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

Posts tagged “Floccinaucinihilipilification

Limits with Limitless Possibilities

I am a big fan of setting limits, of establishing boundaries, or making parameters known. These are things that make like slightly more predictable, comfortable, and safe. I’ve blogged before about the benefits of setting limits in the classroom and how that relates to classroom management. What I am writing about today, though, is something different. I am writing about the limitations that actually lead to limitless possibilities.

It has been a long-standing tradition in my classroom that students get 30-45 minutes each week on Friday to engage in an activity that I call “Read, Write, Think!” While I have blogged about this before, too, the gist of it is that, during this time, students have several options: the can read independently, with a partner, or in a group; they can write independently, with a partner, or in a group; or they can think by  drawing, playing cognitive games with others, solving puzzles, or doing math. This is a time when Chromebooks are closed and students are selecting what they will do.

There are definite limits to this activity. It is not free choice, which is something that they may have done in the primary grades. It is not indoor recess, which they have had lots of during the cold months of winter. It is a time for students to select from a menu of options a task that they want to engage in. Some may wish to do something from each category. Others pick on option and stay with it.

What is interesting about these limits is how limitless the possibilities are. There are three categories with ten sub-categories. But I have hundreds, if not thousands, of books in my classroom. Student writing can be anything at all. I have dozens of cognitive games and puzzles. There are likely an infinite number of math problems or challenges that students could tackle. And so the limitations still have limitless possibilties.

It is easy to look at the limits and bemoan what cannot be done. Far too often, I hear students say, “But I don’t want to do that!” My goal is to help them see the limits and as a way of focusing on what they can do, though. I definitely have limitations on what I can do in my life, but within those limitations? The possibilities are endless!

Staring at a Blank Page

I have a confession to make: the reason I haven’t been blogging nearly as much as I used doesn’t actually have all that much to do with time constraints, although graduate school definitely did contribute to the issue. I haven’t been in graduate classes in 11 months, and yet I still haven’t been blogging all that much.

No, the reason is much simpler: I have spent too much time staring at blank pages and simply walking away from the computer.

I have been blogging for over six years. I love talking about education. I love sharing what I do and why I do it. I have been fortunate to have so many amazing experiences over the years, whether it was attending conferences and workshops, presenting to colleagues, leading professional development, reading phenomenal books, collaborating with other teachers and, of course, simply teaching in the classroom every day.

And yet I’ve been in a slump all year long that I just don’t seem to be able to break out of. I feel like so many of the things that we are doing in my classroom are things I have already blogged about. I have a constant fear that my blog has become stale and uninteresting. After all this time, I still don’t know who actually reads these posts. I certainly don’t get that many views and I get even fewer comments.

Of course, I don’t blog for the page views or the comments. In fact, I blog for myself: to give myself an outlet for reflecting on my professional practice and to keep a record of positive events in the classroom. But somehow I find myself opening a new blog post page and then… nothing.

Just a blank page.

So what should I do? What do I write about when I have nothing to write about? What I have been doing is walking away, thinking I might have something else to write about later. But, clearly, that hasn’t been happening. That’s how it has been a couple of days since my last post.

So today I decided a new strategy. I was staring at a blank page for a few minutes and then I just started writing. I wasn’t worried about the topic, nor was I worried about what others might think about my stream-of-consciousness blogging. Instead, I just started typing.

And this is what happened. Four hundred words later and I haven’t really said anything about my classroom or my day, but I have written about what I do when I find myself staring at a blank page.

Just write.

I feel like I have heard that advice before.

Oh, that’s right, I have.

From me.

When my students tell me they don’t know what to write about them, I tell them to not worry about it and just start writing. The most important audience we ever write for is ourselves. Then we eventually think that someone else might want to read what we wrote. I suppose it is time I start taking my own advice. Instead of thinking, “I have nothing to write about that others want to read,” I need to start thinking, “I need to just start writing and let the ideas flow together.”

The funny thing is that, about 200 words ago, I realised that there were things I could write about regarding my classroom and my day, but now that I have committed nearly 600 words to this topic of dealing with writer’s block, I feel like it would be silly to delete it all to write about something completely different. Instead, I will save the idea for Monday.

What do you do when you run into writer’s block?

A Brief Explanation

It has been over a month since I posted something on my classroom blog. It isn’t because I haven’t had anything to blog about (because I have). And it isn’t because I haven’t wanted to (because I definitely have). It is simply because, for reasons I’ve been unable to ascertain, I can’t access WordPress when I am at work and by the time I get home, I have other matters to attend to, such as caring for my pets, spending time with my wife, eating, decompressing, and sleeping.

So my apologies to those who may actually read my blog. (Yes, it is a recurring theme of mine that I have no idea who actually reads this, if anyone actually does, or why they do.)

I know I can’t give justice to everything we have done over the past month, but I will try to get a few posts written and scheduled to go up over the next few days that will cover some of the highlights. I am going to get drafts written while I am at work over the next few days, then I will post them when I get home until I can figure out why my district’s internet filter is blocking my blog.

In the meantime, here’s a quote about education that is completely, totally, one hundred percent unrelated to the rest of this post, but is a quote I recently came across and has now been added to my personal collection of favourite quotes:


Teaching is a hard business. It isn’t for the faint-hearted, the thin-skinned, the unmotivated, or the inflexible. I have many days that I go home completely, thoroughly, unashamedly exhausted, physically, mentally, emotionally. There are days that I wonder if I did any good, if I made a difference, if any of it matters.

But then I talk to someone, maybe a friend or a family member, maybe a complete stranger, and I am reminded that yes, I am doing good, I am making a difference, and what I am doing every day does matter. Whether it is that boy whose fourth grade teacher awakened a sense of purpose and passion or a girl who was brought from the brink of despair by an English teacher who found the right book at the right moment or the young man who was taught how to beat a drum and find a community in the marching band, teachers are making a difference in the lives of hundreds of millions of children every single day.

Yet we still have tough times. We push through, we find our center, we recharge, we regroup, and we carry on. As so many have said in so many different settings, “This, too, shall pass.”

Today I reflect on the near completion of that time of year that a teacher blogger colleague I admire yet have never met refers to, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, as DEVOLSON: the Dark, Evil Void of Late September, October, and November.


(I apologise to We Are Teachers and Love, Teach for snatching the image from their website; the last time I tried linking it, the link vanished and the image disappeared with it.)

I know that November isn’t quite over (we actually have a handful of days after Thanksgiving Break), but as far as I am concerned, today is the end of the longest 11-week period of the year. Tomorrow is going to be fun. It is going to be great. We are going to have fun and we are going to do great things. Why? Because I said so. I’m not going to let the upcoming five-day weekend of gorging myself on way too much pie, pumpkin, turkey, pie, more pie, and a little bit more pie get ruined by anything. Tomorrow is my day and it is our day.

The nonsense that happened today (having to call parents during the middle of a writing lesson, having to send students out of the room, having to deal with flying glue stick caps and pencils, and a host of other things) are done and over. Tomorrow is a brand new day with no mistakes and I am determined to see it end that way!

What are some of the things we are going to do to make the day before Thanksgiving Break an awesome one? I’m glad you asked! Here’s a sampler:

  • Make picture frames with our learning buddies to celebrate the work we’ve already done this year
  • Write thank you letters to one another for being a part of our classroom community (thank you, Love, Teach, for the idea!)
  • Break out our tabletop games for a chunk of time in the morning to unplug and reconnect with one another
  • Enjoy the crisp autumn air before it is quickly replaced with air that hurts
  • Watch videos of Kid President encouraging us to be more awesome

DEVOLSON 2016 is done and gone; how do you celebrate the end of the DEVOLSON?

Lots of Absences

It is that time of year when a highly-contagious bug is going around the school and it has hit my class especially hard. I had 6 of my 26 students absent today, or nearly a fourth of my class. Such a large number of absences can certainly put a kink in plans to start new projects because I would just have to go over everything again the next day, or have students work in their assigned groups because the absences were surprisingly distributed evenly throughout my room.

It can be tempting to simply declare the day a write-off and fill it with a lot of review and supplementary activities and just hope that the students will all be back the next day. It can be tempting to pop in a movie, kick back, and relax. It can be tempting to avoid the hassle of reteaching the next day by not teaching anything new.

But giving in to those temptations is poor practice and ineffective teaching.

So, instead, today was a regular Monday. We talked about what we did over the weekend, we had a six-minute multiplication quiz, we worked on multi-step word problems in math, we began learning about the major events leading up to the American Revolutionary War, we worked on writing and setting personally challenging goals, we had physical education, and we worked in on guided reading groups and literature circles. All things we would have done today no matter how many students were here.

Sure, I’ll have to take some time tomorrow to go over what we did today, but here’s the trick: I would be doing that anyway. Every day should have a review of the previous day’s learning so that students can make connections and ask questions for clarification. So even though I was missing nearly a fourth of my fourth graders today, today wasn’t a write-off at all. It was a good day!


What do you do when you are missing a large number of your group?

Holiday Party Reflections

We have three holiday parties each year here at Wiley Elementary School: Halloween, Winter, and Valentine’s Day. (The Winter Holiday class party is called such because there are many different holidays going on at the same time.) The students love them, parents come out in full force to support them, and the teachers appreciate all of the love and attention and chocolate. (Of course, there is a part of us that dreads them, simply because the students can get antsy with the anticipation of a party, but mostly we enjoy the time to relax and have fun with our students.)

Having now successfully completed my fifteenth class holiday party since I started teaching here, I wanted to reflect a moment on some of the things I have noticed about the parties, the students, and the parents. (As always, this post is meant to let me reflect on the positive things happening in my classroom, so if you are expecting a rant about all the things that can or do go wrong, you’re reading the wrong blog!)

Classroom holiday parties really are a great way for the students to come together as a classroom community. Each of them contributes something to the party, whether it is snacks, treats, drinks, decorations, dishes, or just their very existence that adds to the overall excitement. In earlier grades, the parties are very structured events with lots of games and activities. By the time the students get to me in fourth grade, though, they just want to eat, drink, and talk amongst themselves.

Throughout the day leading up to the parties, my challenge has always been how to keep students on task and working. Today I took advantage of one of my behaviour management tools, Class Dojo, and told the students that anyone whose point total was in the negative by the time we started the party would have to go to another room to do an alternative assignment. I awarded points to students about every 15 to 20 minutes throughout the morning and afternoon. If students were on task, they earned one point. If they were off task, they lost one point. Students also earned positive points for persistence, helping others, and showing respect. Ways to lose points also included talking, being disrespectful, or being disruptive. As a class, our Dojo score is usually around 75%. Today’s score was 89%! All 26 of my students got to participate in the party!

I always appreciate the parents who come to support our classroom parties. They do all of the work; all I do is provide the students and the classroom! It is especially appreciated when they help remind students of the classroom expectations. (I have seen parents in the past sit in the room on their phones, ignoring their own children. I am glad that this has not happened in a long time!) I also appreciate the parents who take the time to include everyone in the room. With 26 fourth graders and half a dozen or so parents, it can be easy for someone to get overlooked, but my room parents are always so wonderfully considerate of others!

So even though classroom parties can be stressful and even though they are not always my favourite part of my job, I am grateful for the chance it allows us to strengthen our sense of community. Thank you to everyone who helped out with our party today!

How do you feel about classroom parties?

First Snow of the Season

We got snow last night. And it actually lasted through the day. In fact, there is still snow on the ground right now, which is the longest the snow has lasted this winter except for maybe one time. And even that time it was just a thin dusting and it was gone within a couple of days. So I am considering this the first snow of the season.

Unfortunately for my students, the temperature was stubbornly hanging around at just below 20° F all day long, and that is the official district-mandated cut-off for staying indoors. (Yes, there are teachers who will take their students out when it is below the cut-off; I am not one of those teachers.) All of that combined to mean that I had several students who wanted to spend more time today staring out the window looking longingly at the snow than actually doing their work.


I tried to inoculate against this first thing in the morning. After the students came to the carpet for our morning meeting, I had everyone stand up and look outside for 30 seconds. Then I had them sit back down and announced that now we all knew that everyone knew that there was snow and we would be able to get to work.

Most of my students accepted my statement and stayed focused and on task all day long. A few fought valiantly against my charge to actually work instead of daydreaming of snowball fights, forts, and hot chocolate. But I always try to focus on the positive, and so I am finding myself grateful today that the majority of my class was able to ignore the snow for the day, knowing that there would be plenty of sunshine left after 3:00 pm for them to play in the snow after they got home.

Me, I prefer to admire the snow from indoors, preferably wrapped in a warm blanket, sipping herbal tea, and reading a good book.

What do you do when the snow finally comes to stay?