Several weeks ago, I introduced a classroom management incentive program in my room. It consists of taking small glass pebbles and dropping them inside a vase. The class earns pebbles by meeting our five classroom expectations. They get one pebble for each expectation, with a possible sixth if our restroom & drink break is done in three minutes or less. When we first started doing this, I only awarded pebbles at the end of the day. But I switched to doing them twice a day based on a suggestion made during a recent new teacher mentoring program “chatshop” that was held by the district. I also got a smaller vase so that the students could see the results of their positive behaviour more rapidly. The prize for filling the vase was an extra 30-minute Read, Write, Think period.
Last Wednesday, we filled the small vase for the first time. Because it was filled at the end of the week, we did not get to have our extra RWT until this afternoon. However, even a four-day weekend filled with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, pie, pie, and more pie did not make my students forget that they had earned this reward. So it was that this afternoon we had our first bonus RWT. I finally have several students interested in writing a blog post during Read, Write, Think, which is why we have this entry for today:
Today with the other 4th grade class, the other teacher discussed with us what will be happening over the next few weeks of school. We all actually learned something new, or new for most of us: 4th graders have a science test as part of the ISAT in March.
It was not too chaotic or hectic today, and we did earn our extra Read,Write, Think time. Mr. Valencic got some cool, new puzzles. They are metal and some students have referred to them as “brain teasers.”
Right now we are in the process of more Read, Write, Think, and it’s anything but tranquil. We’re about to go to a Coyote College assembly. The main point of these assemblies is usually respect, responsiblity, and safe learning. Many kids learn from these assemblies. They truly teach us alot. [Note: Link added by Mr. Valencic, who has resisted the urge to make too many editorial changes by including said link.]
Today we (the kids) will be getting more spelling. The words won’t be to hard if we study, so remember to do those spelling packets! The words might be a bit difficult, but they contribute to giving us a challenge.
Today in math we worked on more division, simple but hard at the same time problems. One example: 20÷5= ? .
I made a few minor editorial changes to the above, mostly related to spelling, punctuation, and capitalisation, but the content is entirely the product of two students with the occasional input of a third. The students in the class really like the brain teaser puzzles I have. There are three wooden block puzzles we’ve had since the beginning of the year and now four metal ones. Of the seven puzzles, three remain unsolved by any of my students: one wooden puzzle and two metal ones. I am hoping that each puzzle will be solved by the class by the end of the year! If they are all solved sooner, I will almost certainly acquire a few more. They are great activities for students to work on when they complete their in-class assignments. I also have a Rubik’s cube, several crossword puzzles, a three-dimensional apple jigsaw puzzle, and a surprisingly difficult nine-piece jigsaw puzzle. I need to get the students to start working on the apple puzzle. I am sure that if they work on it a bit each day it, too, will be solved eventually!
The following is a post written by two students in my class. This is the second in my currently-sporadic series of having students write a brief post at the end of the week. Theoretically, this will become a weekly series. The rules are simple: No names except for my own, nothing negative, and I have complete editorial power. However, I have limited the changes to major syntactic and grammatical conventions, as needed.
Here it is:
Today is the the last school day before Thanksgiving, and I believe we’re all looking forward to it. But I must say, I was surprised that we, being the dramatic class we are, didn’t express our excitement, although I am sure we all have some good plans.
I was quite excited myself, and I will admit I spent more time today looking at the clock than I ever have before. We spent most of the morning in the other fourth grade teacher’s class doing the Thinks You Think. The other fourth grade classroom looked as if Christmas were tomorrow, not Thanksgiving! When we got back, we silent read for fifteen minutes. Shortly after that, we learned about division, then lunch.
Currently it is close to the end of the day, and I can barely contain my excitement!
Written by two of Mr. Valencic’s awesome students!
The division work we did this morning focused on an introduction to why we cannot divide by zero. I used models on the board and actual students before transitioning to number sentences, but I know we will still have to spend some more time on the concept before the students fully understand. For the time being, though, I will be happy if they simply take my word for it!
So crazy to think that there are just fourteen more days of class in session before the Winter Break! Where, oh where, has the time gone?! We are going to have some pretty awesome integrated units as we move forward toward the break, and I hope the students continue to maintain focus and strive to give their very best each day leading up and including December 15.
I want to take a break from updating this weekend, so let me just say in closing that I am truly grateful for the 27 students who give me a reason to come to work each day! Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and enjoy the weekend! I will be spending time with family and friends, and I hope that each and every one of you have time to do the same thing!
It is standard practice among fourth grade classes in Illinois, and probably all of the United States, for students to be introduced to playing musical instruments by learning to play the recorder. I remember learning to play the recorder when I was in fourth grade, but I sadly remember very little, beyond having a concert at the end of the year. Somewhere in my parents’ house is a picture of me and my friend Adam, dressed in slacks, white shirts, and ties, proudly holding our trusty brown recorders before the concert. I have no idea if anyone thought to capture the concert on film, though.
Fast forward 19 years, when I am now teaching fourth grade. My students are now beginning to learn how to play the recorder. They are really excited to be playing these instruments. I stopped by the music room yesterday to see if I could capture an audio recording of their playing, but they were putting the instruments away and lining up when I arrived. So I came in the middle of music this afternoon and did it then. So even though the recording isn’t actually from Day One or learning the recorder, I think it is close enough.
I was going to share the file on here, but, apparently, I have to have a paid account to upload mp3 files from a computer. This makes me very sad, but I just don’t see a point in paying an annual fee for a blog that is primarily an outlet for me to reflect upon the positive things that happen in my classroom each day and then share those thoughts with the 30 or so people who seem to regularly read.
However, I can tell you that the audio recording is exactly what I imagine a wild rumpus would sound like. The recording device was not particularly great, so the sound is a bit mechanical, but it is clear that the performers are all beginners who are willing to play with gusto! It is quite fun walking down the hall as my students are doing their best to master this instrument. Other teachers and staff members in the building hear it and see me and just smile. For them, it is an annual event that they are used to; for me, this is my first class on their first day of their first instruments. The sounds coming from those instruments may not be the sweet melodies of a professional musician, but, you know what? It is still music, and it music being created by my kids! I wish I could share the recording with everyone; maybe I’ll figure out a way around it. For now, though, I’ll just have to be satisfied with having it stored on my computer and on my phone. Anyone who wants to hear it is welcome to stop by the classroom or catch me wherever I may be!
Have a great weekend!
Awareness of Process is a tool used proposed (maybe created; I’m not quite sure) by Michael Brandwein to guide a group in discussing how an activity went. Those participating openly and honestly share their answers to three fundamental questions:
- What worked?
- What didn’t?
- What next?
These questions have been posed numerous ways over the years, but I have found that keeping them limited to just a half-dozen words really breaks them down to their most fundamental states. I love using AOP with my class to help them think about how they can improve in their activities in the classroom. The first question leads to a list of things that went well and should be repeated. The second question identifies areas for improvement. This is important because, as I told my class and have heard from my principal on more than one occasion, if you can figure out what went wrong, then you can fix it. The third question is the most crucial: what are we going to do next time? Are we going to be satisfied and try to recreate the results of today, or are we going to seek for improvement? I told my students that I want to see the list of items under the first question grow bigger while those items under the second grow smaller, but we should always be able to find something to improve.
Interestingly enough, today’s AOP session was done at the end of literature circles. The last time we did a formal AOP was when we had first started our reading groups. Sadly, we did not meet in our groups as regularly as I had initially planned, so our discussion of what next never had an opportunity to see a follow through. Our literature circles, though, will be meeting at least once a week for the next several weeks, so I am hoping to see some improvement, although I know it will take a lot of time and effort. We will use Awareness of Process regularly to examine what is going well with our literature circles (and other areas in the classroom) and determine what we need to do to improve. My ultimate goal is for my students to use the AOP questions on their own, whether they are working independently or in small groups, at school, at home, or at play!
My students have had substitute teachers a few times this year, but today marked a new milestone: having two different subs in the same day!
Once a month, the teachers in the building have a substitute come in with their class for about half an hour or so while they (the teachers) have special team meetings to discuss individual students progress in the two core content areas of math and reading. This is very much an example of work teachers do outside the classroom that is incredibly important to what they do. However, since these meetings are always on Wednesdays, and because my GLP and I both have our meetings in the mornings, I don’t even know how much my students noticed I was gone. Wednesdays, of course, are one of our Thinks You Think days, so the entire fourth grade is in one big group. The sub I had for the morning used to teach fourth grade in my building, and I am actually teaching in her old room, using many of her supplies!
After our special team meetings, our classes split up and I returned with my class to the room where they silent read for the short period of time before going to lunch. When the students returned to the room, I was preparing to leave and making sure the afternoon sub was all settled in. I am taking part in an inquiry group within our district that is being sponsored by the Center for Education in Small Urban Communities. The inquiry group focuses on integrating literacy across content areas. Some of our meetings are done after school hours, while others are during released-time. Today was the first of our released-time meetings. While my students were learning and practicing math, I was learning about new ways to use literacy in meaningful, organic methods. And yes, I realise I just threw out a bunch of education buzzwords; they do have real meaning!
I was very, very, very pleased to learn how well my class had worked throughout the afternoon! I don’t think I’ll ever overcome the sense of worry and anxiety when I have to leave my class in the hands of a substitute teacher, no matter how capable those hands may be. It is odd to say that, especially coming from so many years of personal experience as a sub. Now I know what the teachers I had subbed for felt like whenever they left, and I appreciate even more how well I was able to do my job!
On a completely different note, we are now on day eleven of How Long Will It Take for Mr. Valencic to Wear the Same Tie Twice?
Today was Monday and, in many regards, was a fairly typical Monday.
We spent the morning with the other fourth grade class, continuing our exploration of text-to-text, text-to-self, and text-to-world connections. The students worked in small groups to identify various connections in the stories they were reading. Some groups made a plethora of connections, while others struggled to make any. We are going to continue working on connections over the next couple of weeks, though, so I am not too concerned that the students are not experts in the field of textual connections yet.
We took the students outside for recess in the morning to take advantage of the beautiful weather. This turned out to be incredibly fortuitous, because the afternoon became dark and dreary as a freak monsoon blew through. I haven’t yet adjusted to the idea that it is now dark by 5 pm each day. While outside, the fourth graders were joined by a third grade class and then a fifth grade class, and all of the students were playing well together. Well, nearly all. There are several overly competitive students in all of the grade levels who haven’t quite grasped the difference between competitive athletic events and just playing to play. We’re working on that, too.
We wrapped up the morning with some math review of fact families and the eight math sentences one can write using three related numbers, modeling multiplication problems, and determining multiples of single digit numbers. We also had some silent reading mixed in there somewhere, finishing off our very typical Monday morning.
Except for the lunch cards.
You see, each morning, we have this routine: the students unpack their bags, hang up their jackets and backpacks, and line up at the door. I let them into the room and they make their lunch choices by selecting a particular lunch card and then they unstack chairs and sit at their seats, where the either silent read or work on a quick writing conventions lesson (lately it has been on capitalisation and punctuation). Selecting lunch choices also makes for a quick, convenient way to do attendance.
Alas, this routine is very difficult when the lunch cards are missing.
I am pretty certain that is my fault. I think I picked them up on Thursday afternoon and stuck them in a pocket somewhere. But I didn’t have them on Friday, when I came in to do some work around the room. And I didn’t have them this morning. So the cards were, for the most part, missing. This definitely fits into the “whoops” category. Fortunately, the students were still able to eat lunch. They just had to bring in some post-it notes with their names and lunch choice written on them so the amazing lunch supervisor ladies could account for them. I am certain the cards are in a place where I will find them, hopefully sooner than later. My guess now is that they are in a pocket of a coat or jacket and I just haven’t figured out which one yet. Either than or they are somewhere in the classroom and I just put them down and forgot. Hopefully I’ll find them soon, and we can get our routine back in place. In the meantime, we’ll just have to go with the flow and remember that change is part of life, and you just deal with it and move on. I’m sure I can make a teachable moment out of this!
Today is Veterans’ Day in the United States of America. As such, schools were closed. I spent my day in the classroom anyway, grading papers, organising assessment information, preparing for the coming week, and generally attending to housekeeping activities that I’ve been putting off for several days. I also had a chance to talk to my sister on the phone for a while, rocked out to whatever Google Music was playing, and finally joined the club of those who have accidentally tripped the security alarm at work.
So what’s the point of Veterans’ Day? Don’t we already have Memorial Day? The latter is a day to honour those who have died; the former is a day to honour those who are still living and, in many cases, still training and fighting to protect our nation. My aim is not to glamourise war or to make the regular men and women who do extraordinary things seem to be more than they are. It is merely to offer my gratitude to those who are willing to serve in a way that I cannot.
Thank you to all the veterans who have served, are serving, and will serve again!
Back in March, when I was without teaching assignments as a substitute due to Spring Break, I took time to consider a variety of strategies I used to improve my teaching. One of the topics I reflected upon at the time was my general dislike of the term “Hump Day” to describe Wednesday. I know many people like to use this term, and most of them, I hope, use it in a kind of half-joking approach. But it is the part that is not joking that bothers me. I guess I just know too many people who go into Wednesday expecting it to be a bad day because it is the middle of the week and they just want the week to be over.
I prefer to approach each day of the week as a new day, rather than part of a sequence. Some days may be really long and full of frustrating events that make me want to smash my head against a wall (not many, though); other days seem to rush by and end before I even know what is going on. Those days tend to be the ones where everything is going the way it should, but somehow it is over before it barely began (or so it would seem to me).
Today was a really good day for my class. Some of the students may be surprised to learn this, since we didn’t earn all of our pebbles for the day. (I have a small vase that is getting filled with glass pebbles that correspond to how well the students met the expectations for each day. We do pebbles in the morning before lunch and then again before dismissal. They can also earn pebbles for receiving compliments from other teachers or the principal and for completing our bathroom/restroom breaks in three minutes or less.) Even though we had some students off-task at times, and there were time when a majority was having a hard time focusing, we had some incredibly amazing parts of the day. For example:
The morning message on the board told the students that there were no sentence corrections (daily oral language) for the day, but that they needed to either read silently or work on their spelling assignments independently. As they came in, I had some classical music playing on the computer (I totally love my Google Music account) and reminded the class that if they couldn’t hear the music, they were too loud. It was amazingly quiet in the room; everyone in the class was working independently on one of the two assigned tasks.
After returning from working with the other fourth grade class (we began exploring the ideas of text connections today, using Yertle the Turtle), we did some more independent work before lunch. Following lunch, we did our read aloud–and I stopped at another super dramatic point, much to the students’ frustration, but that’s where the story had a stopping point–and then we worked on math. I told the students that they were to work independently for ten minutes and then they could work with partners until fine arts. While not everyone was independently working, enough of them were that they were able to do the partner work.
Today’s events reinforced to me the idea that Wednesday is too often unfairly maligned; rather than grumble about Wednesdays, I like to approach them as a I approach each day: a brand new day with no mistakes. I loved being able to tell my class this morning that they had 25 minutes of perfection this morning. I don’t expect every moment of every day to be perfect, but it is definitely great to have those moments that show why Hump Day doesn’t have to be Hump Day!
I thought about titling this post “Why does it matter?!” but decided to go with the second reference to cheeseballs. This is partly because I like the idea of cheeseballs multiplying. It is also partly because the cheeseballs remind me of the oh-so-excellent-and-fun card game, Killer Bunnies, which includes the Quite Irascible Diffractible Cheese Balls. Regardless, I am really enjoying using cheeseballs to teach multiplication.
After spending the morning with the other fourth grade class, we came back to the classroom and did some math in the morning and then finished in the afternoon. To review our math lesson from Thursday, I wrote 5 x 7 = ___ on the board and had the class identify what each number meant. They were able to recall that the five is the number of cheeseballs in a cup, the seven was the number of cups, and the answer (35) was the number of cheeseballs altogether. So then I had the students draw a picture to show model this. Each student drew some variation of seven groups with five items in each group, totaling thirty-five items in all.
Then I rewrote the sentence as 7 x 5 = ____, and draw a model of that. At this point, one of the boys in the class said, “But why does it matter?! The answer is still 35!!!” I told everyone to finish drawing their models and promised I would answer the question shortly. The students drew their models and then the question was brought up again. So then I said, “I’ve been asked why it matters to know the difference between 5 x 7 and 7 x 5. It has been suggested that it is the same problem. However, it most definitely is not the same! Can anyone tell me the difference?”
The boy who had initially posed the question claimed that there is no difference, because both are 35 items altogether. I agreed that they do indeed have the same answer, but I am not only concerned about the answer; I am concerned about how the students arrived at the answer. This seemed to confuse some, so I pulled out the giant tub o’ cheeseballs my amazing grade-level partner bequeathed to my class, as well as seven plastic cups. First I put five cheeseballs each in seven cups and explained what I was doing as I did it. Then I said, “But [male student] has said that there is no difference between seven cups of five cheeseballs and five cups of seven cheeseballs. He’s wrong. Here’s the difference.” I changed the arrangement of the cheeseballs and then passed the cups out to some of the students in the class. As I passed them out, it became apparent what was going to happen. Some students got a cup of cheeseballs, but others did not, most notably the boy who claimed that there is no difference.
I finished by saying, “And that is why it matters! I may have had 35 cheeseballs either way, but if I had put five into seven cups, more students would have been able to get cheeseballs then I distributed. Again, it isn’t just the answer we are looking for; we want to know how we got the answer.” I reminded them again of the big word I taught them at the beginning of the year: metacognition – “I want you to know how you are learning and learn how you are knowing. I want you to not only give me the answer, but to be able to explain how you got it.”
The students who got the cups of cheeseballs shared them with those in their groups, incidentally. We’ll be getting into the tub o’ cheeseballs again tomorrow afternoon. I am hoping that everyone will keep in mind that there is indeed a difference between a * b and b * a. Should be fun day!
Oh, and for those keeping track, today’s tie was my red Snoopy stock market tie.
All of the teachers in my district have an inservice staff development day today, so the students get the day off. I tried to convince my students that I am the lucky one because I get to go school today, but I don’t know how many of them really bought it. Just like adults look forward to the holidays that give them a break from their day-to-day routines, students, even those who love school, still like having time off.
In lieu of a post about teaching or staff development (today is a continuation of the work we did during our last inservice day), I thought I’d point out that I have finally gotten around to begging my wonderfully talented wife to update the artwork she created for my substituting blog so that I could get it put on here. Currently, the only update is that she changed the name of the title in the header: “Adventures in Substituting” is now “Adventures in Teaching Fourth.” With the exception of the font she used, it is all her original work so, please, no figuring out a way to pilfer the images and use them, either in whole or in part, elsewhere without written permission.
There will most likely be some revisions of the site design, particularly with the header, but I was getting really tired of seeing the boring template header with a white background that WordPress had set as a default. Happy Friday!
The class today spent an incredibly awesome morning working on their spelling assignments, with students practicing spelling, creating word searches and crossword puzzles, and helping each other finish their assignments. I was a bit worried about how much they would be able to accomplish since they were not able to start the spelling assignments until Tuesday and this was already a shortened week, but, as they have on numerous occasions, my young charges rose to the challenge!
Fortunately, though, they will have considerably more time to work on their spelling assignments this coming week; I decided it would make more sense to distribute the assignment sheet this afternoon and give them a few extra days to work rather than waiting until Monday. While the students are under no specific obligation to work on spelling over the long weekend (we have our next teacher inservice development day tomorrow), I will not be at all surprised to have several bring in mostly-completed assignments on Monday.
The afternoon we did something different. Rather than our weekly Read, Write, Think! activities, we combined with the other fourth grade class for a special Thinks You Think math session. While not working on English/Language Arts nor reading Dr. Seuss books, we still focused on some very important thinks the boys and girls need to think. (Yes, we are getting into the habit of using “think” as a noun.)
The focus of the math session was mastering the basic principles of mathematics. My incredibly awesome, super smart grade level partner had the idea. I don’t know if she came up with it on her own or if she borrowed it from someone else, but it definitely worked. We divided the 55 students into groups of six or seven and gave each group several paper towels, some plastic cups, and a handful of cheeseballs. We had to emphasise that no one could eat the cheeseballs until after we were done.
To start, my GLP used the overhead project to show a basic multiplication sentence: 3 x 4 = 12. She then talked the students through what each number meant by using the cups and cheeseballs to model. The 3 represented the number of cheeseballs in each cup. The 4 was the number of cups. The 12 was the number of cheeseballs in all. While this seems basic, it is a hard concept to master when first learning. (And, to be totally honest, I frequently confuse the first two, thinking that the groups comes first, and number of items in each group comes next. But I’ve finally got them solidly set in my mind.) The students arranged the cups and cheeseballs to make a model of the equation.
Then we had them change their model to reflect 4 x 3 as three cups of four cheeseballs. Then my GLP asked how many cheeseballs there were in all and everyone said there were twelve. The highlight of my entire day was the response from one of my students to the question of how on earth 3 x 4 and 4 x 3 could have the same answer when they are clearly different problems. He said, “It doesn’t matter what order they are in because of the assoc… I mean, commutative property!” That was totally a fist-bump worthy moment, and he was super happy with himself for remembering such a difficult term!
After some more modeling with cheeseballs and cups, we had to leave to go to drama, but we will continue to use cheeseballs to practice multiplication (and later division), which is, to be totally honest, way more fun that using the boring textbook! That being said, the students will still have practice and homework assignments. But I am expecting the tasty manipulatives to help teach the concepts!
Anyone who has known me for, oh, about 30 seconds, surely knows that I am an avowed bibliophile. A quick look at my classroom, my living room, or even my bag will confirm this. I have books all over the place. But I am certain that I can never have too many books, nor can my students have access to too many books.
During our recent parent-teacher conferences, students had opportunities to visit the Scholastic Book Fair being held in our gym. Each teacher was invited to create a wish list, so that students and parents could, if they so chose, purchase books for the classroom. Although I have a wonderful library in my room already, and the school library is just across the hall, I am anxious to acquire newer books. Some of the books I have were written in the 1960s or even earlier, so they don’t always appeal to students the way I would hope. As a result, I grabbed a bunch of books for my wish list, more for the purpose of making a list of books to acquire at some point more than anything else.
Imagine my surprise when I had a huge pile of brand-new books waiting for me at the end of conferences! Each book had a sticker placed on the inside to indicate which student donated it to our class. After keeping the books piled up near my desk for the past few days, I finally introduced each book to the class today. First I read the title and shared who donated it. Then I read the description/summary on the back. After introducing all of the new chapter books, I read one of my new favourites, When I Grow Up, by Al Yankovic. The class thought the story was a lot of fun and now they are eager to get their hands on the new books! I have to remember to get them on the shelves before everyone arrives tomorrow morning!
Today I finally got around to rolling out the spelling curriculum for this year. I would have done it earlier except I didn’t actually know what or where it was until just recently. Then we got busy with other activities, parent-teacher conferences, and a Hallowe’en party. So today was the first chance I had to get to it.
I am drawing ideas from other teachers I’ve worked with to give the students a wide variety of options for practicing and mastering not just the spelling, but also the usage and meaning, of the vocabulary words. The word lists are being drawn from our Houghton-Mifflin reading curriculum, so they will (hopefully) align somewhat to the stories the students are reading in the text. Each word list has 30 entries: 5 basic review words from 3rd grade, 20 grade-level words, and 5 challenge words. The students will typically have from Monday to Thursday to complete the assigned tasks for spelling (tasks that should be done independently during class when appropriate), which will, ideally, help them avoid additional homework.
Most of the students were excited to be working on spelling and vocabulary development, but a few wanted to know what spelling had to do with reading and literacy. I explained that reading and writing are really just two parts of the same process, and those who are able to master spelling are able to become better readers and better writers. I still have doubters in my class, but I will keep working on them until I’ve convinced them that it is just as important to write well as it is to read well!
On a completely different note, I’ve decided to see how long I can go without wearing a repeat tie at work. Yesterday was the official beginning with my solid orange tie. Today was day two, with my yellow Villini tie with blue and white accents (not to be confused with my other yellow tie with blue accents that will be worn on a future date). I am guessing I can make it all the way to March without a repeat! I need to remember to tell the students about this project!