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

Archive for May, 2013

Another Year Gone By

It almost seems unreal that school is over. It seems like just a few weeks ago that it was August and my students were entering my classroom for the first time. We have accomplished so much this year! I told my students back on that first day that fourth grade would be the hardest, most challenging year of their lives. For the first four years of school, their main goal was to learn the answer to “what” questions. Then comes fourth grade, when we start to ask the deeper questions of “how” and “why” (as well as “what,” “when,” and “where,” of course). We talked about metacognition and the idea of learning how we learn so that we can learn without anyone telling us what to learn.

We read this year. My goodness, did we read! Stories in our basal reader, read alouds, reading groups, nonfiction books for social studies and science, our own writing, our classmates’ writing, the writing of other students in the building… The list goes on! As a school community, we set a goal to read 1,000,000 minutes this year. Not only did we exceed our goal, but we have received very positive attention, including from the marketing people with Scholastic Books Fairs! (Wow!) My class contributed a total of 296,801 of those minutes! Double wow!

We researched. The students learned about the lifestyles, habitats, and life cycles of different animals. They became masters of the European explorers who expanded the world’s view of itself, and they taught one another about the American colonies. We learned about electricity, magnetism, weather, the water cycle, force, and motion. We discussed Illinois history and had an incredibly successful field trip to our state’s capital, where were visited the Illinois State Museum, the Illinois State Capitol, and the Lincoln-Herndon Law Office.

We mastered multidigit arithmetic: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division! We learned all of the multiplication facts from 0-12 and explored the relationships that exist among the different operations. We studied geometry, measurement, and data analysis. We learned fractions and remembered that, when adding or subtracting fractions with like denominators, the denominator does not change! We learned equivalency, comparison, and ordering. We explored greatest common factors, least common multiples, and the ways we can use both concepts when working with fractions. We also learned decimal notation.

We played. We had recesses and P.E. and had opportunities to run around, develop our locomotor skills, and learn to have fun while staying safe, respectful, and responsible. The students beat the teachers in kickball for the first time in three years! We developed our cognitive skills through games that challenged our thinking and spatial reasoning.

We grew. As a class and as individuals, my fourth graders reminded me that they come into fourth grade as young children and leave older, wiser, and more prepared. We learned to ignore people who annoy us, to recognise that the world around us is a place that is as diverse as it is big. We learned to welcome new friends and say farewell to old ones. We got a glimpse of the future as we watched the fifth graders participate in KAM:WAM and the musical. We set goals, reached goals, and set new goals. We stretched ourselves and learned that we could do much more than we thought.

It has been a great year! It has had its share of frustrations and setbacks, but as I look back, I choose to focus on the positive. I am sure that I will see some of my now-former students around this summer. I will be teaching a class on building bridges as part of our district’s STEM Enrichment Camp. I’ll also be attending several conferences and workshops: The Chancellor’s Academy with the University of Illinois, the Lake Guardian research cruise on Lake Ontario with the New York and Illinois-Indiana Sea Grants, and the Cebrin Goodman Teen Institute. But I’ll be around town, too. If you see me, please say hello and let me know what you are reading!

Have a fantastic summer! Come back and visit my blog periodically. I’ll be updating over the summer to share what I’ve been reading and what I’ve been doing to further my own professional development. I would love to know what you are doing, too!

The Last Full Day

Today was the last full day of school for the year. After the three day weekend (due to Memorial Day), students will return on Tuesday for one hour to get report cards, clean out their desks, return materials, and clean out their lockers. If there is time, I will have them do a quick writing task related to our reading of Wonder, but only if time permits.

The first part of our day was like any other Friday. The students came in, made their lunch choices, sharpened pencils, turned in mail, and wrote in their daily journals. The journal topic of the day was “What would you like to be able to do better next year?” (Each of our journal entries throughout the year have involved some kind of personal reflection for the students, often related to social/emotional skills.) Then we did some vocabulary practice and had one last spelling test, which was focused on words that have prefixes that identify numbers (such as unity, tripod, pentagon, and octopus). We did one final independent, silent reading session for twenty-five minutes and then the students were off to Music.

Afterwards, we went outside for a brief 15-minute recess and then came in for one last math assignment. We reviewed angles and protractors, and then I had the student complete a worksheet on measuring and identifying angles. They also did a short assignment on reading graphs and line plots. The morning ended with our fourth and final All About Weather video, this one on wind and clouds. Without even being told, the students got out their science journals or other paper and took notes on what they were learning! Several of the points in the videos repeated themselves, and it was great to hear my students finishing statements about weather and the water cycle!

After lunch, our day was considerably different from our usual Friday afternoons, or any day, for that matter. The students got to stay outside for about 15 minutes longer than usual as they finished off snow cones that had been provided by a member of our PTA. We came back in and I read one last part of Bridge to Terabithia to the class. (We started on Monday, even though we knew we wouldn’t be able to finish by the end of the week. I hope that some, if not all, of my students will go to the library and check out a copy so they can finish.)

At one o’clock, we went outside for the third annual Students vs. Teachers Kickball Game! I was once again on the teacher team, so I changed into my awesome teacher uniform (a jersey with a W and “Wiley School” on the front and “Teacher” and the number “00” on the back) and joined the other teachers on the field while my class got settled in the spectator section. I was one of the pitchers for the teachers, and I was glad of all the practice I’ve gotten this quarter as my students played kickball in P.E.! After about 45 minutes, we had to call the game, even though we hadn’t finished all of the innings. The students won for the first time, partly due to the help of Urbana Fire Marshal Phil Edwards, who had come to provide music and play on the teacher team, but he defected to the students and helped bring in a couple of grand slams and home runs. The final score was 17-14. I’m glad the students won this year. While all of the teachers tried our best, I think we were all secretly rooting for the students to beat us for once!

The day ended with a final school-wide assembly in the gym. Fireman Phil continued to act as our DJ as students showcased their amazing duct tape accessories in a fashion show. Then we had a dance party before returning to our classroom, cleaning up and stacking chairs, and then the students were dismissed. It was a long, busy day, but we had a lot of fun. The students earned an all-time high ClassDojo score of 92%, which I thought was a fantastic way to wrap up the year!

One final hour and then summer break! (Of course, my summer won’t have much down time, what with the STEM Enrichment Camp, Chancellor’s Academy, a research cruise on Lake Ontario, the Cebrin Goodman Teen Institute, and moving  in July/August!) Enjoy the three day weekend and remember to take time on Monday to remember those who gave their lives in defense of our nation and to thank their fellow soldiers who have lost their comrades-in-arms for their service and sacrifice!

A Classroom of Readers

The year is practically over. Tomorrow is the last full day of school, but with an afternoon of school-wide celebrations, we really just have the morning to wrap up the year. Then we have a three-day weekend before students return on Tuesday for one hour to get report cards, clean out desks and lockers, and say goodbye.

As part of my end-of-year activities, I asked each of my students to share with me their personal favourite book they read this year. It could be a book from a reading group, a read aloud, a Battle of the Books selection, or a book that was read independently of any other school activity. Here are the selections that I was told:

 We really have become a classroom of readers. Now yes, there are some students in my class who really don’t like to read, but they’ll do it. And there are some who struggle with the grade-level texts we have, but they try. We read every day, we talked about reading, we wrote about reading, we lived and breathed reading. Of course, we did other things in my classroom this year, including all of the core content areas (math, English/language arts, science, social studies, physical education), but all of these content areas have incorporated large amounts of reading. I started the year by telling my students that they were going to read more and work harder than they ever have before. I think we have been successful in reaching this goal.

I am so proud of all of my students! One day more! (And an hour!) We are going to make it!

Finishing Buddy Reading

Throughout the year, my students have gone down to room one to partner with the students in two of the three first grade classes to read for 35 minutes once a week. This has been met with mixed results, but overall has been quite productive. When we started, the students just read with each other, focusing on developing oral reading fluency. Then we selected a few students to work on targeted reading response activities to help foster comprehension, as well. After several weeks, we decided to expand this to all of the students and started preparing a variety of graphic organisers for them to use each week. The organisers covered topics like plot elements (beginning, middle, end), literature features (characters, setting, plot), and summarising.

One of the highlights of the year was when we asked the students to draw a picture and write a short paragraph about their favourite story of the year. As the two first grade teachers and I looked over the work the students submitted, we found that one of the first graders wrote an entire sentence on her own–the first time this had happened all year!

Now, for fourth graders, that is not much of an accomplishment. But for a first grader, learning to write complete sentences is hugely important! It was so awesome to know that one of my students had a hand in helping this particular student master this skill! (Other students wrote entire paragraphs, which was equally awesome for the same reasons.)

Today was the end of our buddy reading program. Instead of just reading or completing graphic organisers, we did something a little different. The first graders were working on reading about different kinds of animals (mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, birds, and arachnids) and completing a packet with illustrations and labels. It went really well! What a great way to wrap up a year of reading together!

The American Dream

Each year, the fifth grade students at Wiley put on a musical performance as part of their recognition ceremony. They start working on the musical before Winter Break, learning the music, practicing lines, and rehearsing the choreography. They continue on through the entire second half of the year, all leading up to the big day.

Today was that day. The fifth graders gathered in the morning to do one last run-through and then all of the students in the school gathered in the gym this afternoon to watch the first full performance of the fifth grade musical. The musical this year was called The American Dream. It went through early exploration, colonization, westward expansion, and the Civil War.


While this was only my second Wiley musical, I was very impressed with the quality of the overall production. There were solos, duets, and trios, whole group numbers, dancing, and even a student accompaniment of the last song! It was awesome to see the students who were in my classroom last year and I am looking forward to attending their recognition ceremony this evening!

Factors and Multiples Revisited

We are in the final home stretch! Just four more days of school then a three-day weekend before students return for one hour on the 28th and we are all done for the year!

And what a year it has been! We have had our ups and downs, but I think that, all in all, we’ve had far more ups than we have downs. The students have grown so much since they first came into my classroom back in August! They have mastered some pretty difficult math concepts, improved their reading skills, honed their writing skills, researched several diverse topics, such as animals, European explorers, and the American colonies, and grown in their understanding of the arts and technology.

All that being said, it is important to note that we’re not done yet! We are in the final home stretch; bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, two strikes; 26 miles into the marathon with just 0.2 miles to go. It is going to be a challenge to keep the students motivated as we press on, but I am fully confident that they will make it to the end!

Today we began our week of math review. There are a handful of concepts that we have touched on throughout the year that it is time for the students to demonstrate mastery. Last Friday, we reviewed factors and multiples, but I knew right away that my students didn’t quite have it yet. So today we did more review and then I quizzed them on the concepts.

We started by discussing the definitions of “factors” (any whole number multiplied by another whole number to make a product) and “multiples (the product of any specific whole number and another factor). Then we gave examples of both: the factors of 48 are 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 12, 16, 24, and 48; the first five multiples of 4 are 4, 8, 12, 16, and 20.

Then I had the students work with partners to complete a simple worksheet (created using that furthered their review of these concepts. And then it was time for another quick assessment. I asked the students to list the factors of 3, 12, and 25 and the first five multiples of 2, 7, and 12. It was quick but effective: nearly everyone in the class passed with flying colours! Tomorrow we are going to review geometry and finish the geometry books we started making back after ISAT testing was completed. Then we just have some work on line plots and measurement and the year will be done! Wow!

Ignoring Others

One of the common sayings my students hear from me on any given day is this: “There is a secret to life that I want you all to know: You are the only person that you can control. You can’t make anyone else do anything. You can only make you do something.” I share this every time we talk about classroom relationships. Fourth graders are wonderful children, but they are still children. That means that there are going to be many times throughout the day that one student manages to annoy another student.

Another common saying in my classroom is this: “People are annoying. Accept it, deal with it, and ignore it!” As the end of the year swiftly approaches, my students and I have been talking a lot about how to appropriately ignore other people when they do something we don’t like. I decided to really focus on this during my social & emotional learning lesson this morning. I asked the students to think to themselves about what it means to actually ignore a person, then I had them talk with a partner before they shared with the entire class. (This simple procedure is known by the term “Think, Pair, Share,” incidentally.) I was really impressed by the maturity and depth of understanding the students showed in their comments. Some of the things they shared included the following:

  • Ignoring others means that you stay focused on the task/assignment and not on the other “people” around you.
  • Ignoring others means to avoid eye contact with the person trying to distract you.
  • Ignoring others means that you walk away from a person who is trying to create drama. Walking away is not a sign of weakness or cowardice; it is a sign that you are in control of you.
  • Ignoring others means to tell a person to stop and then don’t say anything else about it to them.


After sharing their thoughts, which I wrote on the board, we shared strategies for using these ideas as we wrap up the year. My hope is that we can end the year on a positive note!

Enjoy the weekend! I’ll be attending the 39th Annual Illinois Young Authors Conference in Bloomington!