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

Posts tagged “Second Grade

Today’s Topics v2.1

At the start of my second year teaching at Wiley, I decided to implement an idea that one of our second grade teachers had been using with considerable success for a number of years so that I could help my students stay organised. The idea was the C.O.Y.O.T.E. Binder, so named because we are, of course, the Wiley Coyotes. (The acronym in the name stands for Carefully Organising My Own Things Every day.)

A major component of this binder, in addition to the homework folder and information sheets for parents with our daily schedule and fourth grade learning standards for mathematics and English/language arts, has been Today’s Topics. At the end of each day, we would come up, as a class, with three statements that students could go home to tell their mom or dad or grandma or grandpa or aunt or uncle or dog or refrigerator–whoever it was that took care of them when they got home. (Yes, this was the list that I would routinely rattle off every single day.)

I have used this system with success for the past three years and had begun using it again this year when a friend shared a blog post with me a couple of weeks ago. It was entitled “30 Questions To Ask Your Kid Instead Of ‘How Was Your Day?'” The point was simple: parents should ask specific questions if they would like specific feedback from their children!

I decided to take on a 30-day challenge. Instead of having the class come up with three statements that they would all record, I would use these questions as the starting point for Today’s Topics. Instead of three statements, they would write one.

Here are the prompts I gave during the past three days, drawing straight from Sara Goldstein‘s list:

Today for lunch I ate _________ and it was ___________.

Today at recess I ____________ and it was ____________ because _________.

The funniest thing to happen today was __________ because ______________.

I chose to skip question two. I’ll have to come up with my own when we get to the end of this experiment. So far, though, it has been quite successful! Students have been reflecting on their days and writing sometimes entire paragraphs about their topics! Thank you, Ms. Goldstein, for such a wonderful idea!

Young Authors Celebration

As the building coordinator for the Illinois Young Authors competition, I have the privilege of promoting this writing contest, recruiting a panel of judges, and reading a wide variety of amazing stories written by students at my school. We had seventeen submissions this year, but I could only select five of them to participate in our district celebration. Of those five, one was selected as the overall building winner, who will get the opportunity to attend the Illinois Young Authors Conference in May. (more…)

What Do You See?

I learned about an interesting teaching method a few years ago from the Engagement Director at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. (He also does a lot of coordination with the Education Coordinator with the Krannert Art Museum.) The method is called Visual Teaching Strategies. (I have mentioned this from time to time over the years but have yet to do a detailed blog post about it. I will one of these days, but not yet.) One of the core elements of Visual Teaching Strategies (VTS) is for students to answer the question, “What do you see going on here?”

I have used this method this year during our social & emotional learning lessons, which always include an enlarged photograph showing a particular situation that students will confront. I ask the class to share what they see going on in the picture before we discuss it as a group. Sometimes I will have students share with a partner before sharing out with the class so that more of them get an opportunity to share.

Another way I have used VTS in my room has been much more individualised. Taking advantage of the iPad that I use for a variety of teaching activities, I will occasionally take a picture of what I see students doing. If a student is off-task, I will show them the picture in a one-on-one setting, usually back by my desk, and will ask what is going on in the picture. The student will quickly identify what he/she sees and will honestly acknowledge areas for improvement. I always end the brief conference by saying, “Can you fix it? Show me!” Then I delete the photo and allow the student student to carry on with his/her task.

Other times I will ask the students to close their eyes and picture what the classroom should look like at a given moment. I’ll prompt the visualisation with questions like, “What should the students be doing?” or “What should we see on the floors?” or “How should our desks look?” After everyone has had a few minutes to reflect, I direct them to open their eyes, look around the room, and correct what needs to be fixed.

I find these strategies are most useful in redirecting students because, many times, my students don’t even realise they are off-task! So when I try to redirect them they don’t understand what I am asking. But if I show them first, they can see it, understand it, and correct it on their own. It was a great way to empower students to be accountable for their actions and to be aware of their environment. One of my goals for each of my students is for them to learn how to better self-regulate themselves; to be aware of what they are doing, to monitor behaviour, and to correct errors before they become a hindrance to learning. Asking them to ask themselves what they see is a wonderful way to do this!


We don’t have very many half-days of school these days. When I was younger, it seemed like it happened on a regular basis. As a district, we have monthly staff inservice meetings that go all day for the elementary grades, but the middle school has half-days. But at the grade schools? We just don’t do them that often.

Today, though, was a half-day. The students arrived at 8:10, classes started at 8:15, and then they were dismissed at 12:45, which was an hour after lunch for the primary grades and fifteen minutes after lunch for the intermediate grades. Despite having a much shorter day, we had a very busy day!

We started the day reviewing our week’s spelling/vocabulary words (all with suffixes -ful, -ness, and/or -less. Then we had our weekly spelling test. As soon as the spelling test was done, it was time for our monthly Coyote College assembly. The “Duct Tape Divas” shared a video about the upcoming students-vs-teachers kickball game at the end of the month, and the second grade classes did a fantastic dance that they learned with our music/dance/drama teacher.

Following the assembly, the students took a math test on equivalent fractions and comparing fractions. We have been working on these skills for a couple of weeks now, and I am glad that the class as a whole is making progress. After the test, we watched a science video about weather and climate, and then I read a few sections of Wonder until lunch. Unfortunately, we had to leave off at one of the saddest parts of the entire story, which is when the Pullmans’ dog, Daisy, dies.I felt really bad stopping at that point, but it was time for lunch.

The day ended with the students gathering their mail, cleaning up the room, and getting their things. At least, the day ended for the students. I, along with the other staff in the building, had an afternoon of inservice training on the Charlotte Danielson Framework for Teaching. I’ve been learning about the Danielson Framework for about a year now, but it was nice to sit down with my colleagues and discuss the domains and share ideas about what they look like in practice.

It was a wonderful day with quite a bit of work done by both students and teachers! Have a wonderful weekend!

Battle of the Books

I love the Battle of the Books. It is a great program that gets students in third, fourth, and fifth grade to read a set of 30 award-winning books written for young people. The students work in teams of eight to read all 30 books and then they compete to answer trivia questions related to the books. Several of the books are selections that are on my To Read list, including Because of Mr. TeruptOut Of My Mind, and The Name Of This Book Is Secret. There is also Love That Dog, which I read for the first time a few weeks ago when a friend purchased it for me as a gift. I don’t typically care for poetry as a genre (I’m not really sure why), but I love Love That Dog. (more…)

The Student Teacher

For the past three days, my class has been fortunate enough to have a student teacher with us! He had already completed his full-time student teaching assignment and came to work with us for a few days to complete the last requirement he had for his initial teaching certificate.

In order to keep with my policy of not using specific names on my blog, but to avoid having to call him “the student teacher,” I’ll be referring to him as Mr. H from now on.

Mr. H had an interesting three days with us. Normally, we’d have our regular schedule with math, social studies or science, literacy (including both reading and writing), and other content area lessons each day. Instead, he was here for testing, testing, and more testing. But he did get to learn about some of our curriculum, a lot about our benchmark testing, and our guided reading groups.

Knowing that Mr. H had taught second, fourth, and sixth grade as part of his student teaching experiences, I asked him if he’d be interested in teaching the guided reading groups during the days he was here. His responsibility was to introduce the text and the reading strategy and then guide the discussion after the students had read. He did a great job with them, and it gave him experience with working with diverse groups, which was a big part of the reason he was here.

Today was Mr. H’s last day, and the students all wished him the very best. After taking a group photo (the first time I have taken a picture with all 26 of my students in it, incidentally), we wrapped up the day playing Around the World with my Grade Four BrainQuest trivia game, except the students had to compete against Mr. H instead of each other. Everyone had a lot of fun and it provided the perfect way to wrap up the culmination of his experiences.



I’m not sure when I’ll get to have a student teacher to work with my class again, but I hope it is sooner than later! I love having the opportunity to discuss what I am doing as I do it and having another teacher to help out in the classroom!

C.O.Y.O.T.E. Binders

Today, being Friday, marked the end of the first full week of school!

This week has been, overall, fantastic! The students were almost always focused on the tasks put before them, most of which involved establishing expectations and routines. There are definitely areas for improvement and we will keep working on them throughout the year. We got a lot of the administrative tasks of the class set up, such as putting together the C.O.Y.O.T.E. homework binders and our math binders.

The C.O.Y.O.T.E. binders are an idea first cobbled together by one of our 2nd grade teachers. The acronym stands for Carefully Organising Your Own Things Every day. (Our building mascot is the coyote, which is why she chose that word in the first place.) The binder contains information about our school, especially the homework policy that was created by teachers and parents last year. We included a teacher-parent communication log and a “Today’s Topics” sheet that the students will use each day to record some of the events of the day. (No student in my class will ever be able to say that they don’t remember what they did in school each day!)

There is a folder for students to keep track of homework that needs to be returned and papers that need to be kept at home after being seen by parents/guardians. The back section of the binder contains our district’s “I Can” statements for progress report items for math and English/language arts, character trait vocabulary terms, and several sheets of lined notebook paper. Some students also have a zipper pencil pouch with at least two sharpened pencils. (I would encourage every student to get one, but I also want to be sensitive to individual family budgets.) I love the C.O.Y.O.T.E. binder concept and think it will really help students keep their papers organised. I have emphasised that each student is responsible for bringing his or her own binder to and from school each day!

Today was the first day the students used their binders, as I sent home a letter of introduction to parents, the first PTA newsletter, and a Box Tops for Education worksheet for families to use as desired. The students’ mail was put into their folders in the binders, and every binder was placed in a backpack, so every parent should receive the mail that was sent home!

And now that the first week is over, I am looking forward to the weekend!