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

Archive for February, 2012

A Very Windy Day

We have had an extremely mild winter here in East Central Illinois. We’ve had snowfall just a few times, but I don’t think it has lasted longer than a day yet. There is still snow in the forecast, but I have my doubts.

Today was a particularly unusual day, especially for the end of February. It wasn’t a record high temperature (that was back in 1971, according to the Illinois State Weather Survey, when it hit 71 degrees), but it was a lot warmer than the average 43 degrees. So, of course, I took my class outside in the morning after an extended period of work so that they could run around and enjoy the fresh air.

That was when we discovered it was also very windy outside. We were playing a class game of kickball, and several of the students’ kicks went far askew due to the gusts.

We ended up opening the windows in our classroom just before lunch and kept them open throughout the afternoon. At the very end of the day, as we were going over how the class did on meeting expectations for the afternoon, something really shocking happened.

I asked the class to think about how they did with meeting the expectation about not defenestrating anything or setting anything on fire. (The actual wording is “No defenestration and no fires.”) Just as I asked this question, there was a sudden gust of wind and we heard a whooshing noise. I looked toward the window and realised that one of the posters hanging on the wall had gotten sucked down and out the open window.

One of my students immediately cried out, “Oh my gosh! Mother Nature just defenestrated the poster!”

I love it when the kids in my class spontaneous demonstrate that they not only pick up the words I use regularly in the room, but also show that they know what it means and how to use it in a sentence!

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Overheard in the Classroom III

Every now and then I have something happen in my classroom that I just can’t help but share. This has become a mini-series of sorts on this blog, as noted here and here. Today I had one of those moments.

After a day of working in the computer lab, going to library, returning to the computer lab, doing an amazing 45-minute stretch of silent reading (during which I was able to read on my own, too, for the first time this year–huzzah!), and working on math, my class spent the afternoon with their 2nd grade buddy reading partners.

My students have spent the past three weeks on independent research projects. I told them that the projects were due this week, and was very glad that quite a few did indeed have them ready to be presented. They are going to be sharing their projects with the class tomorrow, so I suggested they practice with their reading buddies this afternoon.

One of the girls in the class came to me halfway through her practice read and said the following:

Mr. Valencic, I don’t like how this word sounds. Can I borrow a pencil so I can change it?

I didn’t have a pencil, but I did let her use my pen. Then I made a note of what she said, because it was just so awesome! Of the many strategies suggested to writers, one is to share their writing with others. Another is to read your writing aloud. By doing both at the same time, this student was able to recognise a simple change she wanted to make in her writing. Moments like this are why I do what I do!


Don’t Tell Me; Show Me!

At the beginning of a math lesson this afternoon, I had a student start complaining when I told the group that we were going to review the math lesson they had done last Thursday. I wanted to review for two reasons:

1. I was not there for two days, and I wanted to know what they had learned, and
2. The substitute had left a note suggesting that I review the lesson.

This particular’s student response to my stated intention to review the lesson was that she had already turned in the work to demonstrate mastery of the topic (although not with those exact words). I pointed out that had not seen her do the work; I had only seen a pile of papers with her name on it and someone’s work done on it.

She grudgingly began to do the work, but she didn’t want to show any of her work. I found myself repeating something I have said many times this year: I don’t care about just the answers; I want to know how my students are getting those answers. Then I decided to shorten the mantra to just five words:

Don’t tell me; show me!

Of course, this immediately brought to mind a wonderful song from a wonderful musical:

I mentioned this song, but none of my student’s knew of it, which made me sad. Nevertheless, the mantra is a true one, which is why I think I’m going to make a poster of it for the room.


INTC Conference – Day Two

Today was the conclusion of the Illinois New Teacher Collaborative Conference in Springfield. I was worried yesterday about the time being spent away from my classroom, because I didn’t feel like I was getting much out of the conference. The presenters were not particularly engaging and the information being shared, while important, did not seem to be relevant to me or anyone else in our group.

Fortunately, today was much better!

The keynote speaker today addressed some great issues, especially how to maintain and even improve a new teacher mentoring and induction program when the financial resources are being decreased or even eliminated. One of the breakout sessions I attended (with all but two of the members of our team, incidentally) focused on the critical issue of how new teachers, and all teachers, for that matter, should be addressing race and poverty in the classroom, as well as how to overcome policies and practices that often marginalise students in minority groups. (An interesting aside is that demographic projects indicate that minority groups will actually be the majority in the United States within a few decades.)  We wrapped up our day with a great team planning session, where we made an action plan for our program (something I am very familiar with through my work with the Illinois Teen Institute) and then discussed our vision for the future.

I left the conference feeling energised, excited, and ready to move forward. I think that the rest of the group felt the same way. The car ride home was spent discussing what we liked about the conference, what we didn’t, and how we could apply the things we learned in a meaningful way. We also discussed the impact of PERA (the Illinois Performance Evaluation Reform Act of 2010) and Senate Bill 7, both very important legislation impacting our state.

I have another day of professional development tomorrow, this time with my fellow fourth grade teachers across the district, and then the weekend. Then it is back to the classroom on Monday to continue to drive toward the rest of the year! Have a great weekend, everyone!


INTC Conference – Day One

As long as you’ve been reading my blog for some time longer than, oh, a week, you’ve probably picked up on the fact that I love professional development. (If you haven’t been reading for longer than a week, then welcome!)

There are some teachers who do not love professional development. There are some who complain whenever professional development rolls around. These are usually the teachers who sit in the back of the room, drinking coffee, grading papers, and generally acting as if they are not in a workshop or seminar intended to help them improve their teaching craft.

These teachers are men and women that I would hesitate to refer to as professionals. I also use the title “teacher” loosely when referring to them. It isn’t that they treat their jobs as something of little value.  It is that they treat their jobs as just that: a job.

Teaching is not a job for me. It is a profession and a vocation. It is an extension of who I am and what I do. I have had jobs in my life. I was a paper carrier, a salad maker, a low-level food services employee, a lawn mower (not even a lawncare provider–I only mowed the lawn), a dish washer, a package handler, an eggs-to-order cook (a job that I took seriously but still knew it was a job and not a vocation for me), and a retail store day labourer. (These jobs have not been listed in chronological order, and some of them have overlapped one another.)

But being a professional educator is not a job. Not for me. So whenever an opportunity to develop professionally arises, I am there to jump on it if at all possible. Which is why I find myself in a hotel room on a Wednesday evening, reflecting on the events of my first day at the Illinois New Teacher Collaborative Conference in Springfield, Illinois. I first learned about the INTC Conference a couple of months ago, when our district new teacher mentor coordinator sent out an email asking if anyone was interested in going. I did what my students do when I ask if anyone is willing to volunteer to do something: I immediately responded and said, “Yes, I want to go!”

Then I looked over the website to see what I had just volunteered for and immediately sent a follow-up email saying that I didn’t think I could go because the site said it is for mentors, administrators, and coordinators, but nothing about new teachers. I was assured that I could, indeed, go, so go I have gone. (Wow, that’s a weird sentence!)

The day has followed a very similar pattern to the PBIS Conference I attended in January. Keynote speakers, breakout session, meals, and time to network and talk about what we have been learning. Some of the information has been excellent. Some has been really lackluster. Most has been useful, but not quite what I had hoped for. The best part, though, has been discussing our district’s new teacher mentoring program with those who came with me: three other new teachers, a mentor, and the four teachers who train and run the program. The nine of us have been discussing, planning, sharing, and discussing some more. It has been great!

Tomorrow will be the conclusion of the conference, and I’ve already been given a preview of one of the breakout sessions I’ll be attending, so I’m pretty excited! I hope my students had a great day with their substitute today; they have her tomorrow, too!


One Day

One day. That’s all the time I’ve been given to be with my class this week. No school on Monday because of Presidents’ Day, no school on Friday because of Staff Development, and no school for me on Wednesday or Thursday because of a professional conference I am attending.

I’ll admit, the timing could be better. ISAT testing starts in less than two weeks, but I’ve only got working days remaining to help them prepare. However, I am excited to attend this conference. It is sponsored by the Illinois New Teacher Collaborative. The purpose is to examine the success of new teacher induction programs, find ways to continue to promote such programs, and, of course, have opportunities to network with other professionals.

So, what did I do with the one day I had this week? I followed our regular schedule. We went to the computer lab in the morning, followed by our weekly library time and then literacy. The morning was wrapped up with math groups. After lunch, we had our daily review of the morning and I read a few chapters from Holes while the students listened and/or read along. More math and then we went to our buddy reading partners’ classroom to share reading with each other.

The day quickly wrapped up with our afternoon review, recess, and dismissal. I spent the remainder of the afternoon/evening making my plans for tomorrow and Thursday. I hope the plans I’ve left are sufficient, intelligible, and useful. I hope the students have a great rest of the week. And I hope that they will continue to learn, whether I am there or not!


Student-Teacher Conferences

One of the fourth grade learning standards our district has adopted says that students will “independently conduct short research projects that build knowledge about a topic.” Another standard is that they will “apply the writing process (brainstorm, draft, revise, edit, and publish.” Yet another is that students will “report on a topic or text, speaking clearly and at an understandable pace in an organized manner.” And students must be able to “identify key people and events in U.S. History occurring before Columbus and up to the Civil War.”

With all of these standards in mind, I realised that my students could begin work to demonstrate all of them by researching and reporting on one of the original thirteen colonies in America. A list of research questions was developed, a rubric created, and colonies assigned.  Unlike the other projects we have done in our class, this one is entirely independent. The students are working on gathering data and preparing their reports, but I decided to take the time this morning to hold one-on-one conferences with each student to discuss his or her progress. The conferences went well, and I was pleased that so many have. indeed, been conducting independent research. There were some who had not started yet, but they were a distinct minority in the class.

While I was holding conferences, the rest of the class was working on independent activities, such as reading, writing, late math assignments or extra practice, researching, or designing posters for drug prevention (my sub on Wednesday had them work on these–I don’t have anything to do with it, shockingly). I am happy that this worked out so well because I will be doing similar conferences for reading, math, and writing assessments.

The afternoon, since it is Friday, was our weekly Read, Write, Think! time, and, as has become traditional, I allowed a student to write a section of the blog post. It is as follows, with no editorial changes by me:

Some interesting tings have happened this week, but the main event would be Valentines day. We had a great Valentines day with a lot of sugar. We usually consume as much sugar as we want on the days that we are allowed to have it. Anyway, the class has been practicing the ISAT with practice tests. The ISAT is an extremely crucial test that our school takes very seriously. Students have been bringing in gum for the ISAT because gum helps students to think. This week seemed sort of long with indipendant  reasearch projects, practice tests, etc. But yet another one of the many intriguing events takes place in our classroom. There is a poster contest for both fourth grade classes. The posters are supposed to be anti-drug posters. Many people in our class are entering. I hope that someone in our class is a winner. This week has been a great week despite the fact that it seemed long. Yay, weekend!

(I’m not so sure about the claim that “gum helps students to think” but we are doing a gum drive in the building for ISATs.)

Anyway, that was the end of our week! Next week will be a short one, since Presidents’ Day is on Monday (no school) and the teachers have Staff Development on Friday (no school again). In addition, I will be attending a conference on Wednesday and Thursday, so my students will only see me for one day next week! Still, it will be a great week, I am sure!