I am a part of a number of different committees and inquiry groups that take me away from my classroom from time to time. Most of these absences are for half a day, either the morning or the afternoon. There will be several that will be full-day absences, but fortunately not too many. I also have about half an hour or so once a week that I meet with members of our support staff to collaborate on services for students who need it. Because of this, my students will be getting used to seeing substitute teachers in the classroom from time to time.
In an effort to promote consistency in my students’ lives, I try to have the same couple of substitutes in my room. Now, obviously, I can’t always get what I want, but I try and I am usually able to get the veteran retired teachers who spent almost more time in the classroom than I have being alive. There is the added benefit that they are teachers that my students have seen in the building regularly for as long as they have gone to school.
Today was my first extended absence for professional work. While I was away for the morning, I left my students in the very capable hands of one of these subs. While I was away, i did not have to worry about what was happening in the room. While I was working on examining our district’s writing curriculum and discussing possible strategies for improvement, my students did their typical morning work: PE, Book Exchange, writing, science, and literacy.
I got back early and saw my class sitting on the carpet, listening a the sub read an adaptation of The Magic Flute to them. (This was in preparation for a trip to the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts next week to watch a stage production of the Mozart opera based on this story.)
After she finished reading, I took over and asked the class to review their day. For each part of the day, each student rated how the class did on a scale of one to five with one meaning everyone was off task and a five being everyone doing exactly what was expected. For each four or five, the students received one pebble in our incentive jar. The morning had five parts, so the class could earn up to five pebbles. However, when they receive all five, the pebbles are doubled, but when there is a substitute and they earn all five, they are tripled! The class had, in the words of the sub, an exceptional day, and so they earned all of their pebbles! What a wonderful way to end our week!
Continuing my effort to incorporate more picture books into my instructional practices this year, I shared a new book with my students that I discovered at Barnes & Noble one evening and immediately decided to read. Yes, I judged the book by its cover. Yes, I am glad I did! At first I wasn’t sure about using it for my class, but once I read it, I knew I could use it for a writing prompt and for an examination of writer’s craft.
The book was The Day the Crayons Quit, written by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers. It is a delightful story about a boy named Duncan whose crayons all revolted one day. Fortunately, each one wrote a letter explaining exactly why they were upset with him. Well, except Green Crayon. Green is perfectly content to be used how and as often as he is. He’s just upset because Yellow Crayon and Orange Crayon are feuding over which one is the true colour of the sun.
Before reading the story, I asked my class to think about what items they have in their desks that never get used. Then I asked them to think about the items they use all the time. I didn’t want them to discuss it, though, until after we’d read the book. As I read aloud, I showed the illustrations, read the letters from the crayons, and then showed the illustrations again. It was wonderful seeing reactions as the students realised what was being told with the pictures: Red is angry about being used on all the holidays, Blue is sad because he is used way too much, Gray wants to be used for small things like pebbles and baby penguins instead of elephants, hippos, and rhinos, and White wants to be used as more than filler and for pictures of a white cat in a snow storm.
After I finished reading, I gave the students their writing task: write a letter to themselves from the perspective of the item used the least and the item used the most. After we edit them and publish, we are going to share the original book with our learning buddies and then share our own letters with them. (By the way, Miss C doesn’t know about this plan yet.) For the next hour, I had all of my students thinking, writing, giggling, and sharing as they wrote their first drafts during our Writers’ Workshop time.
We will revisit The Day the Crayons Quit later in the year to think about writer’s craft, voice, and style. But for the next week or so, we will work on revising and editing the letters so that we can publish and share them with others.