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

Archive for March, 2015

The Things Students Say (and Do)

There used to be a television show hosted by Bill Cosby called Kids Say The Darnedest Things. I never watched it, but I know the general idea. Students say and do things that are sometimes just so… weird!

Not that that is a bad thing! No, not at all! It is one of the reasons I love teaching fourth grade: fourth graders are weird, but they don’t really care! They say and do things because they are realising more about the world around them and they are making connections they never made before.

Sometimes they say or do something that makes me laugh and then I have to go back and try to explain why, although funny, it probably isn’t the most appropriate thing in school. Other times they say something that just leaves me speechless.

Here are a few snippets from this year:

[While reading Because of Winn-Dixie and talking about the main character’s parents, who separated, among other things, because the mother was an alcoholic]
Student A: What is an alcoholic?
Me: An alcoholic is someone who has an addiction to alcoholic beverages.
Student A: What is alcohol?
Student B: You know, drinks like beer or whiskey.
Student A: Oh! I think my mom is an alcoholic. She drinks a lot of beer.
Me: …
[I then changed the subject.]

[A student has started wearing handmade paper bowties taped to his t-shirts each day.]
Student: Hey, Mr. Valencic, I see you are wearing a bowtie! Do you like mine?
Me: Yep! But you still don’t get a prize unless you wear one you tied yourself.
Student: That’s okay. Do you know who else wears bowties?
Me: I know a lot of people who do; who are you talking about?
Student: Dr. Owen! He always wears them! [Dr. Owen is our superintendent. And yes, he almost always wears a bowtie. There’s a cool story as to why that you should ask him about if you see him.]

[When I am done talking to a student, I usually wave my hand and tell them to “go away.” This is always done with a smile. Today I was talking to a student about her math work.]
Student: Did I do these correctly?
Me: Well, you got the first part, but now you need to simplify the improper fractions and turn them into mixed numbers.
Student: But that’s harder!
Me: Yep! Do you need help?
Student: No, I can do it! [smiles] Now go away. [she accompanies this with a dismissive wave of her hand]

Can you tell we are definitely in the fourth quarter now? What are things you see your children/students doing that fall in these categories? Do they surprise you? Make you laugh? Share in the comments below!

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New (Temporary) Principal

Our building principal has been involved in education for a long time. She’s done just about everything there is to do. She’s been the principal of our building for about six years now, I believe. She has been a constant presence in our building since I started here and I think our entire school community has grown accustomed to her way of doing this. Unfortunately, she has had to take a leave of absence to attend to personal family matters. This is going to be a tough transition for our school family, but we all want to support our principal in doing what is best for her family at this time.

In the interval, we will have a substitute principal who has worked in Urbana and Champaign schools in the past and was actually here at Wiley back in December for about a week. I am grateful to have someone in the building who is familiar with our school and our community helping out as we enter the last quarter of the year! I am also glad that our district superintendent has made a commitment to support our entire school community during this time.

Change can be challenging, especially when it comes without warning. But we are strong and we will do what we always do: take it, roll with it, and continue onward.

But there are some things that I know won’t change:

  • The students aren’t going to give up on their challenge to complete 1,000,000 math problems by the end of May so that I can finally get my hair cut again! (Yep, we are doing another challenge to shave Mr. Valencic’s head!)
  • The students aren’t going to give up on their goal to earn the colours needed for our second annual Wiley Colour Run at the end of the year!
  • The teachers and students are still going to prepare for an amazing kickball game!
  • Students and teachers are still going to work together, learn together, and grow together.

It is going to be a good nine weeks. Happy Spring!


Finding Shakespeare in Modern Stories

One of the major goals of doing a unit on Shakespeare was to help students understand the Bard’s influence on modern storytelling. As we have been reading adaptations of Hamlet, I have been encouraging my students to think about elements of the story that they recognise in other books, stories, and movies. One connection that was made in the other fourth grade classroom was to Disney’s The Lion King. (more…)


Hosting Nursing Students

I’ve mentioned several times on this how much I love the resources available to our school through our community, whether it is access to world-class museums, music, and dramatic productions, or just amazing professionals and researchers who can come in as special guests/presenters. Another resource we have comes because of our close relationship to the University of Illinois.

The nursing program at U of I includes a class called NURS 355: Clinical Concepts and Processes in Children’s and Family Health. (Technically, the program is run out of the University of Illinois at Chicago, with the students in our area enrolled in the Urbana Regional Program. This is similar to the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine in Peoria.) A part of this course requirement is for student nurses to do practicum experience in local schools for six weeks, and Wiley is one of those school that gets to participate.

This is why my students got to meet Miss Joan this morning. She will be in our classroom each Thursday morning. Today she came to observe but quickly jumped in with the class and was helping students with our review of adding, subtracting, and comparing fractions. After Spring Break, she will be presenting health lessons when she is here, and then will be helping in the classroom wherever needed.

My students and I are very excited to have Miss Joan with us!


Close Reading Hamlet

Yes, you read that title correctly. My fourth graders have begun doing close readings of Hamlet. You know, the one originally written by William Shakespeare. Well, okay, we aren’t actually reading Shakespeare’s text. Yet. First we started with Bruce Coville’s excellent adaptation of the story, published in 2004. I decided to use Mr. Coville’s version first so that the students could familiarise themselves with the story and characters before tackling Shakespeare’s rich language.

I read the text aloud to the class over the course of two days a few weeks ago and then we have returned to it from time to time. Unfortunately, we had to take a break from Hamlet because of PARCC testing last week, but we returned today with a fresh close reading of the story. I gave the students a prompt to think about what they had read:

“What kind of person was King Claudius in Hamlet?”

The students shared a wide variety of observations, demonstrating an impressive recall of the details of the story. They described King Claudius as “kind of a jerk” and I asked them to provide evidence to back it up. I was told that he killed his brother, married his brother’s wife, and stole his nephew’s kingdom. After having a class discussion about Claudius, I changed the prompt and let the students do a quick write on their own. The prompt was this:

“What kind of person was Ophelia in Hamlet?”

We had two copies of the book in the classroom and some students chose to use them as references as they worked. While students worked, I was able to move around the room and check on what they were writing. I was impressed by what students remembered about Ophelia. Tomorrow I am going to give students more access to the passages about Ophelia directly so that they can go back to their quick write and look for additional details about Ophelia that they can add for further supporting evidence.

We will continue doing close readings of Shakespeare over the next several weeks, including A Midsummer Night’s DreamRomeo and Juliet, and As You Like It. This will all tie in to a cross-curricular unit with our Fine Arts teachers that was initially conceived by my fourth grade partner. It is pretty cool to see what students are capable of when we challenge them to rise to the occasion!


Improper Fractions and Mixed Numbers

At some point at the end of last year, I decided that I was going to teach multiplication and division concepts each Monday and fractions and decimals each Friday. My goal was for my students to find this concepts and skills tied into all of the other math we do during the year, as these are some of the critical learning targets for fourth grade math.

But I have also taught comprehensive of these topics as they came up in our math curriculum. So now we are working on our fractions and decimals units. We took time yesterday to review adding and subtracting fractions with like denominators. Today was a review of mixed numbers and improper fractions.

In the process of teaching how to convert improper fractions into mixed numbers, someone in the class suddenly realised that what they were doing was just division with remainders! They also realised why I had been suggesting that they list the remainder as a fraction. Once they made this connection, they were able to easily determine that 100/8 is equal to 12 4/8, since 8 x 12 = 96 and 96 + 4 = 100.

So we ended the math lesson with a challenge: 1000/21 is equal to what mixed number? I gave them
20 x 50 = 1000 and 21 x 100 = 21000 as helper facts. Working in groups, the students were tasked with solving the problem. They worked on it for almost 15 minutes before some of them figured out the answer. It was really cool seeing them tackle a math problem that they came up with on their own!


Hearing Brightly

I have always had hearing loss. I typically describe the level of my hearing loss as about 75% deaf in my left ear and about 50% deaf in my right ear. I’ve never actually asked a doctor how accurate this description is, but it is how it has felt for me. I had hearing aids for most of my childhood and early adulthood, but I got to a point where they were lost or broken or both and I simply didn’t have the money or insurance to cover replacing them.

I finally got a new hearing aid during my first or second year of teaching here at Wiley but it was an old model that didn’t do much more than amplify all of the noise around me, which didn’t really help. Also, it was a model that fit behind the ear and that caused several problems for me, too. And on top of all that, it was for my left ear, which has, for reasons unknown to me or my team of medical professionals, never been able to keep a hearing aid working for long.

Then last year someone suggested I get in touch with an agency in town that might be able to help with hearing aids. I met with a representative in May and started the process. It took a long time. In fact, the entire summer passed and I still hadn’t even had a mold for my ears made or been able to select a model of hearing aid, although I knew exactly what kind I wanted. But I persevered.

In the meantime, my hearing got worse. I got a really bad case of tinnitus, so I have had a constant buzzing sound similar to cicadas in the background. This has made it really difficult to hear quiet conversations and sometimes to even hear clearly what people were saying to me in a normal conversational tone. But I persevered.

I met with my audiologist again a few months ago, got a new set of hearing tests done, got molds taken of both of my ears, and selected the model of hearing aid that would most help me in my work environment. Then it seemed like another forever-long wait. But I persevered.

Then I got a call from my audiologist last week, asking if I could come in for a fitting. I was elated! I scheduled the appointment, went in, and saw my new hearing aids. They were everything I had hoped for. She and her intern explained some of the features, and put them in.

At first, nothing happened. And then, just as I was getting ready to ask, I had an experience that came directly out of a book. She turned them on:

How can I describe what I heard when the doctor turn on my hearing aids? Or what I didn’t hear? It’s too hard to think of words. The ocean just wasn’t living inside my head anymore. It was gone. I could hear sounds like shiny lights in my brain It was like when you’re in a room where one of the lightbulbs on the ceiling isn’t working, but you don’t realize how dark it is until someone changes the lightbulb and the you’re like, whoa, it’s so bright in here! I don’t know if there’s a word that means the same thing as “bright” in terms of hearing, but I wish I knew one, because my ears were hearing brightly now.

I don’t know if R.J. Palacio has experienced hearing loss herself or know someone who has, but this description from Wonder has perfectly captured my experience with hearing aids for the past several days. I love the wording: hearing brightly. That really is what it sounds like.

And while it is going to take me some time to get used to all of the ambient noises around me and even longer to get used to the sound of my voice, I am so thrilled to be able to hear again!