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

Archive for December, 2011

2011 in Review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 3,400 times in 2011. If it were a cable car, it would take about 57 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

I’m honestly not sure how I feel about this whole thing, but it looked spiffy, so I figured I’d toss it out there for anyone who may be interested. The important thing for me, though, is not the stats. I monitor them for curiosity’s sake but, really, they are just curious. The important thing is taking time to reflect and consider what I am doing. I blog for the sake of recording my experiences and sharing them with those who may be interested in reading them. If I didn’t have a single blog visitor for the rest of the time I wrote, I would still write, though.

Here’s to a new year! See you all on Monday!

Teacher Record Day

Today was Teacher Record Day in the district. All teachers were expected to report for work and to participate in workshops in the buildings for a specified amount of time, but there was flexibility on what that would look like. For me, it involved being able to take my wife to work and having the car, instead of the other way around, wearing jeans and sneakers, and spending the morning and part of the afternoon meeting with my grade level partner and making some plans for the coming semester.

We also had a teacher potluck lunch, in which it was revealed that, in addition to having fabulous hair, being a sharp dresser, and excelling at teaching, I am also an amazing cook. My wife and I stayed up last night making fried boneless sweet and sour chicken, which was a huge hit at the potluck. At least one teacher suggested that I be the official caterer for the next staff meeting. If someone paid for the foodstuffs, I would totally do it, because I do enjoy cooking. Another colleague commented that, not only do I cook, but I also worked as a custodian and therefore know how to clean. This led yet another teacher to ask if I happened to do plastic surgery because, as she put it, “Any man who can cook, clean, and make me look younger would be the Perfect Man.” Nuts. Two out of three isn’t too bad, though, is it?

And now the semester is really over. I am planning on putting in some time in the classroom next week, just because I want to take advantage of the time, but I am officially on holiday break. Two weeks to sleep in, relax, and make plans for an awesome second semester! As mentioned yesterday, I probably won’t be posting every day, and since the chances of me running into any of my students or their families are extremely slim, I hope that each and every one of you have a wonderful winter holiday break, whatever you may be doing!

The End of the Year

Well, I made it! The first half of the year is now done, and I am still alive, my students are still with me, and none of us have gone off the deep end. If that’s not good enough, we’ve accomplished a lot so far. I could make a list, but then that would only remind me of everything we still have to do, and I am afraid that that may set me off in a panic. Besides, if you really want to see a list of what was accomplished this year, just read through the titles of the blog posts I have written since I started working at Wiley!

Today was a crazy day. I didn’t want to send any homework with my students, since they have a two-week break, and it can be asking a lot of 9- and 10-year-olds to keep track of something for that long, so I didn’t want to start teaching any new concepts. I have encouraged the students to practice multiplication facts using their flashcards or Mr. Martini’s Classroom. I’m not sure show many actually will, but hey, I can hope! Also, we had a pretty full day with some set activities: P.E. in the morning, followed by the book exchange, leaving us with an hour and forty-five minutes before lunch. After lunch, the class had another hour and fifteen minutes before going to the 3rd grade fashion show (the culmination of a very awesome art project they had been working on), which was followed by our classroom party. (The classroom party was a lot of fun, although I think the next party–in February, I believe–is going to be much more structured than the first two were. Just part of learning and growing as a teacher, right?)

So I had about three hours of instructional time available to me. That is what made the day crazy, although the students were kind of crazy, too, what with the excitement over the classroom party and the winter break. I gave the students time to read independently from their books they got at the book exchange, and also had a few more type up their pages for our alphabet book. Sadly, not everyone got done, so we’ll need to pick up after the break and get it finished quickly so we can move on.

We also took time to clean out desks and tidy up the room. Several students have been working on reorganising my collection of storybooks and nonfiction literature, but there are roughly 650 books in that collection, if I recall correctly, and it has been slow-going. I plan on finishing it up during the break because, despite what we call it, I will definitely be going in to the classroom during the break to get some work done.

Not every day, though. I do want to be able to do things around the house that I’ve been putting off until the break. In addition to the random jobs, I am also going to try to make several slow-cooker meals that I can portion out and freeze so I have a ready supply of lunches available when school resumes in January.

So, on the one hand, I feel like I could have and should have done more this week and even today. On the other hand, I think that we did what we needed to do. It wasn’t the greatest day we’ve ever had in our classroom, but it wasn’t the worst, either. It was… well, it was the end of the year. Everyone is ready for a break, and I am already making plans for when we get back together. There is so much I have wanted to do, and I feel like I now have time to think it out and start implementing ideas that I have been floating around in my mind for the past several months. I don’t think that my classroom is going to be completely different, but there will definitely be some differences that will make it a better learning environment for all. Or so I hope!


Grinches and Duct Tape

We are really getting down to the wire, and the students are working so hard, despite the excitement over having a two-week vacation following an afternoon of partying tomorrow! My grade level partner and I knew that we still had some rather key assessment data to collect, so we made some plans last night and implemented them this morning.

We brought our two classes together, encouraged them to keep on keeping on, and let them know that we had brief math assessment we needed them to do. She explained to the students that it should only take 15-20 minutes, and then, after everyone was done, we were going to let them celebrate the hard work they’ve done for our combined class sessions by watching the Jim Carrey version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. (According to my intense research, this movie, which seems so new to me, is older than any of my students. Crazy!) This was a great motivation. We were able to have the students take the quiz and then, while they watched a movie, we graded and discussed the results so that we can start making plans for when they return in January.

Yeah, we’re just that awesome.

At the end of the day, we had our last school assembly of the semester. A couple of weeks ago, each student in the building was given an age-appropriate homework grid, that contained fifteen tasks that, upon completion at home, could be turned in for the opportunity to help duct tape a teacher to a wall in the gym. The tasks for the intermediate students included things like doing jumping jacks during a commercial, watching a movie with their parents, reading for pleasure for 30 minutes, and other simple tasks. I believe there were close to 100 students in the building (about a third of the student body) who completed their homework grids, and so there was no risk of the activity not working. One of my colleagues took a picture and posted it on Facebook. If I get permission, I’ll post it on here, too. But she looked kind of like this:

Except, of course, the teacher was on the wall, not the ceiling, and she didn’t have tape over her mouth. It was pretty awesome, though, and the students all loved being a part of such a crazy, fun event. Now we just have tomorrow morning and we are done for the semester!

I may post from time to time during the break, but I won’t make an effort to post every single day. I will keep track of the visitors to my blog, though, and the bizarre search engine terms that bring people here. For example, “how my colleagues with naturally curly hair and a straight unibrow (although that may just be glasses) stole christmas.” I cannot for the life of me come up with any rationale for why anyone would be searching Google, Bing, or Yahoo! for results to such an oddly specific search query. As an interesting aside, though, one of the blogs on my sidebar, EPBOT, also shows up on Google through this search term. That’s… that’s just weird!

Being the Mean Teacher

For the past four years, I have almost always introduced myself to students as the meanest teacher they will ever have.

None of them have believed me yet.

But it is true! Really! Not because I am cruel (note that I said “mean,” not “cruel”), nor because I am unkind, but because I am going to make the students do things they’ve never done before. I started this year the usual way, and I told everyone in my class that I was going to make them think harder than they’ve ever had to think before, and that is why I would be their meanest teacher. I also told them that I would never tell them how to spell a word, nor would I ever just give them an answer.

Some of my students have declared my claim to be true during the past couple of days, though. I am pushing them hard to keep working until the end of the week, and I especially want them to keep working on our alphabet book project. I would love for the book to be done by the end of the week, but some of them are dragging their heels. Others have gone to work with a gusto that I wish they would apply to everything they do.

One student today wanted help with his letter page, so I directed him to some information in one of our social studies textbooks. He asked me to just tell him the answer, and I replied, quite simply, “No.” His response: “Oh, come on, you’re so mean!” He is doing “M is for Maps” and he wanted me to make a copy of a map for him. I showed him the maps in the book and, since he loves to draw anyway, told him to get working.

Another student wanted me to give her the answer to a question about the father of Vasco da Gama and I gave her another of my standard replies: “Look it up!” She, too, said I was mean, and I smiled and said, “Yep, you’re right; I am! If you recall, I told you that at the beginning of the year. Now go look it up!”

Both students did indeed look up the information and didn’t ask me to do their work for them again. Some day, if they ever reflect on this, I’m sure they’ll realise that I have not been nearly as mean as they think I have been, and they will be grateful that I got them started on the path of finding out on their own, which is, to my way of thinking, what my job is really all about, anyway. I wasn’t hired to teach these boys and girls how to multiply, divide, and write. I was hired to teach them how to think. It is a tough job, but one that I love dearly!

Facial Expressions

As the year draws to an end, my colleagues and I are stretching ourselves to think of creative ways to keep our students engaged in the classroom. I find myself reminding my students several times a day that the winter break doesn’t start until after school lets out on Thursday–at least for the students; the teachers still have to work on Friday.

One of the ways we are keeping them engaged while teaching material is by providing fun activities that tie in to our lessons. Now, this isn’t to say that we don’t do fun things during the rest of the year, but it would be a lie to say that we don’t up the frequency of these activities as the semester draws to an end.

Which is why I found myself co-teaching a lesson on how one of the important ideas behind How the Grinch Stole Christmas is that Christmas, or any holiday for that matter, isn’t about the trappings and bright lights and presents, but rather it is about spending time with those we love and taking time to thank them for everything they do for us. (And yes, I realise that one can argue there are many other reasons. This is the one we chose to focus on today.) After the students wrote about this main idea and used textual support in their brief essays, we had them make a list of the people in their lives who mean a lot to them. I thought it was interesting that about 90% of the students in the room listed “Mom” on the top of their lists! Then they made simple thank-you cards to give to those people.

It was inevitable that a few of the students would make cards for their teachers. Cards, pictures, notes, and other such home-made student gifts are always a treasure. I have a file folder where I keep all of these gifts I’ve been given over the years. (Well, except for the scrapbook that my first graders in Paxton made for me; that stays on my bookshelf in my living room.) One of the cards given to me made me realise that, perhaps, I need to smile just a bit more in class. On the outside was the name of a student and a funny face picture with the word LOL and an arrow pointing to it. On the inside was this:

In addition to my dismay that this student portrayed my Naturally Curly Hair (TM) as a flat-top reminiscent of the early 1990s, I was shocked to see that my facial expression was a stern frown, accented with a straight unibrow (although that may just be my glasses). I showed this picture to my wife after telling her about it and she said that she agrees that I need to smile more. I guess I can try!

First Snow

It snowed last night, or maybe it was just early this morning. Whenever it came, it was the first snow of the year and so, of course, it became a topic of conversation among my fourth graders. And since it was a Friday, it was also a topic of conversation among the other fourth grade class, with whom we were combined for our Thinks You Think project. So we had fifty or so fourth graders all excited about the light dusting of snow that fell on our community and there was no way I was going to pretend that it wasn’t a big deal.

The Thinks You Think project has been focusing primarily on English/Language Arts skills, although we have thrown in a bit of math and social studies from time to time. This week, we focused on the idea of writing a change response prompt. This is when the students read a passage and then write a response discussing how a particular character had changed from the beginning of the story to the end. Not only is this a very useful way to process a story and think about the characters and plot, it also happens to be a feature of the ISAT exam’s reading response essay. And since the ISAT exams are in the beginning of March, we decided it’d be a good idea to get the class started on the ideas now. (Besides, such writing is also  part of their curriculum. So we have plenty of reasons to teach this.

So what does a change response prompt have to do with snow? Quite a bit, actually. I want the boys and girls in our classes to realise that the skills they use in one area can be transferred to another area. One such way was to have the students think about what the weather was like yesterday and then compare it to what the weather was like today. Then I gave them the change response prompt: How was the weather yesterday different from the weather today? After getting them started, my grade-level partner guided them through the actual writing of the response. In the midst of the writing, some of the students brought up the fact that it was windy yesterday. One of the girls in my class wanted to know if she was allowed to exaggerate when she wrote about the wind. My GLP said she could, and I ran off to the library to find a copy of one of my favourite examples of hyperbole: McBroom’s Wonderful One-Acre Farm by Sid Fleischman. Specifically, I grabbed it so I could share with the students the story of McBroom and the Big Wind. It is a fun story, and the students loved it! The library copy is now sitting on the whiteboard marker tray in my room so that they can read the other stories.

This afternoon was the last Read, Write, Think! period of the semester, since we won’t have time to do it next week. A few of the students took the opportunity to write a bit about the day. Here it is:

Today is Friday and we are having fun with Read, write, think. tomorrow is one of our classmate’s birthday, so she brought in doughnuts. I am pretty excited about this myself, but I am sure everyone else is excited also. This week has been especially long for me so I am excited. I am sure we are all hoping for a great holiday this year, let alone snow. The snow was a great excitement this morning, and I was greatly disapointed during recess when it melted. But though I am disapointed, I know that the snow melting made the weather warmer , and I also know that it will probably snow again this winter. Read, write, think is coming to an end, but I had fun!

I need to get some of the boys in on writing blog posts now. (So far, each of the guest posts has been written by girls.) But I guess that will have to wait until January. Only four more days of school with the students! Time is flying by! But before we start the last push of the year, I’m looking forward to a relaxing weekend! Hope you have a great one!