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.
While I was attending The Feast, a technology conference held in Bloomington, Illinois, this summer, I learned about a lot of neat web- and mobile-based learning tools. I’ve been making an effort to use them in my classroom this year and see how well they work at a fourth grade level. (Many of the resources were presented by high school teachers, so I was interested to know if they could be utilised at the lower levels.) I gave a brief overview of all of them on a post this summer, but as I introduce specific sites to my class, I will be writing up blog posts about them.
One thing I want to point out is that I am receiving absolutely no remuneration for this. In fact, that the companies who have developed these tools probably don’t even know that I exist, let alone my blog. I will be sharing the posts with them via Twitter, but I don’t expect any specific notice. (Of course, if they do share my post with others, I won’t be upset. I am very proud of the work my fourth graders accomplish and hope that more people will read my blog to celebrate their successes!) I say this because I don’t want anyone to think that I was asked to write this post or that I am being paid to do so. I am writing the post because it was something I did with my class and it worked well. That is all.
The tool I introduced today is a study aid called InstaGrok. There is a paid subscription version of it that has helpful features such as the ability to create assignments, a teacher dashboard, and specialised customer support. However, I have only used the free version so far and it has been satisfactory. That isn’t to say that I am opposed to the paid account, though; only that I am quite pleased with what can be done with the free version.
So, what can InstaGrok do for you? Let me share their overview video, first:
By using InstaGrok, students are able to find relevant information that supports their learning. The journal feature lets them record what they have shared and the quiz feature tests their knowledge. Students can email their journals to me, which gives me quick and ready access to the evidence of their learning. It isn’t a perfect too, of course; there are limitations to anything, but I love the ease of use and the way it provides students with key definitions, websites, videos, images, and more.
We tried it out today with the iPads and Nook tablets in my classroom. I don’t have enough devices for everyone to have their own (yet), but students were able to work in groups of three to learn more about animal adaptations. This goes along with our science unit on the ecology of the Great Lakes and the students’ research projects on different Great Lakes species. We will be using InstaGrok more in the future as students become more familiar with the ways they can use this tool. It was great seeing students engaged in learning and research, exploring the features, and discussing concepts with one another. It is definitely a tool that I would encourage all teachers to put in their collection to help foster digital literacy and research skills!
I had an interesting conversation with my students this morning. We were finally starting to break into our basal reader series and I wanted students to think about why we focus so much on reading. More to the point, why do we read? I have heard of adults who proudly state that they have never read an entire book since high school. It makes me sad. So I wanted to know why my students read now. My hope is that if they reflect on it now, they will develop life-long reading habits.
So I asked, “Why do you read?” Then I wrote the question on the board and asked the students to share reasons. As they shared, I wrote them down around the initial question. I was thrilled by the responses!
“We read now because we need to become better readers. As we grow up, we are going to be reading everything! Street signs, recipes, job descriptions. We always have to read!”
“We read because we are interested in the topic.”
“We read because we want to learn more about something.”
“We read so that we can understand people whose experiences are different from our own.”
“We read about the things we want to do as grown ups.”
“I like to read catalogs so I can learn more about things I want to buy.”
“We read so that we can expand our vocabulary.”
“We read because it is fun!”
“We read so we can learn how to do something better.”
There are a lot of reasons to read. I am glad that my students recognise so many of them. None of them said that they read because they have to. None of them said that they don’t read. None of them said that they don’t like to read. Those who responded received positive affirmations from their classmates. With all of the challenges that we have, I feel confident that I have a classroom of readers and I am excited about the books we will get to share, the lessons we will learn from them, and the connections we will make with authors and illustrators.
You may be wondering why I read. I read for all of these reasons and more. I read because I can’t help it! So, why do you read? Please share your reasons in the comments so I can pass them on to my students!
I love research! I love picking a topic, deciding what I want to know about it, and then finding the answers. I love being able to check reliable websites, up-to-date books, and talking to experts to learn more about something. I also love when people come to me with their questions because I have somehow become the expert on the topic (or I am just really good at looking things up).
And so I also love having my students do research. Some of the projects they do will take several weeks. We use time in school to research but I encourage them to research at home or at the public library. Projects like these often align to our science or social studies units and usually happen about once per quarter. This quarter students are researching fish from the Great Lakes region, similar to the project that last year’s students did. But there are shorter projects that they can do, too. Sometimes these will be a couple of days. Sometimes they are just a few minutes.
Today my students did one such short research project. Each had a copy of a booklet about invasive aquatic weeds that have afflicted the Great Lakes region and other waterways in our nation. These booklets were generously donated by our friends at the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant. There were five specific plants that were discussed, so I divided the class into small groups, with each group assigned to quickly research their plant. In addition to the booklet from the Sea Grant, I gave each group a tablet so that they could conduct online research. Then I gave them three questions to answer:
- What is your plant?
- Where did it come from?
- Why is it harmful?
The groups had about 30 minutes to research and then they shared their findings with the class. When groups were presenting, the other students were expected to listen attentively so that they could ask questions at the end. Presentations took about 15 minutes, so at the end of 45 minutes, my students had some basic knowledge about hydrilla, water hyacinth, Eurasian watermilifoil, purple loosestrife, and giant salvinia. I was very pleased with both the quality of research conducted in such a short time and the presentations. All of the groups were able to answer the questions and the students listened asked good follow-ups, such as wondering how the plants “trap” boats and what ways do ecologists control the spread of these weeds.
We will be working on the bigger research projects more next week when ThinkLink testing in the computer lab is done, but I know that there are many students who are already researching their assigned fish at home. I hope we will be able to get some folks from the Sea Grant to come back this year and listen to some of the presentations!
For someone who has loved reading from a very early age, the idea of picking the “right” book has seemed rather foreign to me. The first book I remember reading completely on my own was Syd Hoff’s literary masterpiece, Danny and the Dinosaur, first read when I was five years old. There may have been others before it, but since neither I nor my mother can recall, we are sticking with this as the official “first” book. I don’t really even know what other books I read on my own when I was young, but I do know that from that time forward, it was a rare moment when you found me without a book within arm’s reach!
I started reading more complex books early on. Mum read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to my younger sister and I when I was still in kindergarten. I started reading books like that on my own early enough that teachers often passed over more “age-appropriate” books. I didn’t read Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing until 2011, when I started teaching at Wiley and decided to use it as my first read aloud! I still have yet to read any of Jerry Spinelli’s books, although they are in my “To Be Read” (TBR) pile and one of my goals this year is to at least read Maniac Magee. I was reading novels by John Grisham by the time I was in middle school and just kept on reading.
All of this to illustrate that my method of selecting books to read was to go to the bookshelf, whether in my bedroom, in the living room, at a friend’s house, at the public library, or in my classroom, and start reading. I never really thought about whether or not the book was “right.” I knew that such a concept existed for other people. After all, I had to get special signed permission from my parents to be able to get a public library card that gave me access to the “adult” section of the library (a term that simply meant the upstairs-not-children’s-library-section.) I vividly recall the time I was in sixth grade that my middle school library acquired a beautiful leatherette-bound, gilt-edged edition of the Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien but wouldn’t let my brother in eighth grade check it out because it was “too difficult.” (Even though he’d already read the entire series on his own before.)
However, since not all of my students are voracious bibliophiles like me, they need strategies to help them pick books that will be good fits for them. One such strategy that we are using throughout our school is I PICK. It has the advantage of being both easy to use and easy to remember:
Most of my students already use elements of this strategy. We talked about it today and then I gave them bookmarks that they can use. When I choose a book, I ask myself four questions: why do I want to read this? (Inform, entertain, my-teacher-is-making-me, curiosity, or a combination of these). Does the topic interest me? (Yes, no, it-doesn’t-matter-because-my-super-mean-teacher-is-making-me-read-it-anyway). Do I understand it? (Absolutely, not at all, most of it, not-really-but-my-teacher-who-really-is-mean-no-seriously-he-is-the-meanest-teacher-ever-he-keeps-making-me-figure-things-out-on-my-own-instead-of-just-telling-me-the-answer-says-I-can). Do I know most of the words? (I like the five-word rule: if the student reads the first page and doesn’t know five of the words, it might be a little too difficult for them.)
I will be sending home information about this strategy so students can share it with their parents, too. I encourage all of my students to select books from the library at school, the library in the community, and the library at home. Hopefully the I PICK strategy will help them build their personal reading CAFE skills: comprehension, accuracy, fluency, and expanded vocabulary!
We had our Wiley Elementary School Open House tonight! It was wonderful having students come in with their parents and show off the classroom! It was also great to get to place faces with the names that I have seen, either on student contact forms, in emails, or in text messages. It was also nice to place faces to the voices that I have heard on the telephone. I am grateful to all the parents who stopped in to say hello, to ask questions, and to offer to help out in the classroom.
I strive to have an open door policy for my room. Parents are always welcome to visit, to volunteer, to share their areas of expertise, or just to remind their children that they are just a phone call away. (That being said, I work really hard at not having to call parents during the day because I want my students recognise that the person in charge of them during the day at school is their teacher!) I do ask that parents call, email, or text first (I personally prefer emails because they are an easy way for me to keep track of communications) just so I can make sure that we will be in the room during the time they are planning a visit.
Ms. Schultz, my student teacher this semester, was able to come this evening as well. She wrote a brief letter of introduction for parents but also stayed around in the classroom to talk and to answer questions. We are still in the process of making plans for her time with us, but I was glad she came to help reinforce the idea that she is a teacher, too.
To prepare for the Open House, my students helped clean the room at the end of the day. My bulletin boards outside the classroom are still bare because we are working on our first hallway project, but the room was neat and tidy and ready to be presented as a positive learning environment.
Thanks again for everyone who was able to make it! I am looking forward to another wonderful year of teaching fourth grade at Wiley!
Multiplication is very important. It is a life-skill that is used in ,any different settings, from food preparation to driving an automobile to performing job functions to planning for a party. Now, I know that these aren’t things a typical nine- or ten-year-old would deal with on a daily basis, but that’s part of the point: mist children don’t use these life-skills for adult things. But kids also use multiplication when playing games and doing other typical childhood activities. Some may scoff and say that they don’t use multiplication that much. That’s probably because they don’t even realize they are doing it!
Therefore, it is important to me that my students all understand not just how to multiply, but what is going on when they are performing such computations. Concepts like equal groups, equal shares, area, and array are all important to facilitate thus understanding. In order to do these things, they have to have mastered basic multiplication facts, what we used to call the “times tables”.
We do a lot of practice to foster increased understanding, build mastery, and develop fluency. One tool I use is my multiplication dice, which are just two twelves-sided dice in a cup. Another tool is the weekly online multiplication quiz found on Mr. Martini’s Classroom. A third tool is XtraMath.org, which students use several times a week. Yet another tool is one of the most traditional of tools: the 100-item multiplication timed test. The students have 6 minutes to find the products for all the problems. Students will take this test once a month.
Although all of these tools are similar, they each serve the dual purpose of helping me know what my students need to work on and helping them gain confidence and deepen their skills.