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

Posts tagged “Hair

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!

Speaking Clearly

I spent the majority of my public education life learning how to speak clearly. Some people know, although most probably do not, that I received speech therapy from kindergarten all the way through eighth grade. I was even offered speech therapy services in high school, but after much discussion with my previous therapist and my parents, we decided to decline. I had a rather severe speech impediment in kindergarten, noted by my inability to clearly pronounce several consonant sounds, includes L, R, S, Z. (I think there were some others, but I don’t remember them off the top of my head). After many years, I learned to pronounce most of them without difficulty but, honestly, I still struggle with R-controlled vowel sounds. (I have often said that if I had my way, I would completely eliminate any words with such vowels. Alas.)

I will be forever grateful to my kind and patient speech therapist, Mrs. Vicki White. Without her, I do not think I would have learned to speak clearly and I do not know if I would have had the confidence to pursue a degree in education and seek out a job that requires me to spend all day talking in front of large groups. I am still very self-conscious when it comes to hearing my recorded voice and I often worry that my speech is not as clear as I imagine, but since I have never had students, parents, or colleagues ask me to repeat something because they couldn’t understand me, I hope that my speech impediment is relatively unnoticed. Because of this, I am very cognizant of the struggles my students may have and will often seek out our school’s speech and language pathologist for advice. I have found that parents and students are more willing to consider services when they know that I received services myself and can share my experiences with them.

But there are other ways we can and should speak clearly to one another. Today I took several opportunities to pause in my instruction to talk to my students about speaking clearly. More specifically, we talked about the importance of being clear about what we mean to others, clear about what we are asking, and clear about what we expect. A few examples may help illustrate:

  • When having the class line up, I will say, “Please stay in your seats until I have finished giving all of the directions. I will tell you when I want you to move. Let’s review. Please raise your hand if you can tell me what you are supposed to do when I say, ‘Ready!'” Several students raised their hands, but a few also shouted out the answer. I responded, in a calm, even voice, “I did not ask anyone to say anything yet. All I asked was for you to raise your hand if you can tell us.” Then I called on a student who explained that every student should stand up. I said, “Okay, when I say, ‘Ready!’ I want everyone to stand up. Let’s try it. Ready!” Every student stood up. A few pushed in their chairs. I said, “Oh, remember, we are only standing up. We aren’t pushing our chairs in yet. Let’s try it again. Everyone sit down! Okay, ready!” We did this a couple of times. Then we did the same thing for “Set!” (everyone then pushes in their chairs) and then I called the groups one at a time by number. We rehearsed this a couple of times until everyone was going through the routine the way we expected.
  • While sitting at the carpet, I noticed some students were talking so I asked one to move. He began to argue that he had not been doing anything wrong. Instead of engaging in an argument, I realised I need to clearly explain why I had asked him to move. I reviewed a social-emotional learning lesson from last year that pointed out that the only person we can really control is ourselves. When I ask a student to move, it isn’t because he is in trouble, but because I want him to think about what he can do to control himself so that he can stay focused and on task. It isn’t about whether or not he was talking or whether or not someone else was talking to him. It was about him learning to self-regulate and control himself. I related this to when someone does something that bothers us. We can’t make anyone do anything. But we can calmly ask the person to stop and explain that what they are doing is bothering them. That person, out of respect for the other, should stop, not because it is bad or wrong, but simply because it is respectful to stop doing something if we know it is bothering someone else. (There are going to be times when someone wants us to stop doing something because it is the right thing and they want to do the wrong thing and you setting a good example makes them feel uncomfortable. Those are not the kind of circumstances I am describing here.)
  • When finishing up in the library, the librarian always instructs the students to close their books and sit quietly. One student had not closed his book. His friend, sitting next to him, quietly reminded him to close his book. The first student got upset and, after slamming his book shut, said, in an argumentative voice, “Fine! My book is closed! Are you happy now?!” I called both boys over and had a quick conference. I asked the first student if he had heard the librarian. He said. I asked if his friend had quietly told him that he needed to close his book. He said yes. I pointed out that his friend was not trying to bossy or mean, but was rather trying to help him by explaining the directions. I observed that, 9 times out of 10, when someone says something to us about what we should be doing, they are trying to help. They aren’t trying to be mean, they aren’t trying to get us in trouble, they aren’t trying to cause a problem. They are just trying to help out. Instead of arguing, it would be better to follow the advice or suggestion. I also observed that there was a big difference between his friend quietly saying, “Hey, you are supposed to close your book now” and yelling at him or reaching over and closing the book for him.

Being clear in our directions is a skill all teachers work on. Sometimes we forget and think we were clear when we weren’t. I told my class today that I want them to respectfully call me out if I get upset with them for doing something I never told them not to do. Even if I think they should “know better,” it is not fair for me to hold them accountable for actions I never taught. My hope is that by continuing to speak clearly to my students, especially now at the start of the year, my expectations will also be clear and I won’t have to pull out my hair in frustration when something doesn’t happen the way I expected! I would also encourage other teachers and parents to try this out and home and let me know if it works!

Young Scientists

Yesterday I wrote about the young authors in my class. Today I feel it is only appropriate to write about these wonderful students as young scientists, as well. My student teacher is down to just one more day before she is done for the semester. She found a really fun science experiment for the class to do related to our unit on electricity and magnetism. The experiment is specifically related to exploring how static electricity works. She found it via Pinterest, which I have come to believe is one of every teacher’s resources online!

photo 1

After asking the class to think about what they already knew about static electricity, she invited a student to come up front to demonstrate how you can generate it with just an inflated balloon and someone’s hair. Then she asked the students to describe what had happened and why, using scientific language.

photo 2

The students spent the rest of the time in their groups experimenting with balloons, popsicle sticks, and metal spoons. At first they were given the freedom to do anything they wished. Then they were guided into figuring out how to spin a popsicle stick on the end of an overturned spoon. It took some work, but eventually all six groups figured it out. Some of them then experimented further and learned that the popsicle sticks could be rubbed on someone’s static-y hair and they would stick to their clothes!

photo 5

The groups also explored the way static electricity can impact moving water. By “charging” the balloon and running a small stream of water through a faucet, they saw that the static would actually repel the water, pushing it away from the balloon!

photo 4

We had a great morning of scientific exploration and experimentation! I love how the students have built up their scientific vocabulary and strive to use it in their conversations!

Another Year Gone By

It almost seems unreal that school is over. It seems like just a few weeks ago that it was August and my students were entering my classroom for the first time. We have accomplished so much this year! I told my students back on that first day that fourth grade would be the hardest, most challenging year of their lives. For the first four years of school, their main goal was to learn the answer to “what” questions. Then comes fourth grade, when we start to ask the deeper questions of “how” and “why” (as well as “what,” “when,” and “where,” of course). We talked about metacognition and the idea of learning how we learn so that we can learn without anyone telling us what to learn.

We read this year. My goodness, did we read! Stories in our basal reader, read alouds, reading groups, nonfiction books for social studies and science, our own writing, our classmates’ writing, the writing of other students in the building… The list goes on! As a school community, we set a goal to read 1,000,000 minutes this year. Not only did we exceed our goal, but we have received very positive attention, including from the marketing people with Scholastic Books Fairs! (Wow!) My class contributed a total of 296,801 of those minutes! Double wow!

We researched. The students learned about the lifestyles, habitats, and life cycles of different animals. They became masters of the European explorers who expanded the world’s view of itself, and they taught one another about the American colonies. We learned about electricity, magnetism, weather, the water cycle, force, and motion. We discussed Illinois history and had an incredibly successful field trip to our state’s capital, where were visited the Illinois State Museum, the Illinois State Capitol, and the Lincoln-Herndon Law Office.

We mastered multidigit arithmetic: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division! We learned all of the multiplication facts from 0-12 and explored the relationships that exist among the different operations. We studied geometry, measurement, and data analysis. We learned fractions and remembered that, when adding or subtracting fractions with like denominators, the denominator does not change! We learned equivalency, comparison, and ordering. We explored greatest common factors, least common multiples, and the ways we can use both concepts when working with fractions. We also learned decimal notation.

We played. We had recesses and P.E. and had opportunities to run around, develop our locomotor skills, and learn to have fun while staying safe, respectful, and responsible. The students beat the teachers in kickball for the first time in three years! We developed our cognitive skills through games that challenged our thinking and spatial reasoning.

We grew. As a class and as individuals, my fourth graders reminded me that they come into fourth grade as young children and leave older, wiser, and more prepared. We learned to ignore people who annoy us, to recognise that the world around us is a place that is as diverse as it is big. We learned to welcome new friends and say farewell to old ones. We got a glimpse of the future as we watched the fifth graders participate in KAM:WAM and the musical. We set goals, reached goals, and set new goals. We stretched ourselves and learned that we could do much more than we thought.

It has been a great year! It has had its share of frustrations and setbacks, but as I look back, I choose to focus on the positive. I am sure that I will see some of my now-former students around this summer. I will be teaching a class on building bridges as part of our district’s STEM Enrichment Camp. I’ll also be attending several conferences and workshops: The Chancellor’s Academy with the University of Illinois, the Lake Guardian research cruise on Lake Ontario with the New York and Illinois-Indiana Sea Grants, and the Cebrin Goodman Teen Institute. But I’ll be around town, too. If you see me, please say hello and let me know what you are reading!

Have a fantastic summer! Come back and visit my blog periodically. I’ll be updating over the summer to share what I’ve been reading and what I’ve been doing to further my own professional development. I would love to know what you are doing, too!

Teaching Genetics

I have been reading the book Wonder to my class. It is a fantastic story, and my students are really enjoying it. For those who may not know, Wonder is the story of August Pullman, a ten-year-old boy who was born with a severe facial deformity known as mandibulofacial dysostosis. The story focuses on August’s first year in school and how his classmates respond to him. It is written in multiple voices, with each narrator being selected from the children of the story.

Today we were reading the portion that tells the story from August’s older sister’s point of view. Olivia (Via, as she is called at home), is very protective of her brother but she is also trapped in the desire to be known as someone more than “August’s sister.” As we read, there was a section that focused on the genetics of Auggie’s deformities. I was reading aloud, but I realised that many of the students probably didn’t know what the words I was saying even looked like, let alone what they meant. So as I read, I also wrote on the whiteboard and, in the process, found myself introducing very basic genetics to my fourth graders!

We were discussing words like genechromosomedominant traitsrecessive traits, and mandibulofacial dysostosis. We also talked about Punnett squares and how genetic traits, such as straight or curly hair, eye colour, attached of unattached earlobes, or whether or not a person can curl his or her tongue, are passed on. And the great thing about it all was that I had everyone engaged in the conversation! I explained that what we were talking about was really high school and even college-level biology, but because it was in the story, I wanted them to have an idea about what these words meant.

I love when we have these impromptu lessons that aren’t specifically a part of our prescribed curriculum! It is one of the things I love most about teaching fourth grade: when I allow students to ask questions, we may go way off topic, but we are learning. Together.

And that’s just awesome.

Teaching Reading by Reading

I have a fairly large network of professional colleagues through the Internet that I chat with on a regular basis. A topic of conversation recently has focused on how teachers teach reading. Two of these educators have especially gotten me thinking a lot about how I do reading in my classroom. The first, Donalyn Miller, is a fairly well-known personality in the world of teaching reading. (She has a book, called The Book Whisperer that is required reading in many education courses. I haven’t read it yet, but I will soon!) The other is Katherine Sokolowski, who happens to teach fairly close to me. She recently wrote a blog post about AR (accelerated reading programs), Lexile scores (a number used to determine the level and quality of book a student “should” be reading, and reading programs in general.

Both of these educators expressed the same sentiment, which I have shared with other teachers. This is how Ms. Miller describes her reading program:

1. Read a book. 2. Share it with another reader. 3. Chat about it. 4. Repeat 1-3. That’s MY reading program.

Here’s the (slightly more detailed) description of Ms. Sokolowski’s reading program:

So what is my reading program? Books, kids, and a teacher who reads. Pretty simple, but effective. No need for expensive programs. No need for comprehension tests that only test a surface level of comprehension. No need for a leveled book. Just read.

Now, the thing is, I do use leveled readers in my class. They are short selections that are easier for students to read so that they can focus on  specific reading strategy, such as predict, clarify, re-reading, and making inferences. I also have my students work in reading groups where they read a leveled text that uses Lexile scores to guide their instruction. The goal if the leveled reading is for students to develop their skills and to engage in discussions about different texts.

I also use our basal reading anthology to introduce different stories each week. Most of the stories in the anthology are the complete text of a selection, but there are a handful that are only excerpts. I use the basal reader for the same reason as the leveled texts: I want to teach a specific reading strategy that my students can apply to their own reading.

But the main focus on my reading instruction is on reading. I firmly agree with both Ms. Miller and Ms. Sokolowski that the best way to teach reading is to have students read. In fourth grade, we have a goal of building our reading stamina to a point where the students can read for 45 minutes without interruption every day. There are some teachers who have argued that this time should be longer, but the reality is there are only so many hours in the day to teach and I have a lot more to teach than just reading. But my students do a lot of reading in my classroom. Whenever they finish a task, they are encouraged to take out a book and read silently. When we come in from another activity, such as fine arts, library, P.E., or recess, and there is some administrative task that needs to be done, my students know that they should read silently while they wait for instruction. And when we are doing our literacy block in the afternoon, the students read and write about their reading. After all, the best way to teach students to read is to let them read!

For parents who ask, “What can I do to help?” I have a few suggestions:

  • Make sure your child has a place to read at home. It doesn’t matter if it is a bedroom, a chair in the living room, or just a quiet corner somewhere. Just so they have a place to read.
  • Ask your child what he or she is reading. Ask questions. Who is the main character? What is the problem in the story? What do you think will happen next?
  • Let your child see you reading. Part of our Million Minutes Challenge is to get family and friends to join with students in reading. Another part is to expand what we think of as “reading”: books, newspapers, magazines, websites, audiobooks, graphic novels, etc. They all count.
  • Help your child build a personal library of books. Our school has an awesome Book Exchange program that helps them do just this. Our local libraries also often gently used books at very low cost.

My reading program isn’t perfect yet, but I am going to keep working on it, I will keep reading about it, and I will keep doing everything I can to make sure that every student who passes through my classroom knows that reading is valuable and important!

The End of a Five-Day Week

This has been a long week; a fun, exciting, productive week, to be sure, but also a very long one. Due to the way our district calendar worked out for the beginning of the year, we haven’t had a five-day week in a month. We had a district institute day, MLK Day, an elementary inservice day, and then finally this week. I think the students throughout the school got out of the habit of being in school for five days in a row, so today felt like a particularly long day.

That being said, it was also a wonderfully productive day to mark the end of a wonderfully productive week! We have been tackling multi-digit multiplication in math, poetry and drama in literacy, meeting as reading groups, exploring magnetism in science, and preparing for the ISAT tests that are coming up in just a few weeks. We started using volleyballs in P.E., learning how to bump and set the balls while passing them around in small groups. We have also met four new tutors and one of our new student teachers.

We are going to have two student teachers working with our class this semester. Since I have no desire to refer to either one of them as “the student teacher” for the next several weeks, but I also want to maintain my policy of not using names without explicit permission, I will just use abbreviations. The student teacher the class met today was Ms. G. The students were all very welcoming and respectful toward her, and she was eager to get to know the students and start to find her way around the building! She will be working with our class on Monday and Friday mornings each week. The other student teacher, Ms. W, will be coming on Tuesday mornings.

To wrap up our day, I took some time to enter our most recently-collected reading logs while the students engaged in a variety of preferred activities during our Read, Write, Think! time. I am very pleased to announce, at the end of our five-day week and the nineteenth week of the Million Minutes Challenge, that the students, teachers, family, and friends of Wiley have logged 701,550 minutes of reading! We are now more that 70% of the way to our goal!

Have a great weekend!