the end of the week, I will give them the RADAR Revision lesson using the revision pens. I will explore this ideas of replace, add, delete and reorder using a quickwrite and showing how I go over my writing using different colored pens. After I do this, they will be able to go back to their kernel expansion and then revise from a cold read. I am looking forward to it. I have to do it rather quickly because I want to start the study of expository text on Monday or Tuesday at the latest.

I am about 2.75 weeks behind in where I would have liked to be in my grammar, spelling, and composition work. I feel behind, but not behind the eight ball...yet. My students are progressing fine. I don't want to hit any panic button. Instead, I want to be laser focused and move forward. The weather looks pretty decent right now. I love teaching simultaneous bilinguals! I am blessed!

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Notebook and Staples

I tweeted out photos of some of my student notebooks and included Staples in the mention. I included Staples because I love to go to Staples and buy supplies for my classroom. I especially like the different selections of duct tape and great prices of pens and pencils. I always go there for the beginning of the school year deals on composition notebooks and spirals. This year, Staples had a special treat for teachers. They gave away wonderful coupons and a bag of goodies including hand santizer and liquid Expo markers. Needless to say, there are many reasons why I love to go to Staples.

I tweeted out photos of the Writing and Reading notebooks that my students created using the packing and duct tape. Staples USA replied to my tweet. I thought that it was so cool. Now I have more reasons to shop at Staples.  I have included photos of student notebooks and the Staples tweet and reply.

Anchor Charts

I have been teaching my English learners a lot of English grammar these past two months. I have used lots of mentor text and teacher examples as we go. I also have been using anchor charts and make anchor charts out of doors, cabinet doors, and other places. I have been too busy to post, but then one trusted colleague encouraged me to continue to post even if it was just a little bit. Here are some of my anchor charts that I have been using. I wish I had snapped photos of the mentor sentences that I had written on chart paper. I have plans for those which include lamination and clothes hangers. My students have asked me to get them out, so that they can review them. What they have forgotten is that they have written them in their Writer's notebooks.

Revision, Revisions, Revisions

I had a very pleasant time on Thursday. I was able to go into a classroom and teach a revision lesson to fourth grade students. We worked on what it means to revise. I first entered the classroom with the book Hair  by Sandra Cisneros. I used to book to as a Reading and Writing connection.

First, I had the fourth grade writers come to the convening area near a white board. I introduced myself as, "My name is Ms. Ucles. I am a writer." I asked the other students to introduce themselves as writers. They did so. Then I asked them a question, "What do writers do?" They gave me lots of answers. Then I asked, "What does revision mean to you?" They gave me varied answers. I then wrote the word revision on the board. I told them,"Revision means many those things that you just mentioned. To me, revision is creating the magic for the reader. I don't mean spells or taking a rabbit out of a hat. I mean that once I get my words down, I now have the opportunity to take my writing to new heights for the reader. I can go from okay, to better, to best just by revising. Today, we are going to do just that."

I then read them the book Hair to the students. When I finished reading it out loud, I asked them to think of something that the book reminded them of in their lives. I said, "When I read this book, as I was saying it reminds me of my grandma and how she used to pin her hair up with these black little curlers. The whole apartment smelled like the get Dippety Do. When I would come over to visit, she would have her hair pinned up with a plastic cap on her head. It also reminded me of my mom who used to do the same thing. I remember the curlers and the hair dryer she used to use on Saturday nights. What does this book remind you of?"  Some students gave various answers. "Today, you will write about those connections for 5 minutes. We won't talk, but write about our connections. Then after five minutes, we will reconvene."  The students and I wrote. The room was very quiet as everyone was writing. After five minutes, I asked the students to finish by writing their last sentence. We reconvened in the meeting area. I shared my piece. I then placed it underneath the document camera. I revealed my revision pens to the students. I purchased about 50 multicolored pens from Staples the previous day. I invited the students to pick two different colors to use. I picked a purple color to use. (Previously, I wrote with blue ink.) I told them that I used the different color ink to track the movement of my mind. The purple ink color to represent my first write. The second green color represented my first revision. It was my first attempt of creating magic for the reader. I read through my piece of writing aloud. Then I read the first sentence aloud. As I read it aloud, I revised the sentence and used the word insert and add. I then went through the rest and revised the short paragraph using green ink. I then invited the students to go back to their writing and see if they could create some writing magic. They took me up on my invitation and I watched the magic envelope the classroom. Some read theirs aloud and some didn't. I loved seeing the thinking and problem solving. They tried to make their writing better for the reader.

Finally, after 5 minutes, I asked to them to look over their writing. I read my first two sentences aloud with a before and after. I asked, "Which sounds better this way or that way?" They said, "The second sounds better." I asked, "Why?" They then explained why. I asked, "Can you see what I am talking about the second time?" "Yes," they said. "Then, I am helping the reader understand by choosing precise wording." I told them, "Now, go over what you wrote. Compare the first write to the revisions that you made. Is it better? Share with a partner your revision decisions." 

Then I said, " I am going to revise again to see what happens. I don't just revise once when I write. I go through it multiple times finding ways to make my writing better for the reader. Let's find out what pops this second time." I told them that I changed pens to red to show my second attempt at creating magic for the reader. I went through and make some revision decisions with my writing, and I including them in my thinking. I then invited them to try revising a second time to see what other revision decisions they could make. They revised for five minutes and used the second colored pen. As I walked around, I could see such great thinking. So many decisions were being considered! I asked them to stop and look over their writing. I read my second revision aloud. Before I began reading, I asked them to find a their favorite part of my writing. I told them that I had one particular part that I loved and that I thought that I had nailed. I read it through. I asked them to share with a partner what their favorite part had been. They then shared out loud. I followed up with, "Why did you like it?" I then shared the pen drop moment. (Moment that you feel that your writing was great.) Most of them told me that they liked the part that I had selected. I gave them time to look over their writing and find the pen drop moment.

Finally, I shared with them the acronym RADAR.(Jeff Anderson and Kelly Gallagher Write Like This) I said, "When we revise we sometimes replace words and phrases with others that help the reader see. Other times we add new words and sentences to make our writing clear to the reader. Still other times, we may decide to delete words and phrases that don't belong or that we might want to delete and replace with more precise and concise language. At times, my way need to reorder or rearrange sentence and paragraphs.  I went through the first three sentences and asked them, "What did I do here?" With guidance, they were able to tell me. I gave them a letters to code the process. I used R for replace, A for add, D for delete, and RE for reorder or replace. After I had done modeled the process, I invited them to do the same with their writing. They did so. I think asked them to share with a partner.

After that, I invited two student volunteers to share their changes with their writing to be displayed underneath the document camera. They read it and explained what were their revision decisions. It was so cute!  What a wonderful writing kind of day! Wow!

This took me 60 minutes to do with numerous school interruptions from outside the classroom. We made it work! Normally, if time is limited, this could take two days. I have left some student samples of their work. I love teaching fourth grade students!

Teaching English Learners and Simultaneous Bilinguals-Pronouns and Antecdents-Explicit Instruction-Patterning

I have been working with my students on tracing pronouns back to the antecedent. We have studied subjective, objective, posssessive, and reflexive pronouns. I wanted them to be able to identify the different pronouns and to understand the function. Understanding pronouns requires a knowledge of their cousins, the nouns.  We could even say, their parents.  In order to understand a pronoun, you would need to know that the pronouns takes the place of a noun. The nouns should be written first and then the pronoun can be introduced. If that is not the case, then we have a vague pronoun reference.  When I introduced this, I talked to my students about how my mother always uses a vague pronoun reference. My mother, with our many conversations, says, "Well, you know that they say that you should drink more coffee. They say coffee is good for you." That always drives me crazy. I always ask, "Mom, who are they?" That question always gets her angry. She gives me the frustrated look and states, "You know. The doctors!" I then reply, "No, Mom. I didn't know because you didn't first state who they were. You were vague." I let the students know that their job as writers is to be clear to the reader. To be clear, the reader has to be able to see what you are talking about. When we start with the pronoun, the reader become blind. I then introduce subjective pronouns. We then read mentor paragraphs from articles and books where the antecedent (noun) is introduced primarily. Then we find the pronoun in the same sentence or in the next sentences. I teach them to trace the pronouns back to the antecedent. As I had taught them previously, we code the singularity and plurality of the nouns and pronouns by coding them (1)(one) and (+1)(more than one).(This idea was adapted from Gretchen Bernabei's Grammar Keepers.) I discuss how they should agree or if not the reader will be confused. I love teaching this. I have included some photos of their work.

First, I teach them the academic terms like antecedent and then we move onto subjective pronouns. (This idea came from Jeff Anderson's book Mechanically Inclined.) Throughout the next two week, I introduce objective pronouns, possessive, and reflexive pronouns.
We find the pronouns, trace them back to the antecedents, code the antecedent and pronouns, finally we code them to check for agreement.  We do this through the use of mentor text and editing invitations taken from the research of Jeff Anderson's Editing Invitations  and Mechanically Inclined.
I show them published examples paragraphs from published text. We discuss what we notice and trace the pronouns back to the antecedent. Then I have them try writing sentences where they first mention a noun and then continue with other sentences using pronouns. I show them how to do this with my own writing and by imitating previously studied mentor text. They write their antecedents and pronouns in their notebooks and on sentence strips. Finally, they are invited to collect (Invitation to Collect) examples that they find in books and articles. My students do this with a partner. They write examples in their notebooks and are prepared to share with other partners and the class.

I have included some photos of their work and other coding that they have done with nouns. I hope you find this helpful.