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

Archive for March, 2014

PBIS Posters

As a PBIS (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports) district and school, we are committed to setting clear expectations for all students and holding them accountable for meeting or exceeding those expectations. We teach these expectations to students throughout the year but, really, they apply to anyone in our building, including parents, teachers, and other staff members. The reason is simple: if we are going to expect students to be safe, respectful, and responsible, we need to be doing our part in modeling what being safe, respectful, and responsible look and sound like!

To help everyone know what the expectations are, we have had posters put up around the building. These used to be sheets of 11×14 paper with tables of information and clipart, all made with Microsoft Word. They were not the worst posters in the world, but our PBIS team felt that we could do something better.

A graphic designer had been enlisted to help redesign the posters but, after a lengthy period of time, he had to admit that he simply had too many other projects on his plate, and so a new designer was enlisted.

I happen to know this designer very well; she is my wife. She designed the banner and background for this blog (as well as for our One Million Minutes blog), and has done other projects for our school in the past. Working with the information that the PBIS team had provided and given a fair degree of creative license, she came up with these new PBIS posters that are now hanging on the walls throughout our building:

Besrr-sizes copy Besrr copy

8.5×11 pdf     11×17 pdf     18×24 pdf

The posters in the building have our Wiley School logo and look amazing! (And I’m not just saying that because my wife did them! They really are the best PBSI posters I have ever seen anywhere, and I have been in a lot of different schools!) After talking with my principal about it, it was decided that we should make these available for other schools to use, if they so desire. So here’s the deal: if you are a school or other nonprofit organization that wants to use these posters, feel free to do so! You can download a pdf of each poster (there are eleven in all) in the three sizes listed above.

If you are interested in using the basic design but would like to have them personalized with your organization’s own specific expectations and logo, please leave a comment and I will gladly send you more information! Please be aware that, due to the amount of time that it takes to customise these posters, there will be a charge for the time spent, but also note that my wife is very aware of the limited funds of schools and purposely makes an effort to keep costs to a minimum! For example, if all you need changed is some of the text and your school logo used, the cost will typically be around $30! (By comparison, most professional designers will charge anywhere from $45-60 per hour, which could make a design project like this cost anywhere from$225-300.) Other chargeable changes include altering the “icon” images to the left of the expectations or redesigning your school logo! Finally, due to time constraints, we are only able to provide personalized posters in two sizes: 8.5×11 and 18×24.

Words Can Build Us Up

Over Spring Break, I stumbled upon a video on YouTube that I saw circulating the social media networks. After nearly a dozen different people I knew had shared it, I finally watched it, not really knowing anything more than this simple description: “Our youth group wanted to see if positive words could have an impact on people. We were surprised at how quickly we found out.”

I have worked very hard with my class this year to establish a community of positive peer influence. We have read books like Wonder by R.J. Palacio and Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson and discussed the impact of kind words and actions. We have used the Second Step social-emotional learning curriculum to explore topics of empathy, problem-solving, and anger management. We have used the Golden Apple to identify positive attributes of our classmates. We have a RESPECT board that students can sign, with drawings each time the board is filled to further acknowledge students’ actions.

Even so, it seems like the third quarter saw an increase of peer conflict and unkind words. Maybe it was the weather that kept us cooped up inside for too long. Maybe it was just the stress of everyday life. Whatever the cause, I felt like my students were starting to forget all of the wonderful things that they had all done. So when I saw this video, I knew it was something I was going to do with my class when we got back from Spring Break.

Of course, I wanted to modify the activity to better include each of my students. But I also wanted to recognise that I am also a part of the class community. So the first thing I did was go to my room on Friday morning and, with the help of my wonderfully talented wife, redo the bulletin board outside my classroom door. We put up new paper, drew large circles all over it, and wrote the name of each member of the class (including myself) in the middle. (But because of my efforts to maintain as much anonymity for my students as possible, I won’t be sharing pictures of that.) I used my bulletin board letters to post “Words can build us up!” as the header. Then I printed out a list of each class member and gave it to the students this morning.



We watched the video and talked about the importance of sharing positive messages. Then everyone had time to write down a positive word or phrase that they associated with their classmates. I reviewed each list to check for spelling and offered suggestions for simplicity when a statement was too wordy. Once a list was done, that student was able to go out in the hall and write their words or phrases in each person’s bubble. By the end of the morning we had a bulletin board with 25 bubbles that had 24 positive affirmations in each one. (Students didn’t write affirmations for themselves!)


Words really do have power. I love the message of this song: words can build us up, words can tear us down, words can start a fire in the heart, and put it out. We used to say that sticks and stones could break bones but words wouldn’t hurt us. Now we know better. Yes, sticks and stones can break bones, but words can break a person. It is my goal to have students who stop and think carefully about the words they use, all day, every day.

Knowing that one single activity is never enough to make anything a habit, we are going to take some time each day to share positive comments about one another. We are in the fourth quarter, which means we have just a couple months remaining before school is done for the year. So while we continue our academic work, especially math, literacy, science, and social studies, we are also going to continue our social growth. Not only do social skills have lasting benefits throughout life, they make the overall classroom environment much more pleasant, leading to more collaborative projects that will foster increased student learning. Also, social-emotional learning will improve the quality of our out-of-school learning activities, such as the upcoming field trips to the Krannert Center for Performing Arts and the museums in Springfield.



For all the negative press that assessment in school gets, and for all the heated rhetoric used, I, as an educator, cannot avoid this one very simple point: there is simply no way I can teach without assessing. If I don’t know what my students know, how will I know what to teach in the first place? If I don’t know what they have learned, how will I know if they are ready to move on to new topics? If I don’t know how well they can do something, how will I be able to give them appropriately challenging material?

Now, some may argue that all of the negativity about assessing is actually directed toward high-stakes, one-time standardised testing. I can accept that there are probably better ways to collect large-scale data than what has been used for many years, but I also recognise that large-scale data is important for informing education policy. I am excited about the upcoming changes that are on the horizon, as I believe they will begin to provide better options for such assessment.

Because I understand the need for appropriate assessment so that I can better plan my teaching, I know that there will be times during the year when I will have to more assessment than other times. Today was one of those times. It was the last day of the third quarter, which means we have just a couple of months left before the end of school. I worked with my grade-level partner to develop some math and literacy assessments that we wanted to use with both of our classes to give an idea of where our students are at and where we need to go during the last quarter.

My students took the literacy assessment on Tuesday while I was serving as an election judge. They had to read a couple of short passages and answer questions to show comprehension, understanding of main idea, sentence structure, and grammatical elements. I had them take the math assessment today. It covered the wide range of math concepts and skills expected of fourth graders, such as operations, base-ten, fractions, decimals, measurement, data, and geometry. On top of these broad-range assessments, we also finished a unit on division of multi-digit whole numbers by a single-digit divisor, so I gave my students a quiz on this skill in the morning.

The results of these assessments will be used as I plan for the fourth quarter over the coming week. As the quarter gets underway, I will continue to monitor my students’ progress, assess them at appropriate intervals, and find as many ways as possible for them to demonstrate their understanding. Assessments are not the purpose of teaching, nor are they the final word in determining where a student is in their learning, but they are important tools to guide planning and provide snapshots of what the students are doing, both as a whole and as an individual.

While I am planning for the fourth quarter, I hope everyone takes time to enjoy the warm weather during Spring Break! I will certainly be doing more than lesson planning! I hope to get out of doors as often as possible and encourage everyone else to do the same!

Physical Exertion

My fourth grade teaching partner is also the girls’ volleyball coach at Urbana Middle School, so when it comes to physical education, she is much more of an expert than myself. While our classes do not combine for P.E. (fifty students in the gym with just two adults would be a bit much), we often collaborate on plans for what we will have the students work on. So when she told me earlier this week about a plan to have the students work on being able to run a mile, I quickly jumped on board with the idea!

There is a large grassy field in front of our school building that is crisscrossed with sidewalks. It turns out that a particular circuitous path is pretty close to being a quarter-mile. (It isn’t exactly, though. The path we use for the annual walkathon fundraiser, incidentally, is about a third of a mile.) This morning we had P.E. and it was just warm enough to be able to go outside for it so the students could get a feel for what our cardiovascular unit would feel like.

Before going out, though, we talked about safety, especially not pushing oneself too hard the first time doing a specific task. I told the students that I did not want anyone to try to sprint the four laps they were going to do, but to try alternately running, jogging, or walking. We also talked about what could be expected during such physical exertion, such as elevated heart rate and quickened breathing.

Once we got outside, I led the students in some warm-up stretches and then let them start their laps. Some decided to walk all four laps, others alternated their activity. A few boys tried sprinting, despite my caution, and quickly learned that sprinting a mile was not going to work out for them and they ended up walking toward the end. There were quite a few students who complained of breathing quickly and I explained that that is normal after physical exertion, especially running!

After we came in, we took some deep breaths to calm down and settle our heart rates. We also had a short discussion about aerobic exercise, how muscle tissue responds to increased activity, and the common experience of slight pain, or a “stitch” in one’s side after running. While a few students insisted that their hearts were going to explode and they would need to go to the hospital, this didn’t happen for anyone!

We will continue to do this activity after Spring Break. My goal is for the students to start setting goals for their time and learn what they have to do to reach those goals. I will also do some more collaboration with my grade level partner to see what other activities we can do with our classes. And since we will be outside, I am certain that at least some of them will be combined!

I am so glad that the weather is finally warming up with the arrival of spring! After a long, cold, often miserable winter, it is nice to get outside and take advantage of the open space and the fresh air!

A Visit from the UMS Music Program

Following what I hope will be an annual tradition, the entire student body at Wiley today was given a special concert by the Urbana Middle School music program. Featuring the 8th grade ensembles for strings, choir, and band, we were able to listen to a wide variety of music and enjoy a break in the middle of the week as we lead up to the final days before Spring Break.

I love it when the middle school and high school music programs visit. It was always a highlight of the week when the high school in my community growing up visited our school. I still remember the time in grade school when the high school madrigals program visited and gave a silly rendition of The 12 Days of Christmas. When I was in high school, I got to visit the grade schools in the community with the jazz ensembles and the show choirs. (I was in the jazz ensemble my freshman year and then served as their chief sound engineer for the following three; I was also the sound engineer for the show choir.) The jazz ensembles and show choir also went on performance tours together around the community, which was always a wonderful experience!


So I love it when my students now get to have similar experiences. Even if they do not decide to play a musical instrument, join a choir, or get involved in theater, I want them to know that they can. I want my students to consider the wide range of possibilities available to them. I also want to expose them to everything the fine arts have to offer. I know that they know about popular music; they sing it and dance to it every day. I want them to know what else is out there.

My class  really enjoyed the performances from the eighth graders they saw today! It was also great that the music directors identified those students who had gone to Wiley in the past. I hope that I will see my own students up there on the stage and on the concert floor in a few short years. I also hope that any students who are currently playing an instrument, singing in a choir, or competing in an athletic competition will let me know. While I can’t always make it to performances or games, I would love to go if I can!

Head Cold

Head colds are awful. They are just bad enough to make you feel miserable, but not quite so bad as to justify staying home to rest. Getting a head cold over the weekend is even worse, though, because you know that even if you were to call in sick, you’d have to go in to work anyway to write up sub plans and make sure everything is ready for the day.

I can usually combat the symptoms of a head cold with regular cold medicine, but late at night I realised that the only medicine I had available at home was some night-time gel caps. I really, really, really hate medicines like that because they seem to leave my head in a fog all day long. But since I needed something to relieve the symptoms so I could at least sleep, I took some before going to bed. I was able to sleep through the night and woke up on time, but it sure was a struggle to make it through the first part of my day!

Even though I felt awful and I was still feeling the side effects of the cold medicine, I was determined to make sure that our day went about as usual! We went to the gym for P.E., several more students shared their colony research reports, we went outside for recess, and we continued to review how to divide multi-digit numbers by a single-digit divisor. And that was just in the morning! The afternoon saw our mix-up math groups also working on division, then my class went to Music. The end of the day was full of reading: another chapter of Bridge to Terabithia, Today’s Topics, and SOAR.

It was a good day, other than the awful head cold! I will not be with my class tomorrow, though, because I will be serving as an Election Judge for Champaign County during the Primary Elections tomorrow. I was hoping to be placed in the precinct that includes Wiley, but my assignment is in Savoy. I am confident that my students will have a fantastic day tomorrow while I am performing my civic duty!

American Colony Research Reports

Toward the beginning of the year, my students undertook their first major independent research project. They learned about different fish from the Great Lakes and reported on them to the class. I designed the report to be as open-ended as possible, giving the students complete freedom in how they presented their findings. They had come up with a list of 10 questions about their fish and used those to guide their research. Many did posters, a few did PowerPoint presentations, and the remainder presented written reports. We invited guests from the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant to visit and hear some of the reports.

The second independent research project was to learn about one of the early European explorers and create a page for an alphabet book. This task was slightly more difficult in that the students had to limit themselves to a few sentences or maybe two short paragraphs. We didn’t share this project with others, but it was very interesting to see what they learned and what they chose to share with their classmates.

For the past several weeks they have been working on their third project: learning about one of the original thirteen British colonies in America. I have 24 students, so each colony had two students learning about it, but they were not to work in pairs. (I used a report on Connecticut last year as an example, so nobody got to use it for their project.) The twist for this project was that they were not able to give a boring written report. They could do anything else, though.

Some students went with a poster presentation and had the information organised in such a way that they could share it with others.


Some chose to do a PowerPoint presentation and, taking advantage of the LCD projector we have checked out from the library, were able to share right in the classroom.


A couple of students even made movies that we were able to watch.

They will continue to share reports next week while we are learning about the War of 1812, which will take us right up to Spring Break. I haven’t decided what our last research project will be yet, but I am hoping to tie it to one of our science units so that the class will have done two science and two social studies reports by the end of the year.