Wednesday, October 31, 2012

It's (almost) NaNo time!

I have been a bad blogger lately. Sorry! So much to do and so little time. In fact, I have so little time I signed up for an EdCamp event this Saturday and I am going to cancel it. Not because I don't want to go (I think it would be super fun) but because I need to step back and spend time with my family. I have been way too overworked and it isn't cool. 

Anyway we've been cruising right along at school and the students are SO EXCITED about NaNoWriMo, which officially starts tomorrow. I set myself up for a nightmare because I am doing NaNo on my own AND with the kiddos. 80,000 words in a month? While teaching full-time? Having a family? AM I INSANE? (Well, yes, I am!)

The fabulous folks at NaNo have a whole young writers program, complete with Common Core aligned curriculum. I created a virtual classroom for my students at the NaNo Young Writer's site and today my students logged in and did the word count generator to see what they should change their word count goals to. Some kept them at the 30,000 mark which is the default but several went down to 15,000 since we'll be doing the majority of our writing by hand (with a few times of typing what we've written so they get an accurate count). 

We've been going through the character worksheets: first the main character, then the supporting character (we decided they were the "sidekicks") and today the villian. I have a student this year who drives me batty. He's smart but SO lazy. He got away with a lot of junk last year that just doesn't work for me. So today as I showed the kids how to log on and use the word count goal generator, I let them see how it works by typing in a story as we went along. (And based on the free write of 10 minutes x 1 hour per day it said I should be able to write 105,000 words in November.) I just made up a story as we went along, typing as we went. They were impressed I can type without looking and how fast I can type without making mistakes. Funny the stuff that impresses them!

Anyway so I started out by writing "Once upon a time, there was the most fabulous teacher ever and her name was Mrs. Raye" and just got sillier as we went. I named my villian after this student who gets on my nerves and we just went with it...I put a kick me sign on his back and he was going to get revenge on me. I gave him a present and it came in a big box. He was so excited his eyes were about to burst fell onto his cheek and he had to wipe it off and stick it back into its socket. Inside the box was a stinky, smelly, nasty monster who had 5 eyes, 6 nostrils and 23 feet. It ate this poor little boy...and then the monster coughed, gasped and choked on this rotten kid and threw him up. So another student threw up on someone's new shoes and another student threw up on someone's back pack. The kid was embarrassed so he body slammed me to the floor. I can't remember what I decided I said in the story but I did something to him and he says "Oh NO you didn't." and then the timer stopped. It was a bummer to realize I lost the writing. The kids LOVED it. I used several of my students in the story and they thought it was hilarious.

One of the kids said, "wow you sure like to write!" I hope that my 10 minute sample really showed them how you can banish that inner editor and just WRITE! Afterward the kids worked on their Villian worksheets and the little guy who I put in my story says "can I make YOU my villian??" I figured it was only fair since he was a good sport about me doing it to him. It will be interesting to see what he comes up with. I'm almost scared to read it.

They were laughing so hard and having so much fun as I was demonstrating the writing that I thought my neighboring teachers might get annoyed. Mrs. A, who teaches on the other side of the wall told me at lunch that she was very curious what we were doing because it sure sounded like we were having fun. Later this afternoon we had time to visit the lab and get the kids onto the Young Writer's Program website and they are all fired up. I can't wait to see how this goes.

I promised the kids we'd work on it all month and then edit in December. I will then let them choose an excerpt of their book to add to our classroom anthology and we'll really publish them (with parental permission of course). They are excited about the prospect of others being able to buy and read their stories. If this is the only thing they remember from this year, it will be fabulous.


Monday, October 22, 2012

Banishing the Inner Editor

It's no secret how much I love to write. I ♥ it and could do it all day if only I had the time!

So when our new ELA coordinator decided to change some of our focus for writing this year, I jumped for joy. Partly because our old system was very boring for the children and never really allowed them to have FUN with writing. No wonder our kiddos hate to write--the things we ask them to write about are TOTALLY lame! (Okay, I'll be fair...they weren't all totally lame but many of them were.)

Since our entire focus for October, November and December is Personal Narrative (taught however our hearts desire), I decided to tackle NaNoWriMo with my class this year. I never knew until last year when I participated in it that they have a Young Writer's program. (Check out the lesson plans for Grades K-2, 3-5, 6-8 and 9-12.) Since it is all aligned to the Common Core and is technically a personal narrative, my Lit Coach said "go for it". Yay!

Since there is prep work to do before the actual  noveling begins, I decided to start that with the kiddos today. We talked about what we already knew about NaNo, what we wanted to know (and some of their questions were quite interesting!) and what we learned after today's discussion. The kids start with a free write to the prompt "What does Creativity mean?" for about 5 minutes. Then you do the KWL and finally, before the "L" part you go back to the prompt and talk about how easy or difficult writing it was. I asked the children how many of them had trouble getting started? How many of them erased something after they started? Then I said that's our mean Inner Editor telling us to do that. But not during NaNo! They are going to have to go on vacation!

So we drew our Inner Editors (mine has blue hair, super green eyes and purple eyeshadow and I named her "Gertrude" but forgot to take a picture of her) and cut them out.
Here are my fabulous 4/5s with their Inner Editors (covering their faces for anonymity!).

I gathered them up and we locked them in this envelope where they are banished until December 1st!

I think this will be the hardest part for some of the children...not being able to erase or go back and "fix it" as we work. We talked a lot about how frustrating that will be and can be. I am going to be writing alongside them so they will see how I deal with the process as well. I sorely wish that we had access to our laptop carts but I think they are still waiting to be updated, which is a bummer. It'd be so much easier for the kids if they could type. Oh well.

We are going to make due the best that we can. If they write about 300-500 words per day that's 15,000 words. Of course I know many of them won't do their writing if they aren't at school but we're going to see what happens. I am going to encourage them to make a word goal of 10,000-12,000 words. I think that is more than do-able even if they only work on it during school (17 school days). It's still under 600 words per day. Nothing compared to the 1667 that I need to do! *wink*

When we were working on the "W" part of the KWL (which I forgot to take a picture of!), one of my girls said "will we be using things we've learned before?". I thought that was a fabulous question. We spent a few minutes talking about it. Yes, we will. All the times we've talked about juicy words and/or using certain styles or types of writing will definitely come in handy for this project! 

I am beyond excited about it. I am going to have to think of something amazing to do to celebrate the end of this awesome journey we're about to embark upon!


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Goodbye testing!

Whew! We have almost beat the MEAP. Tomorrow is our last day of testing. I am so glad. My nice, fabulously amazing class has gone bat-shit insane the last two weeks. Seriously, they LOSE IT the minute they are out of my classroom. While that speaks volumes for the rapport we have, it is also discouraging and disheartening. Why must they act up when they leave our room?

I know today was particularly bad because they were testing pretty much all morning from the beginning of the day to lunch. There was maybe a total of about 45 minutes in there that they WEREN'T testing. So they go to lunch absolutely CHARGED because they haven't really been able to relax and wind down from the test. So they talk at lunch. A lot. They are loud. Rowdy. Off-the-walls. 

The lunch ladies, bless their hearts, just don't get it. They do not understand that these 8, 9 and 10 year old kids have been plastering their brains onto a piece of bubble filled paper for 3 1/2 hours. It's hard. They just want to relax. They are little. They don't have self-control. 

And I am damn sick of them getting put on the wall at lunch recess because they were "too loud" at lunch. Sorry but can you blame them?? They haven't had a real break all day. Yes they had recess but it's so short compared to the hours of testing they did.

I will not miss the testing once it is over. It's super boring for me because I just have to walk around proctoring. Lame. Plus my routine and their routine is totally weird and messed up. 

Friday will be the last weird day because we have a big data meeting with the gurus from the district. So our day will be a bit topsy-turvy due to that but it won't be too bad. Come Monday, we're 100% home free. Back to our routine, back to "normal" and ready to really kick it back up. I want teaching to be FUN again. I want learning to be fun for my students. I want them to internalize that their BEHAVIOR should be amazing no matter what--test or not, weird schedule or not.

I really, really hate that Michigan has our testing in October. It's unfair to the kids and puts SO much pressure on them at the start of the year when they should be building a relationship with their classmates and new teacher and having FUN while learning.


Thursday, October 11, 2012


What a crazy week this has been! With The Husband out of town and the MEAP *in* town, it has been quite unusual around here. I was a single mom back in the day. For 5 1/2 years to be exact. So it isn't like I've never done it before...but what a difference it makes when you go from single mom of ONE living in an apartment with a job that is a dime a dozen and has more flexibility (ie working in a bank, store, etc) to three kids, a house, two dogs, a cat, a career opposed to a job, etc. It hasn't been impossible but I sure don't want to make a habit of it. I guess I'll keep the hubby after all :)

I feel sad because we haven't been able to do a whole lot this week...everything, and I mean everything, has stemmed around the MEAP. My poor 4th graders had 3 days worth of testing this week, concluding today. My 5th graders had to skedaddle elsewhere since they couldn't be in the room while we were testing. What an adventure that was. Our entire week has been off because of the testing and that gets to be really rough...especially when the students act like rabid squirrels after lunch. They're so exhausted mentally that they can't accomplish anything at all...yet we have things we have to do.

Tomorrow, we have a super hard day (I'm lying--it's SUCH an easy day!). Art first thing since we missed it Tuesday due to testing, then 30 minutes together in which we'll do calendar, then PE and recess! After recess we would normally take our weekly tests and things but since we didn't do any real work with Reading Street this week due to the MEAP schedule, we will take our Unit 2 math tests and then go to the computer lab. (It's supposed to be for Weekly Test time but we're gonna go chillax--they deserve it!) After that is lunch and after lunch it's relaxation. We've started our Economy and they will get "paid" tomorrow (a hiring bonus if you will) to get them started and teach the bankers and police officers the procedures and then they're watching a movie and coloring! I think they all deserve a relaxing end to this ultra crazy week.

The Economy is from this site. (I'm 99.9% sure I read about it on a blog but which one, I can't be sure and I am way too lazy to go look it up.) I ordered the free kit to save myself the copying at work and we've done job applications, reference letters, interviews and finally assigned the jobs. They "officially" start tomorrow. I am giving them a half-month's worth of pay to start with (even though that isn't what the program says to do) to help them get started and to be able to show them how the program will work. I wrote their desk rental agreements out before I left today and will finish writing their "paychecks" tomorrow morning. 

Some of them are really going to be in for a rude awakening when every time they talk out of turn costs them classroom cash or when they do really poorly on a test it costs them classroom cash. I thought long and hard about it and added the poor test grade as a "fine"....not to be a jerk but to motivate them. So many of my 5th graders got away with so much crap last year because of the low expectations their teacher had. It's hard to curb that laziness  (when they take 10 minutes to take a test that has 20 questions including a long passage they need to read, you know they didn't even try). So hopefully the first time (or three!) they get fined for that, they'll slow down and take their time.

Once we get rolling, I'll write a more in-depth post about the economy, how I set it up/modified it a little and how it's going.


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Testing Testing

Sometimes I feel like all we do is test our kids: Fresh Reads, Weekly Tests, Spelling Tests, weekly math quizzes. Whew! (Although I tell my students they have it way easier than I do because I have to GRADE all that stuff *wink*)

Today was the first day of the MEAP. I really dislike that our tests are in October because it doesn't reflect what *I* have taught them and that is unfair since some of my evaluation is based upon how they do on it. Basically I'm being judged on what someone ELSE taught them. Seems backwards, right?

Yesterday one of my colleagues, who doesn't even teach a standardized test grade, had a moment where she was feeling really negative about the pressure our kids face. I said that until a politician shows me how to meet the expectations they set before us (with zero experience in my shoes), their policies really don't mean anything to me.

I think it is very easy to get discouraged as a teacher these days. So today before welcoming my kiddos to begin their day with a huge test, I decided to celebrate the fabulous-ness that happens in my room daily. It's so easy to focus on the negative sometimes, especially when you feel overwhelmed.

I want to focus on the good things though! :)

I finally got my Boggle board set up the way I wanted it. It's right under my white board so easy for the kids to see and a great spot for a small group to gather with clipboards and work.

My treat tree. Mrs. CT gave it to me last year and I have not had time to really do much with it. I decided to use it as my prize box. Only one prize is on so far because I didn't have any string (shameful I know!) but this is the start. Love it!

My 4th graders are working on data and using data sets to make graphs. I had a sub yesterday morning and they made this chart of how many people are in their family. One of the boys proclaimed it was "so cool" to graph our class ;) [I had both grades do this since it gave us a larger set with all 27 kids.]

My 5th graders are working on data too but mostly around chance and probability. So I left this chart for them while I was out yesterday too. I left them some questions such as "what are the chances that you could land on green with circle 2?"

They did this with the sub so when I saw them after music and we reviewed the morning, they said I was a sneak for asking that. I pointed out that is how you know when something is "impossible" ;)

I will choose to focus on these fun moments with my class when testing stress makes me want to jump out a window....which by the way, I often say to my kids. "This is hard! Should I give up and jump out the window?!" (Which is comical because we're on the 3rd floor!) They respond "No, you should TRY!"

One of my 4th graders said "If you say 'I can't' in school, it's kind of like swearing!"

I love them!
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday, October 8, 2012

Single Momma

I wish I was sitting home this Monday morning, blogging at 8 a.m. because I have the day off from school. Alas, no luck. We have school today and all week. Standardized testing starts tomorrow so it's all hands on deck. 

So why am I sitting here? Well, Middle Child's IEP is this morning. I really am not looking forward to it. We changed their school this year and for four weeks, things were golden. The last two? Notsomuch. It is hard for Middle Child to make these transitions. Unlike most kiddos who would act out right away, instead, she absorbs it all. The child has the weight of the world on her. She feels like she has to be sad for everyone. It kills me to watch her little self try to deal with all of the anxiety, much of it brought on by herself because she cares so much. (Example: she loves hamsters and often watches videos on YouTube about them...and came across one where the hamster died and she cried and went on for about two hours, bringing up things that a) have already happened and should no longer worry her, like my surgeries, and b) things that are so far in the future, like her going to middle school NEXT fall and her sister graduating and moving out.)

Thus, the IEP. I don't know if this is the rule everywhere (although I assume it is) but if you change schools or programs, they get a 30 day placement and then have to amend the IEP for the new school/program. So that's today. Why am I not looking forward to it? The Husband had to go out of town for the week. He left last night. So it's just me and them at this IEP and I am going to have to refrain from saying what I really think. The team she has are the ones who work with all of the inclusion kids which is great. But for them allegedly being "accomplished in the affective domain" they leave something to be desired in my book. At least one of them does. She irritates me to death and we're only a month and a half into the school year. 

So I get to be Single Momma this week, handle this IEP without making a huge fuss and get through this first week of the MEAP without The Husband here. Should be....interesting.


Sunday, October 7, 2012

Weekend Blogger, Testing & Stations...whew!

Apparently I am turning into a "weekend only" blogger. Sorry about that! I would love to blog more during the week but haven't found the time quite yet. Occasionally, yes, but most of the time, I'm trying to balance real life with teaching. It's getting a little easier as the weeks go by but I am definitely not 100% into my "balance" yet.

The paperwork is better, thankfully, but our schedules keep changing and that makes it hard to keep up, catch up and not give up! I try to give my all every day to my cherubs, because they deserve nothing less, but sometimes the constant time switcheroo and unexpected assemblies really get to be aggravating. Bah!

I have, very slowly, gotten some of my centers and other station areas around my room ready. I did not snap any pics before I left on Friday because I was rushing out the door for homecoming but I finally got my Boggle Board ready to go and my Math it UP! station is now ready to go too (and was "field tested" by a few kids who gave it rave reviews). Small group time is SO important to me this year to do justice to my split grade but that means I have to have meaningful and authentic learning activities for the other kiddos to do while I am working with my groups.

Since our focus until mid-October is always MEAP-prep, the lower grades have not started their intervention blocks yet. This was great for me in that I had one of our amazing intervention teachers take my 5th graders for reading. I could focus on my 4th graders and he worked with the 5th graders and when we all reconvened, we had Read to Self and then Stations and Small Groups. Now, however, I will lose his help since 2nd grade has intervention at that time once the MEAP window is over. So I have had to get creative with how best to work with all of my students, still use small groups to really target their needs, and make the most of our time together. No sitting around and drinking diet coke for this girl!

The trickiest part is making sure that I can meet with both of my grades for whole-group AND still meet with my small groups. I have 5 groups, mixed with both 4th and 5th graders, based upon their current levels (MAP scores and observation so far). When the interventionist had my 5th graders in that first part of the day, it was VERY easy for me to fit the small groups in. But now I have a schedule that will look something like this: 5th Grade Whole Group/4th at Stations, Read to Self, 4th Grade Whole Group/5th at Stations. If I do it this way I miss out on part of the time I had to meet with small groups. I have intervention from 2:20-2:50 Monday-Thursday but if I only met with small groups during that time, I wouldn't be able to ever meet with my intervention kids myself AND I wouldn't be able to see all of my groups daily.

Then I remembered at our August PD, they said our "conferences" will change and we will want to do them within our small group time in order to do justice to the changes we have made. I have resisted this previously but I am thinking I am going to have to embrace it so I can still work with my small groups but not sacrifice anything else.

This is what I am going to try. We will see if it will work. This will allow me to work with all of my small groups for 45 minutes each week. Group 5 is my high group so I will work with them for the entire intervention block on Monday (30 minutes) and then do a "check in" sort of group with them on Friday for about 15 minutes during the "Work Time" block I scheduled to allow kids to finish any work from the week that they didn't get done. All other groups will meet for about 15 minutes three times per week. Hopefully it works out well.

Once the crazy testing window has passed, we'll be able to really "try out" this schedule and see how it goes!


Monday, October 1, 2012

Don't Tell Me..... (Daily 3)

that after a month I have finally figured out what I'm doing?! haha!

Seriously though, as the time has gone on and I have drowned more and more in papers, I have decided to get SMART. Forget being a perfectionist. Forget having it "all together" all the time. Pshaw!

I'm all about doing the best I can and doing it SIMPLY from now on. So what if I don't have tons of colorful displays or 50+ products on TpT or TN for sale? I'm making happy, productive learners and that's what matters to me.

I've been struggling with my reading time and trying to do somewhat of a Daily 3 and it's been okay but relatively scattered as we've tried to get the ball rolling on various things we are absolutely required to do. But after some ideas from around the blogosphere, I think I may be getting somewhere. This week will be my "trial week" and then next week it will all go down hill since we are MEAP testing and schedules relatively go out the window! The few times we've been able to try some stations and mini-rotations the kids have been all for it. They LOVE the freedom and they LOVE the creative choices they have once they finish the "must do" activities I have for them.

Since I have the split class and refuse to combine my reading curriculums, it gets a little challenging trying to balance all of it but I think I may have found a solution I can stick with. This is why I am going to "trial" this week...if it doesn't work I have a couple of more lax weeks with the MEAP to get it right (I don't mean to imply that the standardized testing is lax--it isn't--but my schedule is WAY more flexible and thus, I don't panic about when I am teaching what during those crazy two weeks).

I took my MAP data (once I finally got it, HA!) and split my kiddos into 5 groups. I did them by their RIT score so my 4th and 5th graders are mixed for these small groups. It worked out great because I have 5 groups with either 5 or 6 kids in them, which is perfect for a small group. My highest two groups I will meet only twice weekly because they are so independent already. Plus I have scheduled "conference time" on the last day of the rotation so I can grab an extra group here and there. Unfortunately I just don't have enough time to see all of my groups 3 times even though I would love to be able to do that.

I have a 90 minute block for reading between recess and lunch and then a half hour in the afternoon for interventions. I usually have my kids go to stations during this time as I meet with small groups. It's kind of an extension of our earlier reading time, just toward the end of the day instead. I am working on a schedule for when my kids will visit each station (because I just don't have the means to give them full choice on each area) and when they will see me. 

I'm excited about it. I hope this will put the spark back into my routine and help me to balance the two grades and their unique needs.