Tomorrow is the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States. Many families are already traveling, trying to beat the traffic and the nasty weather that has been forecast. Others are staying near home but are preparing for family and friends to visit. As a result (and probably for a host of other reasons), several of my students were absent today. Fortunately, I had planned on today being a day heavy on review and celebrations instead of trying to teach new material.
The fourth graders finished their marathon study of Cinderella stories and, to celebrate, we brought the two classes together to watch the Walt Disney version of the story. (Then we did a quick compare-and-contrast activity afterwards and realised that Disney’s version is actually quite different from all the others that we read!)
We also did a check on the multiplication facts in math and a quick review of adding greater numbers, reading tables, and identifying quadrilaterals. The end of the day was our end-of-the-week routine of cognitive games and activities that I call Read, Write, Think! Then we cleaned up and I read more of Hattie Big Sky to the class until dismissal.
Of course, way back at the beginning of the day, the class wanted to share their Thanksgiving traditions. We learned that many of our classmates will be traveling to see extended family this weekend while many others will be staying here and hosting their family and friends. I also asked my students to think about the things they for which they are thankful, especially when it comes to school. Here is what they said:
- I am thankful that we have a lot of books because I like to read.
- I am thankful for SOAR. [Note: This is our independent reading time. It stands for Spread Out And Read.]
- I am thankful for recess.
- I am thankful that I get to learn.
- I am thankful for learning all I can do to get into college.
- I am thankful for math and writing.
- I am thankful for math and that we get to learn.
- I am thankful for math.
- I am thankful for my teacher.
- I am thankful for friends.
- I am thankful for the teachers because if it was just kids it would go crazy.
- I am thankful for lunch!
- I am thankful that we can even go to the school and that we have all the supplies we need.
- I am thankful for math.
- I am thankful for the teacher.
- I am thankful everything!
And lastly, I am thankful for the ability to learn something new every single day and for reasons to laugh with my students and colleagues!
From time to time, I learn about an educational resource that I decide to share with my students. The reasons are varied, but always have at least one thing in common: they give them an additional tool to use at school and at home to increase mastery of skills and content knowledge. When I find a resource that my class seems to really like using, I make a point of writing about it here, not because I get paid by the creators (ha!), but because I want parents and other educators to know about the things that really work.
One such resource I have recently discovered is called XtraMath. I learned about this internet-based tool several weeks ago but didn’t get around to introducing it to my class until just today. Before introducing it, I had to set up a classroom account and generated individualised PINs for each student. This took between five and ten minutes. Once it was all set up, my students simply had to go onto XtraMath (found on our school’s Destiny Catalog under “General Resources”) and enter our classroom code. Next they selected their name from a list, entered their PIN, and were ready to get started with placement tests! (In order to access our classroom account at home, students will need the classroom code; I will be including it in my letter to parents going home tomorrow afternoon. Parents may also email me for the code.) Students can also access XtraMath on our classroom iPads!
XtraMath is very easy to set up and is designed for students of all ages to build their math fluency. I was worried that it would take us a long time to get the classroom code entered but, with the help of several students who were already familiar with the site, it only took a few moments before everyone was logged on. I did not have to explain anything directly to the students to show them how to use it, either. Many figured it out on their own, although some chose to watch the introductory video. Another great feature is that I can log into my account as the teacher and monitor students’ progress. I can see which math facts they have mastered, which they are working on, and the progress of their growth. It is a wonderful tool and one that I hope my students will use at home and at school regularly!
Oh, and for those who may be wondering: XtraMath was created with the combined efforts of a computer programmer, two National Board Certified teachers, and a math professor, all from the Seattle, Washington, area.
One of my favourite units to teach in literacy each year is our study of fantasy stories. We read a variety of different selections, culminating with Cendrillon, which is a Cinderella-type story from the island nation of Martinique. After reading this story, we always read several other Cinderella stories from around the world. This often turns into a two-week unit, usually because it tends to fall right around the time of our Thanksgiving break.
This year is no different. We read Cendrillon last week and then read several more Cinderella stories, making Venn diagrams to compare and contrast the stories, listing key details found in each story, and discussing what makes each story fantasy. One of the things that my students always seem to point out is that one way we know that Cinderella is fantasy is that Cinderella’s shoe only fits one person in the entire kingdom! Just as I have in the past, I used this observation as the foundation of a writing assignment: write an alternate ending to a Cinderella story in which the slipper fits someone else before the prince finds Cinderella!
We are continuing our study this week. I had my students break into their four reading groups and gave each group a Cinderella story to read. My two favourites were The Rough-Face Girl and Cinder Edna. We will read a few more of these stories tomorrow and then culminate with a combined fourth grade celebration on Wednesday morning. (Sorry, students: I’m not telling you what we are doing for this until then!) We will also do some more writing assignments related to the theme. I have enjoyed watching my students working together, reading stories that many of them (especially the boys!) would not have read before, and expressing opinions about the characters!
I wrote a bit two days ago about using the Do It Again teaching strategy with my class. Then I wrote yesterday about the pedagogical framework of gradually releasing responsibility. Although not planned in advance, today’s topic is about another fundamental teaching practice: reteaching.
Reteaching is exactly what it sounds like: it is going over material that has already been taught, approaching it from different angles. Of course, reteaching is not teaching the same thing the exact same way. The reason teachers have to reteach material is because, for whatever reason, the students didn’t quite get it the first time and need to try something new. Reteaching can be used in any instructional setting at any time.
I used this strategy today after looking over last night’s math homework. The assignment was related to multi-step word problems, which probably rank as some of the most difficult problems students in elementary grades have to work through. These problems involved addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and even fractions. Even though we have been looking at different word problems all week, I had already anticipated that my students would have trouble and so I planned on reteaching strategies for solving these kind of problems.
We reviewed a variety of mathematical problem solving strategies: guess and check, write a number sentence, make a chart, and draw a picture. For each problem, I guided the students through the steps for solving them and taught them how to use a highlighter to identify important information. It seemed that most of the class was starting to get the concepts today, but I reassured them all that we would be looking at these kind of problems all year long!