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

Archive for May, 2014

Buddy Reading Celebration

Today was the last day that the fourth graders partnered up with their first grade reading buddies for actual reading. Before going down to their classroom this morning, I asked my students to think about what has gone well with this activity this year. Some of the things they reflected on included:

  • The first graders have become much stronger readers! They have the stamina to read for longer periods of time and the skills to read more challenging texts than they did at the start of the year.
  • The first graders are much better at staying focused! At the start of the year, it seemed that the majority of the time with the first graders was spent with reminding them to sit down, open a book, and read. There are still a few times they need reminders (they are first graders, after all!), but they are generally much better at attending to a specific task for a set amount of time.
  • The first graders are more comfortable with their reading buddies. When we first started visiting, they were very shy. Having 9- and 10-year-olds show up in their classroom once a week can be really intimidating, especially when these fourth graders are more than twice their size! But now they greet each other in the hall, they give each other hugs and high fives, and they talk about what they are learning about in class!

I also asked my students to think about things they can do better when they do buddy reading next year, mostly likely as fifth graders partnered with kindergarteners. The biggest suggestion was to take time to teach them how to stay focused before actually reading. Another important suggestion was to read to them rather than expecting them to do all of the reading. I loved how reflective my students were about this activity and the goals they set for improving in the future!

When we went down to the first grade room, the first graders had each selected their favourite book to read to their buddies. For 30 minutes, the first grade teacher and I were able to watch as our students read with one another, talked about books with each other, and shared in reading. It was a wonderful experience and a great way to wrap up a year of reading together! We will still meet two more times, but we are planning other ways to celebrate the accomplishments of the year. Today, though, was a great way to think about all the growth that has been made and to simply share in the joy of reading one more time.

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Celebrating Champaign-Urbana History

At the start of the year we started our social studies curriculum by learning about early European exploration of the world and the pre-Columbian peoples of North and South America. Then we focused in on the settlement of North America, especially along the Atlantic coast. From there we learned about the British colonies that eventually banded together in rebellion and became the first United States of America. The next topic was the American expansion westward along overland routes and the pursuit of our nation’s Manifest Destiny. We went to Springfield and visited the Illinois State Museum and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum where we learned about our state’s early history.

We are in the last few weeks of school and we are now focusing in just a little bit more to learn about the history of our county and our city. The City of Urbana is located in Champaign County, yet our history is inextricably tied to the history of Champaign, our sister city to the west. And so for the next couple of weeks, the fourth graders at Wiley will be celebrating Champaign-Urbana history in place of our mix-up math groups.

To guide us in our learning and our celebrating, we are using a book written by former Urbana native and local Illinois author, Alice B. McGinty. By a strange twist of fate, I got to meet Ms. McGinty during the Illinois Young Authors Conference this past weekend and was thrilled to recognise her name on the book we will be using, aptly titled Celebrating Champaign-Urbana History. We will also be turning to websites, such as the Champaign Public Library and the Urbana Free Library, to learn more about our community and how it went from a noticeably large grove of trees in an otherwise wide open flat expanse and grew into the sixth largest metropolitan area in Illinois.


Paper Airplane Science

With just eleven days to go, we have started our last science unit for the year: force and motion. The students did some early prep work with these concepts last Thursday while I was gone for the day by rolling marbles down inclined planes of different heights and recording the distance. I reviewed these concepts today and then started them on our first project of the unit: designing and testing paper airplanes.

Each student was given a large sheet of plain white paper and one simple direction: design and construct a paper airplane that would be tested against everyone else’s airplanes. The students had fifteen minutes to make their planes, then we cleared desks out of the way, marked off the starting space and measured out distances in increments of ten feet, and tested the planes on after another. Some of the airplanes were very traditional designs while others were quite unique. Because I had not given any restrictions on design, a few students wadded their papers in a ball and threw them that way. (These made it over twenty-one feet!) The distance traveled in the classroom varied from  as little as three and a half feet to as great as twenty-four feet, which was the distance from the starting line to the wall. Two students both made it the length of the room, so we took their planes to the gym to test with a greater distance to decide whose paper airplane could fly the furthest. Of course, using the gym meant that we had to adjust for factors such as the large overhead fans, but through a series of trials we were able to determine who had the winning design.

After lunch the two fourth grade classes came together and we kept them outside to design airplanes again. This time, though, they had to think about environmental factors such as wind when designing. After a twenty-minute design and construction period, we lined all of the students up and did three test flights to determine whose planes could go the greatest distance.

Oddly enough, the winning design for the outdoor trials was the most unconventional paper airplane design: the student wadded his paper up into a ball! All of the paper airplanes did quite well and my fourth grade teaching partner and I were pleased with the number of students who tried, even if they had never made a paper airplane before! There were a few who complained and said it couldn’t be done, but they were in the minority; most took to the challenge with gusto and perseverance!

Tomorrow we will examine the forces in play when a paper airplane takes flight before starting our next force and motion project, which is one I have been looking forward to for several months now!


Creative Rewriting

Several months ago, back in November, I was checking up on all of the different teacher blogs I follow and came across a post by Mr. Colby Sharp on the Nerdy Book Club blog. It was an interview with the creators of Battle Bunny or, at least, an attempt at an interview. I had never heard of Battle Bunny before, so I didn’t quite get what was going on with the interview, but I was laughing out loud the whole time anyway! So then I looked up the book they were talking about and it all made sense.

Jon Sciezska and Mac Barnett teamed up to creatively rewrite a book the way they had when they were young. But they decided that they couldn’t do that to just anyone’s book, so first they wrote a book to rewrite. They wrote a cheesy picture book called Birthday Bunny and then, with the help of Alex, rewrote it as Battle Bunny. I have been trying to hunt down a copy of this book for months and finally found an available copy at the Champaign Public Library. I picked it up this week and shared it with my class today.

Then I gave them a writing assignment to do with their reading groups. A student had brought in several picture books from when she was younger to donate to our school book exchange. I asked if I could go through them first. I selected the five Disney Pixar books based on the movies. Each group got to select one of the books and then, armed with their creativity and a permanent marker, were given the task of rewriting them.

The Incredibles became The Cannonballs, a book about villains taking over the world. Finding Nemo became Dying Nemo: The Zombie! Toy Story 2 became EVIL Story 2. And Ratatouille became Poisontouille. All of my students have been laughing as they have worked together to creatively rewrite these well-known stories. They are having to figure out how to use the pictures and the printed text to come up with the new stories, but they also know that they can use their markers to adjust as necessary. This will be a writing task that they continue over the next week as they work together to finish, then they will share the books with their classmates!


Shared Reading

We started our last read aloud for the year yesterday. For this story, I decided to try something new. Instead of me reading the story, I wanted to let the students do it. I had hoped to find a selection that everyone could read together, but I couldn’t find a book that we had enough copies of, so I decided to select one of the books from my Newbery Award and Honor bookcase. I have been building my collection for several years now, but I still have a long way to go before I reach my goal of having every single one of them in my room!

The book I selected was one I read with a fifth grade class when I was student teacher in Champaign: A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park. I chose this because it is a story that takes place in another country, in an unfamiliar time period, and introduces students to a culture that is quite different from their own.

To make this a truly shared reading, the students are taking turns reading aloud, usually one page at a time. Once a student has finished reading, he or she passes it on to another who has volunteered to read. We are only on our second day of doing this, but I’ve already noticed some things that surprised me:

First, everyone wants a chance to read! I thought at first it would just be my most vocal, outgoing, and stronger readers. Instead, everyone, even those who tend to freeze up when called on in class and those who know that they are not the strongest readers, still want a chance to read. Maybe it is because they also get to sit in my Teacher Chair when reading. Maybe it is because they get to have the full attention of the entire class. Or maybe it is just the novelty of reading aloud to the class. Whatever the reason, I am really glad to see everyone wanting to read.

Second, everyone is encouraging of those who are reading aloud. Because A Single Shard takes place in 12th century Korea, there are many unfamiliar words and phrases, but when someone struggles or stumbles, nobody laughs. They all listen patiently and offer support to one another. Again, there could be many reasons for this, but I would be willing to be a big part is that they all know that it may be their turn next and nobody wants to have anyone say or do anything unkind to them.

I won’t always do read alouds this way. I enjoy reading to my students, modeling oral reading fluency, finding discussion points, and giving them an opportunity to just sit and listen to a good story. But I think this is a great way to wrap up our shared reading for the year. It would be even better if I had 25 copies of this book, of course, so that everyone could read at the same time, but letting students take on the role of the teacher has been fun to watch, fun to listen to, and fun to be a part of!


Repeated Reading

Anything worth doing is worth doing well. Anything worth reading is worth reading well. And anything worth reading well once is worth reading well multiple times. At least, that is my approach to reading. There are many, many, many books that I have read three, four, ten, even twelve times or more in my life. Each time I re-read, I find something new about the story, about myself, or about both. It is awesome. I love reading things over and over again!

I know some people who don’t feel this way. They want to read once and then be done with it. Several of my students were like this at the start of the year. But I have tried to instill in them the belief that repeated reading is worthwhile and I think several of them have come to appreciate its value. I had been thinking about this topic a bit recently and so was quite delighted to stumble upon a school website from Anaheim, California, that had a principal’s message about repeated reading.

Why is repeated reading so important? There are several reasons:

  • It helps build comprehension: as you read text again you become more familiar with what you have read and will remember the details with more clarity.
  • It helps develop accuracy: as students read the same thing repeatedly, they increase their ability to decode words, remember the words when the see them again, and improve decoding skills when engaging with other texts.
  • It helps build up fluency: the more you read the better you read! Students who read repeatedly improve their expression, their tone, and their voice.
  • It helps expand vocabulary. I have always loved reading. I also have an extensive vocabulary. I don’t believe it is coincidental. While correlation does not always imply causation, there is a lot of research to support the notion that extensive reading and repeatedly reading leads to expanded vocabulary!

Some readers may recognise these four components as the elements of the Daily CAFE, which I have written about in the past. I support the goals of the Daily Five but will admit that, for me, the CAFE is a much more useful framework for intermediate students. I want all of my students to improve in these areas and fully believe that repeated reading will support the reading skills!


Helping One Another

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how students can and do help each other in different school settings. Today I witnessed several different acts of kindness within my classroom that reinforced to me that my students really do watch out for one another!

Early in the morning, we joined the other fourth grade class for a game of kickball as we continue Spring Training for the Big Game at the end of the month. I’ll admit it: I don’t have a lot of particularly athletic students in my class this year. There are a few who are involved in different sports, most of them soccer, although there are a few who do basketball, baseball, football, or dance. It is very easy for these more athletic students to make fun of those who are not as skilled, but I didn’t see it once among these fourth graders! Instead, they started cheering for each other, regardless of the team they were on, encouraging one another, and helping them learn how to kick, catch, and run.

Later on we were doing math, learning about decimals. Many of the students picked up the basic concepts right away and wanted to do independent practice, but a few needed help. Some didn’t want to ask, though, afraid of how it would look to their peers. Right away, though, I saw several students reach out to their classmates and offer to help. They talked through the problems together to complete their tasks. If they were both stuck, they would ask me for help but then figure it out on their own before I even had to say anything!

Then, right before lunch, one of the student’s math binders popped open, spilling the pages all over. Instead of laughing or leaving him to clean up by himself, several students immediately started gathering up pages, checking that they were in order, and helping him put them all back into the binder. Of course, there comes a point when there are too many people trying to help, but this didn’t happen, either! Instead, those who were not helping with the paper mess were staying out of the way, helping to clean up other parts of the room or just clearing up their own work spaces.

On their own, none of these small acts of kindness may seem like much, but combined, they tell me that my students are growing so much! At the start of the year, we used our social-emotional learning lessons to talk about issues like empathy, compassion, working together, asking for help, respecting others, and solving problems. Now that we are swiftly approaching the end of the year, I can tell that the lessons have stuck with them!