The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Archive for August, 2011


Yesterday we had our first regular math test. I haven’t finished grading them yet, actually, but I expect to have them done either tonight or tomorrow. In the meantime, we have started moving forward with our math curriculum, working now on comparing numbers.

But yesterday’s math test wasn’t the end of our beginning-of-the-year mathematics assessment. My district uses AIMSweb to use some pretty awesome benchmarks to see where the students are at in the computational skills and their understanding of concepts and applications. The two benchmarks we use are called the M-COMP and the M-CAP. Most of the teachers did theirs last week, but, due to my absence on Monday, I missed the meeting about them. So I got them taken care of today.

The benchmark assessments are actually pretty straightforward: the students have 8 minutes to complete each, so it only takes about about 20 minutes to complete the entire assessment battery. I was able to get them graded and loaded into the AIMSweb database this afternoon, and now have a fairly decent baseline understanding of what my students know, what they should know, and where I need to go from here.

In the meantime, I should be having some America Reads tutors coming to the class soon, and I’ll be able to have them help out with some of the students who need extra support in class. Also, I have one parent who is going to be coming in once a week to help out as well. This is not only going to make my job easier, it is also going to help my students progress at a much faster rate than if I was working with them on my own.

Now that the major benchmark testing is done (we’ve already done the DIBELS testing on all of the students), we are ready for the next step: creating more differentiated lesson plans that meet the needs of each student. Some may claim that that is just a bunch of meaningless buzzword nonsense, but, really, it is what I am all about doing. It is pretty cool stuff, and I am glad to finally be a part of it!

Taking a Test

Sorry about the late blog post, folks! I had several other commitments this evening, and then my wife decided that we should eat dinner and we wanted to watch a movie, too.

Anyway, I wasn’t with my class this morning. My wife had a doctor’s appointment, and I decided to take the morning off so that I could go with her. (She is fine, by the way.) When I got back, the class was doing a phenomenal job working with their substitute teacher, who was going over a math review with them.

After lunch, I finished reading Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, and then we had some free time in class before taking the test. (I had a couple of students out of the room, and I wanted to wait for everyone to be there before we started.) We reviewed the expectations we have during tests: no talking, no cheating, and no getting out of your seat without first asking. I reminded them that these expectations are in full force until everyone¬†has finished the test. I also issued the usual warning that anyone who talks during the test will have to take it again the following day in the principal’s office.

I was very pleased that the class was respectful of one another throughout the time. Nobody was talking, nobody was getting out of their seats and, as far as I could tell, nobody was peeking at anyone else’s test. (They put up folders to block the view, anyway.) It took a little bit longer than I initially expected for everyone to finish but you know what? That was totally okay. Everyone got time to work on the test and give their best effort. Those who finished early got time to read, write, or draw.

At the end of the day, I gave the students the usual high five as they filed out the door. One student who has shunned the high five actually gave me one today. I still get the two girls who just give me one, and the couple of boys who prefer to smack their heads against my hand, but that’s okay. I like to end the day with a positive note, and I think it works well.

Tomorrow we begin week two of Dodgeball. I have to remember to select two random students to assist as referees during the games. Should be a good time!

Boot Camp

Today the students in my building were put through boot camp.

Well, that was what the PBIS team decided to call it, at least.

Really, it was just a brief 45-minute period during which the various grade levels were rotated through stations to learn about specific behavioural expectations throughout the building. The fourth grade went through around 1:15, starting with an assembly in the gym with the principal to discuss expectations when we have assemblies, then to a station in the hallway near the doors we use for recess to learn about playground expectations (notice a pattern here?), followed by a different section of the hallway for the hallway expectations and wrapping up with the restrooms for, yes, the expectations for the restrooms.

While most of the information presented had been taught and discussed over the past week in the classroom, it was good to have the students hear it again from a variety of teachers. Also, every student in the building who was present today heard the same message, so now everyone knows that everyone knows the expectations. In addition to be useful for student management in general, it is also a critical element of the PBIS model of having school-wide expectations.

My ¬†students impressed each of our five presenters (we had two for the restrooms–one for the boys and one for the girls) with how well they were already modeling the expectations. I hope that this was not a fluke and that they will continue to show that they know how to behave appropriately in different situations. I am sure I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again, but I’m still going to say it now: I have an awesome class!

Yes, student of mine who is reading this, that even includes you! And yes, parents of the student of mine who are also reading this, that includes your child! I honestly enjoy having each and every single one of my twenty-six–soon to be twenty-seven–students in my class. It has been a good start to what is surely going to be a great week!

The Classroom Birthday Party

Kids like birthdays. Teenagers like birthdays. College students like birthdays. Adults claim to hate them. I’m not sure what happens after we graduate college, but it just seems that most adults loathe the idea of getting older. I am not one of those adults. I love celebrating my birthday, I love celebrating my wife’s birthday, and I love that our birthdays are so close together that we celebrate for nearly a week. (I believe in celebrating the day before, the day of, and the day after one’s birthday, which means we celebrate our birthdays from January 25 until January 29. It is pretty awesome.) I also enjoy celebrating the birthdays of friends and family.

So, of course, I am a huge fan of the classroom birthday party. Back when I was in grade school, this usually involved Mum baking two dozen (sometimes with a couple extra) cupcakes, frosting them, and putting them in an easily transportable container to be brought to the class, along with napkins, to announce to my peers that, yes, I was officially a year older. I think I was in fourth or fifth grade when fears of hepatitis first began to grow and baked goods were generally discouraged at school. This continued on for some time, with school-sanctioned PTA bake sales being put to an end and students being asked to provide pre-packaged treats for their birthdays. By the time I was in high school, though, my friends and I discovered the joys of getting together and baking cookies, so we would bring our own homemade goodies in for birthdays and other celebrations all the time. Birthdays, terminal points of the semester, teachers’ birthdays, and just-for-the-heck-of-it were all valid reasons for bringing in treats. And, of course, the cookies that our band director’s mother would make for us after concerts–my friend Rusty and I would regularly joke about getting the lucky silver hair in the chocolate chip cookie.

Good times, indeed.

Today was the first day of the year that someone in our class had a birthday. We actually have birthdays fairly well spread out over the year, so I am sure we will have more birthday parties with some regularity. The class sang to the student who was celebrating the beginning of his ninth year. It was… um… it was interesting. I didn’t sing along with them, but I let them serenade him, and they sang their hearts out. What they lacked in rhythm and tone they made up for with gusto. Good for them!

After singing, the treats (cookies, most of which were sugar-free) were passed out. Then we all turned and watched as the birthday boy took his cookie and took a bite. I did what I always do: announced it as a play-by-play:

Okay, let’s all turn and watch as [student] takes a bite of his cookie! He is making his way to his seat… he is picking up his choice… and, oh, there he goes, it is all gone! Happy birthday, [student]! You may all eat your treats now!

Some students drink in their attention and drag it out as long as they can, slowly biting into the treat and making everyone wait for that first bite to be finished. Others just chow down and stuff it all in their mouth at once. Today’s birthday boy was definitely in the latter category. Everyone enjoyed their cookies, then, after a quick drink break, they jumped into games, reading, writing, drawing, and puzzling–being Friday, it was time for Read, Write, Think! I brought in a few games for the class, and was very glad to see nearly everyone participating in something that had them actively using their minds.

All in all, today was a fairly good end to a fairly good week. I actually have to go into the room to do a bit more work tomorrow afternoon to finish preparing for the coming week, but I am going to be able to spend most of my weekend relaxing and enjoying the beautiful weather. And the Urbana Sweetcorn Festival. My wife and I will be helping out in one of the booths selling festival t-shirts and hats. If you are in the area, I hope you’ll stop by; we’ll be there from about 5-8 pm.

Happy weekend!


When I was a kid in school, we never played dodgeball. At least, we never played a game that my phys. ed. teachers called dodgeball. As a matter of fact, we played two different forms of the game: bombardment (which is the fairly standard way of playing) and four-corner dodgeball (oh, the word was in there, but the emphasis was placed on the “four-corner” bit). Oddly enough, I never knew that the game we knew as “bombardment” was actually dodgeball. You see, there was a lengthy period of time during which it was considered improper for elementary students to play dodgeball. The game was unfair, unsafe, and unproductive.

By the time I made it to college, I had been thoroughly versed in the pedagogical theory of the evils of dodgeball. When I enrolled in my kinesiology class, we actually spent a considerable amount of time discussing why the game was so awful. I shared with my classmates the four-corner variety, which everyone agreed was more fun for all. (Perhaps I will outline the rules of this version another day.) I recently learned that there are an insanely large number of variations to this game, and the Wikipedia article on the subject does not even begin to give justice to them all. If you are interested, I suggesting finding a local kinesiologist, particularly one who has specialised in children’s kinesiology, and ask them to enlighten you.

Ironically, my first real exposure to a game called “dodgeball” was actually the Vince Vaughn/Ben Stiller movie of the same name. After watching, I realised that the game we played in grade school was essentially the same game, just with larger teams. While there are some elements of the movie that are not appropriate for children, I still find it very funny. It is full of classic lines, such as, “If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball!” Please note: I do not actually support this aggressive pedagogical style.

As a self-contained general education instructor at the elementary level in Urbana, I am responsible for teaching physical education to my class. On our first day, we simply did some basic aerobic exercises and got used to what we are supposed to do in the gym. Yesterday we began some more formal activities. Not knowing all of the resources I have available, and having been begged by my students to let them, I decided to have the class play dodgeball.

The first time we played, they wanted to have the teams be boys against girls. I’m not sure why either team thought this would be fun or fair. The boys in the class tend to be considerably more aggressive, and so they won the game quite quickly. So then I divided the girls at random and the boys at random and then divided them in teams of roughly half boys/half girls. This time, the game went much longer.

Today we continued our exploration of dodgeball. We reviewed the rules, discussed what was and was not acceptable, and I gave the class time to strategise before we started. I don’t know what any of the strategies were, though. The game went on for nearly 45 minutes before we had to wrap up. One of the rules that the students implemented was the way students would be released from being out after being hit or having a ball caught. The first way was if a member of their team caught a ball. The other was if someone on their team hit the basketball backboard on the opposite side of the gym. In both cases, every student on that team who was out would be able to rejoin the game. This was probably the most likely reason for the game carrying on as long as it did.

However, that was exactly my plan. The students were running, throwing, catching, and playing for a long period of time. Several were very sweaty as a result. Nobody tried to sit out or just stand around doing nothing. And everyone was involved in one way or another. I was very impressed with the encouragement offered to fellow team members. I’ve decided that we are going to spend two more days on dodgeball next week before moving on to a different activity. I am hoping to see an increase of sportsmanship, activity, and teamwork. If the past week has been any indicator, I have no doubt my class will rise to the occasion!

New Student

The first few weeks of school are always full of changes. Students and teachers are getting used to each other, the school is getting used to each class, teachers are getting acquainted (or reacquainted), and families move in and out of the district. Most classes have had changes along these last lines. Our class has been no exception.

One of the students assigned to our class had moved before school started, and it took a while before the information made it to us. Today we had a new student join our class. I was really impressed with how well everyone seemed to reach out and make him feel welcome and a part of our classroom community. I had to do very little in terms of explaining procedures and expectations because his classmates did it for me. This is just one more indication that we have already begun to establish ourselves as a community of learners. I am excited to see where we go from here!

On a related note, I found out today that there had been a glitch in our school’s mailing list and, as a result, I had not been receiving the daily emails with updates and the such. So, I didn’t know about the new student until I checked the online attendance posting and saw his name. Whoops! Fortunately, I am on the mailing list now, though, so all is well in our universe!

On Reading and Numbers

After several days of community building, expectation setting, and procedure developing, I realised that my class was ready for some formal curriculum. I had planned on starting it yesterday, but what with the emergency and running off and all, it mostly got bumped to today, although they did get started on the reading program yesterday.

We spent the morning on literacy, and actually spent about 30 minutes longer than initially planned doing it! I love how into the topic my class got! We were working on making a simple story map for the story Akiak, which is about the lead dog of an Alaskan sled team in the Iditarod getting removed from her team due to an injury then escaping and finding her team again. (Obviously, I am leaving a lot out, but that’s the general gist of it. If you are really interested, I highly recommend finding a copy at your local library or asking if you can borrow mine. Oh, yeah, I have my own copy of this book.) The students did a great job of identifying key parts of the story and also recognising that the graphic organiser we were using didn’t provide nearly enough spaces for the details they felt were important. There were even respectful disagreements about what was and was not essential to the book! If this is what all of our book talks are going to be like, I am anticipating some pretty awesome literature studies!

After lunch, I decided it was time to jump into the math curriculum. We did an inventory test yesterday to gauge how well they remembered the concepts they learned in 3rd grade. It turns out that there was a considerable amount of loss (sometimes called rescidivism, but that’s kind of an incorrect usage of the word) over the summer. I am giving the students time to work on making corrections, though. In the meantime, on to numbers! I started the lesson off with a deceptively simple question: What is a number?

The students started to give me a wide variety of answers as I wrote them on the board. We listed about six–one of my favourites being “a number is a maleficent force of evil that makes our lives miserable” or something along those lines… I am really wishing I had actually recorded the answer verbatim!–and then I pulled out “The Big Kahuna” (my massive Webster’s Universal Dictionary) to read the official definition. Did you know that there are at least 44 distinct definitions for this one simple word? I read the first seven before stopping, much to the relief of my students! This activity gave us a great segue into the first lesson of the year, on the four most common ways numbers are used: counting, measuring, labeling, and ordering. As with the literacy lesson, we ended up spending considerably more time than I expected on it, but I was very impressed with how well my students stayed on topic and how they worked as a class community to better understand the concepts.

The best part of the day, though? When I asked the students to give me a definition for “checkpoint” and after one student referenced the checkpoint flags in Super Mario Bros, another responded to checkpoints during a walkathon, which led another to talk about checkpoints during races and so on. I still think I spent too much time talking today, but the class is well on its way to becoming a community of learners who interact with and engage one another on a regular basis! I just hope that I can keep this up and see how it reflects in their success in reaching their goals!