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

Archive for September, 2011

Read Write Think – New and Improved!

Today was an interesting day for my class. Due to an unplanned meeting, I had to leave midway through the morning, leaving my class in the most capable hands of one of our Title I instructors with somewhat vague lesson plans meant to carry them through an unspecified period of time.

Yeah, I was just as confused.

Fortunately, my students showed that they knew exactly what to do when the instructions for the morning were to gather in reading groups, read for 15 minutes, write a character summary, and then read again. After all reading and summarising was done, they were allowed to participate in their Read, Write, Think! activities today instead of tomorrow (since tomorrow is a teacher inservice day).

I returned to the class to see a group of six girls working on art projects in one corner of the room, another group of students playing bingo, and some others working on puzzles or drawing at their seats. I had recently acquired some “cognitive games” (games that would challenge students thinking and/or help them work on basic math skills) that I was looking forward to sharing with the class. My parents donated “Connect Four” and “Battleship” to the class, and I quickly had several students jump at the opportunity to play. The two playing “Battleship” were quickly joined by two others to create teams. We also had “Guess Who?” and “Pokemon Monopoly” which were donated by my wife. (We found them at a local thrift store, actually, but she said they should both be given to the class.) Once again, the members of the class were eager to play and challenge one another.

I actually played a few games of “Connect Four” and am currently undefeated in the class. I also took on a couple of students in “Guess Who?” and managed to win. I am sure that one of the new challenges in the room will be to beat me at these games. The girls who had been drawing took the time to make some wonderful thank you cards for my parents and my wife, which was pretty awesome.

I have been impressed how well the students work together and take on the challenge to participate in activities that are meant to make them think. I am hoping to have more reading and writing and less drawing in the coming weeks. Constant improvement is one of my main goals, as an educator and as a person in general. I hope that my students have similar goals.

I will probably not be updating tomorrow, since it is an inservice day, so I hope you all have a wonderful weekend! I’ll be watching the Semi-Annual General Conference my church holds each October. (The Annual General Conference is held in April.) It is broadcast via satellite from Salt Lake City, Utah, but I’ll be watching online on Saturday and on TV at a friend’s house on Sunday. See you all on Monday!


Okay, so this post actually has nothing to do with mathematica, but everything to do with mathematics. I just think the Wolfram signature software has an awesome name! Maybe some day I’ll figure out how to implement it in my classroom. Maybe when we get some more modern technology, like a SMART Board. Ah, dreams…

Anyway, my students have been doing quite well in math, and as I have reviewed the data that I have (yay, data!), I realised that I needed to differentiate my instruction more (yay, differentiation!), which is why I have started breaking the students into different groups.

We actually began our differentiated math groups yesterday, but I was rather excited about the success of my reading groups, so I figured I’d save the math groups for today (yay, planning!). Hm… I think I have an education buzzword bingo… technology, implement, data, differentiation, planning, BINGO! But I digress…

The math groups have been quite successful in not only challenging each student at an appropriate level, but also in allowing me to provide more focused instruction based on the needs of those in my class. It has also allowed us to spend more time on math, so our lessons are no longer as rushed as they have been. I don’t know if my students have even noticed that math lessons have been rushed, but I know that I have noticed it! I’ve also been trying to provide more meaningful instructional time to cut down on the amount of lost time.

We are still working on improving our focus in the class so that we don’t have as much lost time, but I we are definitely improving! Differentiated groups definitely seem to contribute to this, although we need to work on it for a few more weeks before I’ll know for sure; right now, I just have anecdotal evidence that is leading me to see causation where we may just have correlation. Whatever the cause, the students definitely seem to be more focused and more willing to perform whatever tasks are given to them!

Reading Groups Take Two

I am pretty certain that reading is going to become a major focus of my classroom. Not only does it provide fabulous opportunities for students to learn across the curriculum, it is also something that I am passionate about, and so I share that passion with my students.

I am one of those people who is always carrying around a book, and I have been for years–at least since the time I was in fourth grade. (You will probably notice that fourth grade tends to be the touchstone of my educational career.) I recently told my students about the many books that I am sort of reading concurrently. Many of the boys and girls in my class have a small pile of books on their desks. While a few in my class are reluctant readers, it is wonderful when they all get into their books!

We have been slowly working our way into reading groups. Today was the first formal day with the books the groups will be reading. I have four groups with 6-8 students in each. The books they are reading are Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Runaway Ralph, True Tales of Animal Heroes, and I Hate Company. We practiced what reading in the classroom should look like. First, the students all sat at their desks and read silently for one minute. Nobody was to talk, mumble, or get up and move around, and everyone had to be actually reading. Then they read for two minutes, and did the same. After that, I put them in their groups, spread them throughout the room, and had them read for five minutes, still silently. All of the groups did a great job! I even took pictures of them (but I need to check to make sure I have the approval from all of the parents to post them online before doing so). After reading, they talked within their groups about what they read, then read even more. At the end of the period, we came together as a class and discussed summaries before I had each student write a summary of what they had read today.

It was, for me, an exciting morning. I saw some students reading for the first time, and others who stayed focused for much longer than they have before. Of course, reading won’t be the only thing we do in class; we still have math and science and social studies and SEL and PE and writing (which is really a part of reading, anyway). But it will be a big, big, big part of each day!

The Principal’s Visit

As a new teacher, both professionally and in the district, I am incredibly fortunate to have a very supportive principal who visits my room regularly. The regularity with which a principal visits the rooms of her (or his) teachers, to me, indicates a great deal about the type of individual that principal is.

While working as a substitute teacher, I was always impressed with the principals who took the time to both check in with me and check on me. It was a simple way to show that they were concerned about what was going on. It also told me that they considered working with teachers to be the most important aspect of the job. On the other hand, I knew many principals who never once came by the rooms where I was teaching, even if I had been teaching in the building for extended periods of time. I never knew what these principals were up to or what their priorities were, but I did know that they never had time for me or my classes.

So it is great to have my principal come by to visit and different times during the day and then receive feedback from her later on as to how she thinks I am doing and how my class it doing. Today she came by just as I was preparing to have the students break into their reading groups. The purpose of today’s reading groups was to get comfortable with the idea of being in the groups in the first place. She had some time available, so she actually took one of the groups to work with them. I don’t know what the students thought of this, but I thought it was great! I was given an excellent report on my students and the work they accomplished while she was there with them. She is also going to try to come in again tomorrow to see how we are doing with our reading groups. I don’t know if she’ll be working with the same group or a different one, but I definitely appreciate the assistance and the support!

Animal Inquiry Projects

For the past two weeks, the fourth grade students in my class have been working on an animal inquiry project. They have and been using the Internet, books, magazines, general knowledge, other teachers, parents, fellow students, and me as resources to find out the nomenclature, classification, history, diet, period of activity, appearance, placement in the food web, life cycle, and habits, and habitat of a variety of animals.

I was very impressed with the quality and diversity of the reports. One group presented information on poison dart frogs (also known as poison arrow frogs) using a PowerPoint presentation. Two groups used a tri-poster to present on polar bears and red pandas. Another group made a tri-poster out of construction paper to talk about okapis. Three other groups made posters to share what they had learned about quaggas, pit bulls, and bearded dragons. One group made a mini book about ligers. Our last group will be presenting next week because one or two of the three girls have been sick for most of the past week, which made working together quite difficult.

All in all, I was quite pleased with the results of the study. I think the members of the class learned about animals in a way that was much more engaging than if we had simply relied upon the science textbooks. We will probably do something similar when it comes time to study the European explorers. (I’m not sure if we will be able to touch on non-European explorers… We’ll see.)


Today I had one of those rare moments in teaching in which I saw everyone in my room doing exactly what they needed to be doing. It was during our morning silent read time, which we do after coming in from P.E. on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Nearly everyone in the room was reading, but a few were off task. I called them over to my desk one at a time and asked them to observe their classmates. Each saw that everyone else was reading silently. Then I asked each student to tell me what interests him or her. I was sincerely interested in knowing, because I know that most common reason students say they don’t like reading is that they simply haven’t found anything that interests them. After hearing the responses, I produced a pile of books I have recently acquired from my grade level partner and suggested a book for each student. Three of them love drawing, and so I suggested they read David Macaulay‘s books, such as Castle, Cathedral, and Underground. I also pointed out that I have several other books he has written and illustrated. Another one of the students loves working with my puzzles, so I gave her a book of optical illusions. Two others were given books that interested them.

And then it happened.

I looked around my classroom and I realised that, of the 25 students who were in  the room at the time, every single one of them was reading silently.

No talking. No drawing. No rolling glue sticks across the table or making long links of markers connected end-to-end.

It was, quite simply, a moment of perfection: They all knew what was expected, and they were all doing it.

Sure, it didn’t last. These boys and girls are, after all, boys and girls. They are still learning, but this brief moment of time was one during which I thought to myself, “You know, no matter how crazy they may be at times, these are good kids who really do want to do what’s right. They just need the right motivation.”

I am really looking forward to implementing a new classroom management system along with my grade level partner. We’ve been reading about it, researching the successes other teachers have had, and we are excited about what we are learning. I hope my students love it as much as we do! It is all about using the right kind of motivation to help students learn how to do the right thing for no other reason than it is the right thing to do.

Much like they were all reading silently this morning simply because it was what was expected, and they knew they could get something out of the experience.

I don’t know; maybe I am reading too much into it. Maybe they were just tired. But I don’t think so. I think they really were, for these few brief moments, captivated by the idea that they could each be reading something that was meaningful and worth reading.

One of these days I will be able to read my own books while they are reading theirs. That’s the goal, at least. I think we are one step closer to it.

Stop Walk Talk

I am pretty certain that I have mentioned a couple of times that our school has started to implement a new conflict resolution program called “Stop Walk Talk.” It is, at its root, a method of helping students learn how to resolve problems on their own, rather than running to their teachers every time a conflict arises.

We began the formal implementation of Stop Walk Talk with my class yesterday when my grade level partner came in and explained it to my students. However, none of them really began using it until today, when I took time this afternoon to model it with my class.

This actually happened because there were a couple of incidents that necessitated the need, but I was glad to use the students involved in the modelling. Stop Walk Talk works like this:

If a student is being bothered by another person, the student simply says to that person, in a firm voice, “Stop.” No yelling, screaming, fighting, or threatening. They simply tell the other person to stop the behaviour. Then the student needs to walk away. This is so important.

I talked to some of my students about what they would do if they were walking down a dark alley and they saw someone threatening approach them. I asked, “Would you walk to the threatening person, or would you run away?” Of course they would run away. With Stop Walk Talk, it is the same idea. After telling someone who is bothering you to stop, you need to walk away from the person. This may be as simple as walking to a different part of the classroom, or it may mean leaving the room or going across the playground. As long as they leave. The goal is that saying. “Stop!” and then walking away will take care of the problem.

However, if the other person doesn’t stop, or follows and does it again, then comes the talk part. Our students are being taught that they should talk to a teacher or another adult about the problem. Any time a student approaches a teacher to talk about a conflict, the first questions the teacher asks will always be the same: “Did you tell him/her to stop? Did you  walk away?” If the answer to either question is, “No,” then the teachers should respond by saying, “If you didn’t say, ‘Stop,’ and you didn’t walk, then why on earth are coming to me to talk?” I emphasise the words stop, walk, and talk when I say this in order to remind them of the program.

We modeled this a couple of times in the room, and I was happy that my principal was there to help out. I had two students work together then I walked over and started poking one. He told me to stop and then walked away with his friend. I followed and kept poking, so they told the principal what I was doing. Her response was to remind us of the expectations to be respectful and to keep our hands to ourselves.

Then I did the same thing with another pair of students, except that I stopped when they told me to. I also talked about when someone is doing something that is simply annoying, like tapping pencils, clicking pens, or talking to myself. I told them that they need to tell someone to stop each time something like that happens, and then they can walk away or, if it is something minor and the person stops, they can just continue to work.

Immediately after this discussion, we were walking down the hall to art and I saw one student use this when another boy was following him too closely. I am hoping that it will continue to be used and that it will help our class deal with the various conflicts that arise from time to time!