Friday, February 22, 2013

Oh Friday!

What a week! My Lanta.

PD on Monday (a whole day on evaluations--really exciting stuff there), normal Tuesday and Wednesday, PD yesterday and a crazy Friday. Gross.

I am so glad PD is pretty much over for this year. I don't know if I could take any more of this crap when I'm gone. The kids were just awful and only THREE of 28 did their homework and reading loss. This I had to show my mean face today, on a Friday, and that just sucks.

Glad to have time to recover before I go back!

Positives: Down about 13 lbs on my diet so far and get lots of compliments; I've worn two pairs of jeans this week I haven't fit in previously and they look and feel great; I have two days to sleep, recover and try again.

The biggest cup of soup ever! :)

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Writing Lessons on the Fly (and silliness)

Most teachers I know say one of the worst parts about teaching is the grading. It is never ending! Sometimes I don't mind it so much but there are times when I grown at the thought (although it isn't nearly as tiresome now with our new system in place--I have GOT to take a picture of how we're doing it...I love it!).
I've been enjoying grading the Paragraph of the Week as mentioned yesterday. I ran across one from a little guy in my class that just has me cracking up. First, some background: writing is one of my very favorite things to do but I kind of hate teaching it. Probably because it's frustrating when the kids just don't get it. Those that don't read unless you force them to don't know how to write like a reader and vice versa and it can be discouraging. However, as I told my student teacher, (I'm kind of horrible for admitting this to someone who is just getting into the field), I really write my lesson plans for someone else. *Gasp!* For shame!!
I could teach all day, every day without ever writing a single lesson plan down and my class would do just fine. It's all tucked into my brain. Once I go through my teacher's editions, review the concepts I'm teaching that week, it's all in there and I like to let it "marinade" if you will (what the heck is my deal with food metaphors?? Maybe because I'm not eating regular food?? You'll see what I mean in a bit...) Basically as I stand in front of my class and engage in my mini-lesson or the discussion, brilliant things just come to me. My brain is GREAT at marinading. I shall demonstrate.
We have talked so much about how to hook a reader. When I taught 2nd graders, I had a very visual class. So I drew a fish hook and told them to remember that hook when they were trying to write their leads. This year I did the same but I told the kids to hook me in my belly button. At first they looked at me like I'd grown an extra head, so I explained.
"Where do you feel it when you are emotional?" I asked them.
28 little wheels were spinning in those brains. The light bulb came on really fast for some of them and their hands shot straight up. When several students had their hand up, I said, "where?" and they all replied "in your belly!"
"You are right!" I enthused. "We are emotional beings. When we feel guilty, sad or even happy, we often feel it in our bellies. Our stomach might hurt, we feel like there is a rock in there or we have butterflies because we're happy and nervous."
They nodded along as they understood my analogy. I wanted them to  hook me in my belly button to really draw me in to their paragraph. I wanted to FEEL it in my gut.
Later we were talking about the closing sentence. I asked the students how  many of them had ever eaten a cheeseburger. They all said they had. I then asked them w hat they would think if they picked up that hamburger and suddenly there was ketchup, mustard and pickles all over their shirt because someone forgot to put the bottom bun on the burger. We really got crazy with it when I asked them what if it was a grilled cheese (see the pattern here with food?? It's ridiculous!) and they picked it up and had cheese all over their hands? They wouldn't be too happy, right?
I pointed out that that feeling is what a reader gets when the author doesn't "close" their idea, book, story, whatever it is. If you leave me hanging and there is no sequel, I am not going to want to read your books anymore because I will never know what happens to the characters.
During lunch that day, my student teacher asked me if I had planned all of those metaphors and I honestly answered, "no". It just comes to me in the moment, as I'm with the kids. Depending on their understanding (or lack thereof!), I use weird things to help them remember. The hook, the bun, etc. One of my girls even wrote on her rubric paper "Don't forget the bun!" and she drew a picture of a hamburger with an arrow pointing to the bottom bun. Ha! They really can be hilarious sometimes.
The kiddo referenced above? The one who had me giggling? Clearly that child remembered the hook. He wrote "If kids took charge of the world, it's gonna be a nightmare come true!" I laughed out loud reading that. It just made my whole day. 


Saturday, February 16, 2013

Accountability and Paragraphs

Since my student teacher started with me this January, things have changed a bit in  my classroom, all for the better. We made a "Work Hot Spot" board in the back of our classroom where students have to turn in EVERYTHING. (Earlier in the year I had them use baskets at their table but many students still weren't turning in work.) Now each child has a spot and it is much easier to see who is missing work throughout the day. Along with that, we put a big poster board in the back of the room that lists all of the missing assignments the children have to help put the accountability on them.
For those students who were "on the fence", meaning they only had a few missing assignments each week, this system has been amazing. They have few, if any, missing assignments with the accountability of this turn in system. Unfortunately, for my really low kids who have no support at home, and quite frankly seem to care less about their learning, it hasn't made too much of a difference. It's discouraging because my student teacher and I have done everything humanly possible to give the kids the chance to be successful and they just don't follow through on their own.
We have had to really crack down on them since they just have no concept of what it means to be failing (previously we have used a 4-1 grading scale and now it's a mix of A-E and 4-1 which is confusing). There are a few 4th graders this is true for but nearly half of my 5th graders just don't care. It's so sad :(  Although I will tell you that at conferences, not a single parent yelled at me because their child was failing, they all yelled at their child and asked them why they had so much missing work, etc. It hasn't changed much for some of these 5th graders and I worry  about them in middle school when the bar is even higher and they have a 70/30 scale (tests being worth 70% of all grades).
Onto a positive note, however, we have implemented Paragraph of the Week in our class this week. I'm so glad I did because while we have a pretty set curriculum (it isn't developmental sadly), the students still can't write the best. Since I am a huge language arts buff, this is not going to work for me. Enter Paragraph of the Week. There is no way in the world I would ever use this 100% as homework because it would never be returned. So we carved out about 10-15 minutes per day for the mini-lesson part of the PotW aside from the normal writing we have to do.
This week, we used the topic of "What if Kids were in charge of the world?". We went through the process of how to do the paragraph of the week each day this week. (After this coming week, I won't do that anymore as they will have gone through the process twice and should be able to do the work on their own as an extension of writing time.) They had class time every day to work on it and the final paragraph was due on Friday. We still had some kids who didn't turn it in (so they will have to spend their work time doing it instead of the stations they want to visit) but most of them got it in. My 4th grade friends are far more responsible than the 5th graders which is sad.
Anyway, I'm super glad I decided to start these because after grading some of them, I can see we have some work we need to do. Wow. It is scary how little they know about writing a good paragraph. I know they were taught it before because we focused so much on it in 2nd grade last year and the 3rd grade teachers have a real diligent system they use as well. I'm not sure what has happened but hopefully the PotW will get them back up to par.
It was a cute topic to read about. Some of the students were all about no rules and being able to do whatever they wanted, but some were pretty realistic and asked questions like "who would cook and drive? We're just kids, we don't know how to do that!" One of my boys said if kids ruled the world, they would put the adults in cages so they don't have to see them. That one scared me a bit haha! :)
Here's one of my favorites from the 5th graders. 
Here's a 4th Grader's.... 


Friday, February 8, 2013

How to Mentor a Student Teacher

For the record, yes, I got my snow day! Woo hoo! Probably won't happen again this year but I thoroughly enjoyed it the time off! :)

This winter, I have been mentoring my first student teacher. It's been both awesome and tough. Awesome because my student teacher is really awesome. She's very driven, interested in our students' progress and a caring person. I've been very lucky to have her with us. It's also tough because if I see her struggle, sometimes I really have to refrain from stepping in. That is hard. I'm the kind of person who doesn't put up with disrespect. In fact, my colleagues tell their kids if they are bad they have to come and see me (while it's kind of funny, it also makes me look like a big jerk which isn't true). 

Anyway, this week she's been really rocking and rolling with math. She's doing a lot of hands-on activities which is great. I'm trying to teach her how to make sure she has enough for the students who finish early to do because that's when she's losing them. I was SO mad for her on Wednesday afternoon because the class was just awful. They were using pattern blocks while working with fractions which is great except that when she would try to help or reinforce for one student, many of the others would just act totally disrespectful and rude (banging blocks, etc). Keep in mind that we have 4th/5th graders, not 1st graders. I'd beg to differ that the 1st graders wouldn't ever act like that.

I was furious and she was so upset that she was almost crying. Our desks were at that time still by the ELMO so I was there working and observing and she was standing by the ELMO trying to get them to listen. I finally whispered to her that she COULD just stop and make them put their heads down. I think she was afraid to do that because she didn't want to treat them like little kids. I pointed out that if they are going to act like they are 5, it is okay to treat them like they are 5. She followed through and made them do it and then we had them write letters home to their parents to explain what they had done at school that day and it had to be signed. They were much better for her on Thursday after seeing HER put her foot down rather than just me.

Thursday the student teacher next door asked me if she could borrow one of our WalkKits (from The Walking Classroom) to supplement the lesson she was doing for social studies. The university has them video-tape a lesson and then critique it and watch it with their university supervisor. She wanted to use the Slave Rebellion podcast for that. Yesterday afternoon she came over to our room to return the WalkKit nearly in tears. I asked her if the WalkKit hadn't worked (she had planned to hook it up to the ELMO cabinet so it would play through the overhead speaker). She said it had but the lesson was terrible because two of their students began to cuss at each other during the lesson and just generally ruin the lesson for her. She didn't want to use that video after all because it was so bad and was worried we would have a snow day. I told her that if I was her CT, I would tell her to use that lesson anyway because that's the reality of the kids in that classroom. I felt horrible for her, poor girl. I brought her into our shared bump out and gave her some chocolate I had back there. At first she was like "no no, it's okay!" and I said, "Darlin, I can't eat it anyway and you deserve it after this". She smiled and took it.

My student teacher and I have kept a reflection journal since she started with me. We don't write in it every day but at least twice per week. She had a lesson last week where she just wasn't sure what to do and she asked me to step in. I did but I wrote in the log for her that she had to think about what she would do in that situation if I hadn't been there. I am, of course, and I won't just let her falter but those are things you have to anticipate for when you are truly on your own. When she had responded back she said she got nervous and was afraid to just stop the lesson. Her reflections remind me so much of when I was in that same position. I had written her another response the other day and she replied and gave it back to me yesterday and said that she was so glad I was truly her advocate, colleague and ally because she knows if she messes up, I'm not going to condemn her, but rather push her to improve and be better.

I think that's what it takes to be a mentor for a student teacher. I constantly tell my ST that I'm not perfect either. Sometimes I still have a lesson that totally tanks and I'm not new anymore. It's how we learn and grow. I have witnessed many, many colleagues over the years "mentor" someone and learned exactly what not to do. I also had two of my three CTs who were not that great at mentoring someone. I also learned from them exactly what I would never do when it was my turn to mentor someone. I've kept my promise to my ST: I have never said anything about her to someone else that I wouldn't say to her directly. I've been there and it is wrong. Last year one of my colleagues did it all of the time with her ST and I thought that was just awful. You can't improve if your CT doesn't push you to grow, change and make as much growth as you can while you're with them.

I've learned so much having my ST with me thus far. She has given ME great ideas and we've actually implemented some of them in order to help keep the kids accountable for what they need to do. This is how it is supposed to be: I am mentoring her but she's also giving me new, fresh ideas to use in the future. She has also freed up so much time for learning in our class because she teaches my 5th graders reading and I teach the 4th graders reading. We have more time to devote to the reading block and the kids are benefiting! 

I have 9 more weeks that she will be with our class. I already dread the day that she leaves. She is truly a remarkable person and it has been fun to already watch her growth in the last month. I will continue to push her, challenge her and help her shine. She would be so suited to work in my district in the future. I just have to help her find that strict side of herself so that her management will be solid before she has a classroom of her own.


Thursday, February 7, 2013

Snow, Snow, Snow!

Last year we didn't really get very much snow here in Michigan. I had a feeling that we'd get slammed this year to "make up" for it.
We got at least 4-5 inches while I was at school today. All after school events were cancelled including our conferences. It's been snowing ever since. My kids' school has already called it for tomorrow. I'm worried that my district won't. I'm not sure why they don't...often we end up being one of the only districts open and then we have poor attendance and of course it counts as a snow day even though we were at school. :(
I only get annoyed when I have to drive to work through the ick, past multiple districts that are closed to get to mine. Once I'm there it's okay but they're predicting somewhere between 8-12 inches through tomorrow at noon. It'd be nice to know before I went to bed so I can sleep in without getting up early, crossing my fingers and more than likely being ticked that I have school.


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

My 15 minutes of fame; Conferences

Today was a long and busy one. I was out for the morning to take Middle Child to the doctor. That poor kid just has it all (dyslexia, Asperger's and a serious GI issue). Anyway my fabulous student teacher and my favorite, most fabulous sub ever were at school holding down the fort for me. 

Just after lunch, I got an email that included my press release about The Walking Classroom. So awesome! I actually wrote my own press release because I thought it was just easier than trying to have our communications guy do it. It was really cool to see it in print...and sent to EVERYONE who is on that listserv (at least 1500 people). The executive director of the Language Arts department for my district emailed me and said it was the coolest thing and she wanted to know if she could come watch us some time! AND Mrs. CT (who retired last spring) emailed me and said she wanted to know if she could come visit and walk with us. :) Very, very awesome.

We also had conferences today. I both love and hate conference nights. I hate the long days (because it makes the following day tough sometimes) because we only hold ours after school but I love seeing the parents. Today was especially awesome because we just finally finished up our Reading MAP tests. We started them last week but the kids were really taking their sweet time (which is definitely a good thing!) and we didn't finish. Fortunately they can suspend the test and pick up where the student left off. I am so proud of my students. Only 4 of my 4th graders didn't make growth (two went backward because they hurried and two stayed flat) and two of my 5th graders went down (because they hurried and/or just don't care). 

We give our students a goal for the year based upon the score they get on the first test in the fall. The goal is different for everyone based upon that first score. The goal is what we want them to reach during the May testing window. I had many students already pass their May goal and quite a few who were within one or two points from reaching that goal. My student teacher went with them to finish up the tests and they wrote their scores as they finished and brought them to me. It was an awesome half hour as the kids came back with their paper and we compared their scores. I've never felt more proud of them or myself--I've worked my tail off to ensure they AREN'T at a disadvantage being in a split classroom and that is paying off because THEY took the time to focus on that test and do the very best they could.

It was great to share those results with parents at conferences. I finally got through to a set of parents who haven't wanted to think about the fact that their child may need some extra help and they trusted me enough to finally push forward with getting him tested. I also had many parents ask their child (who doesn't have the best grades this term) why I am working so hard but the child isn't. How refreshing to have the parent realize that the child is not stepping up to do their part.

Overall it was a pretty awesome, albeit tiring, day. I love what I do and I'm glad I do it.


Sunday, February 3, 2013

Science Pilot

Science is a big deal for Michigan 4th graders. Mostly because they take the MEAP covering 4th grade content when they are in 5th grade (of course with the Smarter Balanced Assessment coming down the way, this may change). I taught 4th grade at Former School and this year having it again, I realize how much I've missed it. I LOVE 4th grade. The kids are fun and the curriculum is more interesting.

That said, recently in my district we were offered a chance to pilot a new online science techbook through Discovery Education. Naturally I signed up immediately. This week will be the first week we use it. Sadly we just don't have the technology for all of my students to get online and use the online resources right now but it has tons of video clips, short reading passages filled with content information and other hands-on activities and quizzes I can download and use with my students.

I am really excited about it and can't wait to see how it goes with them. I've had to make a few adjustments in my schedule to include a bit more time for these lessons but it will be interesting to see how much the students get out of the new program. Ideally it will be the district-wide curriculum next year as it is aligned with the Content Standards for Michigan and uses the 5-E model (we don't use it at elementary level right now but they do use it at the middle/high school level and I am excited to see how it works out). 

I've been using materials from The Science Penguin which I love...and I'm interested to see if my students get more from this program with the videos and hands on work than from the the mini-units that are entirely student led with TSP.

As I get older and teach longer, I'm finding my focus areas are shifting from being a language arts person (although I am and will always be) to working harder at making math and science engaging and making meaning for my students. Those are constantly subjects where my students tend to do poorly and I know we can't afford to let that happen in this day and age.


Saturday, February 2, 2013


Happy Saturday bloggers! It's been cold and wintery here this week. Kind of crazy because last week it was rainy! It's been a bit rough because Thursday was the only day in the last two weeks that we've had outdoor recess! (Last week it was inside due to it's due to wind chills. Yes, Michigan weather is bi-polar, in case you didn't know.)

I wanted to share a story with you about my friend Sammy. He was in my 2nd grade class last year. He's super smart but kind of naughty sometimes, especially if he isn't being challenged. I have a great relationship with his dad as we worked through how to best help him last year. This year, in third grade, he continues to excel. His teacher is brand new--literally got hired just before winter break (Sammy's other teacher left to get married and move to Ecuador! Lucky!). Needless to say, I've so been there as a new teacher: coming in after someone else and trying to find your balance and keep up with the ever-changing demands of a classroom.

The other day, I was walking past Sammy's table during lunch. He has a different lunch time than I do this year but I was downstairs since my student teacher was in the classroom running the lesson. He was sitting away from most of the rest of the cafeteria with a few other students. I asked him if he was sitting at the naughty table and that's why he was so far away. His eyes got really big and he said, "No, I promise!" (Yes I do have that effect on people.) 

Later that day after school, I relayed that to Sammy's new teacher. He thought it was hilarious...but then proceeded to tell me that Sammy has been a little naughty lately. Immediately I thought back to last year when I was dealing with that with him. So I offered him some help even though I don't really ever see the K-3 staff (our school has 500+ students and our lunches run to the effect that we're almost 3 separate schools on our three floors). Sammy is a whiz. He really is. Unfortunately his kind is so rare in the parts where I teach. There are some of course but often we have students who are very behind due to poverty and other family circumstances (ie parents who weren't ever read to as children and thus don't really understand the value of reading to their children, etc). Sammy is lucky. His dad is amazing and truly wants what is best for his child to help him excel.

So I thought hard about it and offered to bring Sammy to my class for math. He will work with the 4th graders. Since I have such an amazing relationship with his dad (who is an artist and even came to do a super awesome art lesson with my class last year), I told Sammy's teacher that I would call dad and make sure all of this was okay. When I called Sammy's dad, he was beyond grateful and told me that I was an amazing teacher and he was so glad that I still look out for his son.

While I thanked him for his accolades, in my mind I poo-poo'd the praise. Every teacher should be willing to go above and beyond for their students in this way. I know that Sammy has the potential to be a little pain if he isn't being pushed. When his teacher told me that Sammy barely pays attention and gets 90-100% on every math test, I knew I had to do something. Just because Sammy is no longer mine doesn't mean I won't push him and push him. In fact, I have planned this child's future for him--we are going to keep pushing him this year, next year and when he's in 5th grade and we're going to get him to the middle/high school in our district that has won national honors. I won't be able to stand it if I don't help this dad,who has limited resources, to do this for his son who would definitely excel in a school like that. It's truly the only "gifted/talented" program we have. Dad, bless his heart, said "what about transportation?". I told him as far as I knew, they do bus but that if he gets to that point and they don't bus, to look me up and I will arrange for someone to bring Sammy to school. This is three years down the road and I have this plan for this child.

It isn't because I'm amazing. It isn't because I'm "the best teacher ever" (their words, not mine), it is because I care about that child. I want him to succeed. I don't want him to fall into the cycle of poverty that most of our kids end up in, no matter what their parents good intentions may be. I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I didn't offer every smidgen of help and support I can to this child who needs that sort of advocate.

To me, Sammy is a child with special needs too. No, he doesn't have a disability or anything medically wrong with him, but he does have an inordinate amount of talent hiding in his little head that our society needs. It's my job to advocate for and continue to find resources for every special needs child I see. Even kids like Sammy whose special needs lie on the other end of the spectrum from what most of us classify as special needs.