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

Archive for March, 2013

Reading Groups Revisited–Again

I have my students divided into four guided reading groups, which were randomly named Embassy, Papaya, Chameleon, and Sapphire. These groups meet with me at least once a week to work on specific reading strategies and discuss their understanding of the books they are reading as a group.

For most of the year, my reading groups have followed a fairly traditional paradigm. Each student was given a specific role, such as the Discussion Director, Summarizer, Connector, Illustrator, and Word Detective. These roles were rotated weekly, with the idea that each student would get the opportunity to fill each role.

After my meeting with the Literacy Across Content Areas inquiry group on Tuesday afternoon, I decided to try something different with reading groups. Instead of assigning roles, I have decided that each student is simply going to be responsible for joining in a true book discussion. Everyone has a copy of the book their group is reading and they will meet once a week to discuss the book.

My goal for this is for the students to engage one another with the text. To talk about what they have read, what they thought about what they have read, and to talk about how what they have read changed what they think about what they read! It won’t be easy, but I have full confidence in my students’ ability to read independently and then discuss books as a group. I am excited to see where things go from here with our reading groups!


Battle of the Books

I love the Battle of the Books. It is a great program that gets students in third, fourth, and fifth grade to read a set of 30 award-winning books written for young people. The students work in teams of eight to read all 30 books and then they compete to answer trivia questions related to the books. Several of the books are selections that are on my To Read list, including Because of Mr. TeruptOut Of My Mind, and The Name Of This Book Is Secret. There is also Love That Dog, which I read for the first time a few weeks ago when a friend purchased it for me as a gift. I don’t typically care for poetry as a genre (I’m not really sure why), but I love Love That Dog. (more…)

Anger Management

We started our third and final unit in our social & emotional learning curriculum today. After completing the first unit on empathy and the second unit on problem solving, we have finally introduced what may be the most important part of the entire curriculum: anger management.

To help with this unit, I have enlisted the help of our school social worker who, among many things, has a particular area of expertise in this subject. She came in this morning and was able to meet with the class at the carpet for about thirty minutes to introduce the concepts we will be discussing over the next several weeks.

The lesson started with an enlarged photograph of a boy who is clearly angry. We could tell he was angry because his fists were clenched, his shoulders rolled forward, his face was drawn together, his mouth was turned down, and his brow was close-knit. Then we talked about how we can tell when those around us are angry. I love that our social worker asked the class to share how they know when I am angry! They chuckled at first, but then they shared some of the cues I give, such as getting very quiet, placing my arms on my hips, and giving the students The Look.

The next part of the lesson focused on the fact that it is okay to be angry. In fact, there are many times in our lives when we should be angry, such as when something happens to us or others that is unfair, or when someone pushes our buttons to annoy or aggravate us. All of us get angry from time to time. The goal of this unit is to help the students learn the best ways to respond to that anger.

If I get angry with a student who is being disrespectful to me or another student and my response is to yell and scream and throw things across the room (something that happened to a friend of mine when he was in fifth grade), I can guarantee that my response is not going to help the situation. It won’t let the student know what he or she is doing wrong, what I expect them to do differently, and it won’t help me stay in control. But if I let the student know, using The Look, that I am angry and then explain exactly what is expected in a way that demonstrates control, then that student is more likely to correct the problematic behaviour!

Likewise for my students. I want them to learn how to channel their anger and frustration in a way that brings about positive changes. Sure, I would love for them to all feel totally safe and comfortable in my classroom and while at school, so that there is never a time that they will get angry. But people are imperfect and are going to do things that annoy others. So we will be discussing how to manage anger in a way that helps everyone in the classroom respond to their emotions without disrupting those around them!

Snow Day

After a week of ISAT testing, a week of wrapping up the third quarter, and a week of Spring Break, I was all set to return to school today and start many of the wonderful ideas I have for the fourth quarter!

I went to school to get everything ready for the coming week. I had a very productive day and was excited for Monday to come so I could reconnect with my students and get going on our Writers’ Workshop, Wonder, division of multi-digit whole numbers, fractions, decimals, Lewis & Clark, Abraham Lincoln, the water cycle and weather systems, and a host of other awesome things to come.

Mother Nature, it seems, had other plans. Winter just won’t go away this year! There was a light dusting on snow on Friday evening, but Saturday was pleasantly cool, with temperatures in the mid-40s. Then it got colder and, by Sunday afternoon, the snow started. And it just kept coming. With somewhere in the range of 10-12 in (25-30 cm) with the snow continuing to fall into today, school was canceled.

So, we’ve got a snow day! Add to this the fact that we have our Spring Holiday on this coming Friday, and I’ve got three days with my class this week. Not the ideal situation, but we’ll make it work!

In the meantime, stay safe and have fun! I think I’m going to make an igloo in my front yard today.

The End of the Third Quarter

Today was the last day of the third quarter and, as of 3:00 pm CDT, the start of Spring Break. My students are all ready for a break. I am ready for a break. We need some time to relax, unwind, and get some fresh air before we get back to school and make the big push to the end of the year.

The third quarter has been a good one. We’ve accomplished so much!

  • The students learned and, for the most part, mastered multi-digit multiplication.
  • They explored the metric system and finished our mini-units on geometry and two-dimensional plane figures.
  • They made a geometry “flipbook” to show what they’ve learned about two-dimensional plane figures.
  • They’ve learned about the American Revolutionary War and are in the middle of a research project on the early American colonies.
  • They experimented with magnets and electricity and learned about renewable and non-renewable resources that we use for energy. They’ve read. Oh, how they have read!
  • They have written about what they read, they’ve written about what they want to read, they’ve written letters to persuade, they’ve written letters of friendship, and they’ve written just to write.
  • They started a huge integrated unit with the fine arts teachers on the Harlem Renaissance.
  • They’ve run relays, done volleyball drills, and they’ve experimented with different games that can be played using balls of various sizes.
  • They completed eight 45-55 minute sessions of the Illinois Standards Achievement Test for Fourth Grade which covered learning standards in reading, mathematics, and science.

And that’s just a sampling of the highlights of our third quarter. It has been a busy quarter. Now it is time to recharge. The fourth quarter is going to see a major writer’s workshop focus, finish American colonialism and moving on toward Westward Expansion, especially the Corps of Discovery, and learning about Illinois and local history, culminating in a field trip to visit several historic sites in our state’s capital. We will be reading some phenomenal books that I am incredibly excited to share with my class. (One is a new book I’ve never read but have had recommended by every single teacher friend I know on Twitter and the Nerdy Book Club, and the other is an old-time favourite that I read when I was in fourth grade and am continuing the tradition.) We are going to master the division of multi-digit whole numbers, fractions, decimals, and the U.S. customary system of measurement. We are going to study the water cycle and weather patterns. It is going to be a strong finish to a strong year. We’re not done yet, although the finish line is almost in sight. Just like John Stephen Akwhari, the Tanzanian Olympic marathon runner from 1968, we have not been sent to start the race; we’ve been sent to finish.

And on that note, I am going to wrap up my 500th blog post since October 14, 2010. Have a wonderful, safe, fun, and restful Spring Break!

A New Addition to the Classroom

About a week ago, I ordered something special for my classroom. The expected delivery date was 10 business days, though, so I was hoping it would come by tomorrow, so I could have it ready before Spring Break. As it turned out, though, this special something arrived either Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning. (I’m not sure when, but it was in my room when I arrived yesterday.)

Rather than take it out of its packaging and get it set up before the students arrived, I decided to wait. I briefly considered doing it while the class was at Dance, but I had other pressing matters which took up my time. Instead, it sat in its packaging along the back of the room. Several students saw it and commented, but I insisted I had no idea what they were talking about. By the end of the day, many of them were giving me funny looks, as if to say, “Yup, it’s finally happened: Mr. Valencic has lost his mind.”

After all of the students left yesterday, and after our evening custodian had swept the floor, I pulled this special delivery out of its packaging, unrolled it, and got it situated in the back corner of my room. It fit perfectly.


I have wanted a carpet for my classroom since I started working at Wiley almost two years ago. There are some pretty strict requirements for school carpets, though, which makes them difficult to buy. Not just any area rug from any store will do. After saving up and planning, I finally found the carpet I wanted. It is dark blue, which complements my classroom colour scheme fairly well, and measures nine feet wide by twelve feet long.

The students were very excited when they saw it this morning! In their journals, I had them write down the expectations we needed to establish as a class for using the carpet. Some of the suggestions that were made included:

  • No food or drink
  • No mud or dirty shoes
  • Use quiet voices
  • Pick up trash
  • Don’t pull at the carpet fibers
  • Use the carpet for reading, writing, and other work

I wanted the class to test drive the carpet, so to speak. In the morning, before a Risk Watch safety assembly, the students were given time to do independent, silent reading. When we read, I turn off some of the lights (but not all, since we do need light in order to read!) and played some soft classical music.



Nearly everyone in the class wanted to try out the carpet! They were so excited to have a soft, warm surface to sit or lay on while reading! So much better than the cold, hard floor or the chairs at their desks that they spend so many hours every day in.

We’ve been working on building up our reading stamina in our room. The goal is forty-five minutes of sustained, independent reading. Today we read for 35 minutes before it was time for the assembly. I was very pleased! As I wrote yesterday, we are a classroom of readers. Now it is easier to show that to everyone who walks in and sees it!

A Moment of Near Perfection

Fourth graders tend to be rather chatty. I’m okay with this, usually. There are times when I need my students to stay quiet and listen to directions, and there are many times when I will indicate that work is to be done silently but, honestly, I don’t mind a whispered conversation or two with a neighbour, especially if that conversation is related to the work at hand.

Of course, sometimes the talking gets out of hand. Someone starts talking above a whisper, and then someone else does, and then it seems like I suddenly have all 26 of my students talking loudly instead of working quietly. As the week draws to a close, I feel like many of them are struggling to hold on. Spring Break is just so close!!! But they are persevering and we will make it to the end of the week, I am confident.

One of the more challenging times for all of my students to stay on task is when I am meeting with a reading group at my back table. I have tried to establish positive expectations for what students should be doing while I am with a group. The are typically engaged in independent, silent reading or writing. My class knows that they are not to interrupt me while I am meeting with a group unless it is an emergency involving blood, vomit, fire, or near-death. (None of these emergencies ever arise, and so most of the students know to wait until I am done meeting with my group before asking a question.)

Last week, I read this blog post from my Nerdy Book Club Internet friend, Mr. Colby Sharp, who teaches third fourth grade in another school district. I’ve never met Mr. Sharp, but we’ve talked online via Twitter and email a few times and we are fellow book nerds/geeks. (My speech at the beginning of the year about my passion for reading is something I picked up from Mr. Sharp, who shared this video a year ago.) I especially appreciated this portion of his post:

Things are far from perfect in my little classroom at the end of the hall. We have a long ways to go and probably not enough days to get there. I wish everyone was reading above grade level, heck, I wish they were all reading at grade level. Although we have our issues and we are not perfect, today was perfect.

Today I had a moment like Mr. Sharp’s day a week ago. While I was meeting with my group that just finished reading Johnny Tremain, I looked around and I saw, for the briefest of moments, everyone in the room doing exactly what they were supposed to be doing. Some students were reading, some students were writing, but all students were focused and on task. Nobody was chatting with a neighbour or finding an excuse to get up and wander around the classroom or trying to use the bathroom or get a drink. They were all just engaging with literature. It was just a moment, but it gave me a glimpse of what is possible. Just like Mr. Sharp, I am grateful to have a classroom of readers. Some are reluctant because they haven’t found The Book For Them yet, some are over-achievers with a pile of books on their desk and more at home. But all of them are readers, and every now and then they all remember it at the same time. We are going to keep working at it, and we are going to keep reading and writing. Our ultimate goal is to have forty-five minutes of uninterrupted reading in the room. And you know? We’re going to get there. Knowing that is what makes it all worthwhile. Achieving the end goal is fantastic, but the journey along the way is absolutely wonderful.