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

Posts tagged “Third Grade

Halloween 2017

Monday was Halloween. It is absolutely my favourite real holiday of the year, even if I do greatly enjoy celebrating Australia Day (because it is my birthday) and Talk Like a Pirate Day (because it is silly and fun). We had our regular school-wide Halloween costume parade in the afternoon and classroom parties immediately following, but my students also had a pretty awesome experience in the morning that I have never been able to do with a class before.

We went with the two third grade classes and the other fourth grade class to the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts for a half-day workshop with the Lyric Theatre at Illinois to learn about their production of the opera Hansel and Gretel. Many of the students knew the basic story, but this experience was unique in that we weren’t watching the show or an abbreviated version of it. Instead, the students got to work with cast members to learn about some of the dances, songs, and costume design.

It was really neat learning with my students about these aspects of opera, some of which I didn’t know before. (For example, Hansel and Gretel is written so that the parts can be played by anyone, regardless of gender. So the witch can be played by a male singer and Hansel can be played by a female singer.)

It was also fun to spend time with students I don’t normally get to see. Although we had four classes going, the Krannert Center folks asked us to divide the classes into three groups. Instead of trying to mix and match all four classes, the teacher coordinating the field trip suggested that my class divide evenly among the other three classes. As a result, I was with the other fourth grade class and a third of my own students. Even though we were only together for a few hours, I noticed today that many of the other fourth graders seem much more comfortable talking to me and approaching me with concerns.

Oh, and our Halloween party was pretty great, too: lots of goodies, lots of fun costumes, lots of chances to chat with my students in a more informal setting, and a few chances to talk with parents who weren’t able to make it to parent/teacher conferences last week.

All in all, Halloween 2017 was a great success! Now to convince Congress to declare November 1 a national holiday so that students don’t have to come to school the next day when they have likely eaten too much sugar and gotten too little sleep…

Implementing the Dojo Store

Over the summer I read a book highly recommended by a friend, who, incidentally, used to be a part-time music teacher here in my building before she took a full-time job elsewhere. The book was called Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn. I wrote an extensive review of it here. For those who don’t want to read it, the short version of my review was that Mr. Kohn definitely made some good points, but I think there was a middle ground that bridges intrinsic and extrinsic motivation that he neglects.

Intrinsic motivation is the desire to do the right thing simply because it is the right thing to do. This is the goal that we have for all students. Extrinsic motivation is the desire to do the right thing because you will receive a reward of some sort as a result. In his book, Mr. Kohn argues that rewards actually kill intrinsic motivation; that people will stop doing the right thing if they are offered a reward for it.

I think believe that there is a way to move from extrinsic motivation to intrinsic motivation by reinforcing pro-social skills while acknowledging the outcome of desired behaviour, but also recognising that it is nice to receive some sort of recognition for what you have done.

Which leads me to the Dojo Store.

I, along with most of the teachers in my building and many teachers throughout the world, use Class Dojo as a behaviour management tool in my classroom. I don’t use it as a threat or a punishment or a reward in and of itself. It is simply a tool to track what students are doing at different moments of the day. Class Dojo is not a perfect representation of the day, but if used correctly, it provides a fairly decent snapshot and can help me target problematic time periods. It is also a helpful tool when communicating with parents about what their child did on any given day at any given time.

One of the new teachers in my building shared an way she uses to help students transfer the Dojo points they receive to tangible, age-appropriate incentives or rewards. It is called the Dojo Store, which she found through Teachers Pay Teachers. (I tried tracking down the original but was unsuccessful. There are lots of similar options on that site, though.) How the Dojo Store works is pretty simple: each Dojo point translates to one Dojo Dollar. Students will be able to bank their dollars to purchase different incentives. Low-cost incentives include things like wearing a hat for the day or sitting in the teacher’s chair or being able to take off their shoes. Mid-priced incentives are things like extra recess or Chromebook time or helping another teacher for a brief period of time. High-cost incentives are things like a class movie or a class pajama day.

I’ll keep track of the students Dojo Dollars but they will, too. When a student makes a purchase, I deduct that amount from their account. They can make purchases any time as long as they have the money in their account to do so.

I’m excited to try this out and hope it will be a positive way to help my students see that their positive behaviours have a direct, positive outcome. And that’s the goal of bridging extrinsic and intrinsic motivation: I want my students to see that their actions have consequences!

Student Guest Post 4: Why We Love Mr. Valencic

This is the fourth guest post written by students. I have a feeling that these particular students were trying to flatter me. I appreciate the compliments, even if it is a bit difficult to follow.

Mr. Valencic  is nice and sweet.   And he love us no matter what. on Thursday  Mr.Valencic  had to o to a meeting and we had a sub for when we were in 3rd grade  and he is so nice and we were doing math. And he was so cool  Because he let a kid  teach because he was talking to his friends and he was so nice that what he does in 3rd grade. Now we are in mr .V class and he  is coolest because he is a movie star and he came 1st place and he is a nice teacher because he is a  movie star forever. And he is a super hero of teaching. and he the loves kids and teachers.

As always, I did not make any changes to what they wrote. I think what I am going to start doing is having the class edit the post for mechanics (not style) on the following Monday.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration 2015

Each year our school has a special assembly to celebrate the life and accomplishments of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I don’t know how long this tradition has gone on, but I know it has been many, many years. This year’s assembly kind of snuck up on us, in part because of the two “cold days” we had right after winter break, which is when we usually plan and organise the assembly.

However, we were still able to put together a great program, in large part due to the Herculean efforts of our visual arts teacher and one of our dance/drama/music teachers. Different classes put together presentations, including songs, videos, and poetry recitals. The first graders sang a song about being peacemakers. One of the third grade classes shared a video about ways that they can make Dr. King’s dream a reality. A fifth grade class presented a video of students reading excerpts of poems by Langston Hughes. The other fifth grade class did a song. One of the fourth grade classes (not mine) did an animation based on a poem about Dr. King. (My class was going to do an animation to a song by the Beatles but we simply ran out of time.)

The entire assembly was led by the handsome engagement director guy from the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, who has been a long-time friend to Wiley Elementary School and has become a part of our school family over the years. Families were invited to attend and join in group singing while celebrating the work of a man who dedicated his life to ending racial inequality and fighting for justice. Our society still has a long way to go before we truly achieve the dream that Dr. King shared, but I truly believe we are doing better than we were in the past. This weekend, take some time to reflect on not just what Dr. King did, but also the other men and women who struggled to bring about civil rights for all people.

The Best Day of My Life

Today was the first day of the new school year for my fourth graders! We spent much of the day getting to know one another, discussing plans for the year, setting expectations, going over routines, and getting settled in. In other words, a fairly typical first day of school.

I chose to use a picture book for our very first read aloud, with our first chapter book starting tomorrow. The selection I read today was a story by Patricia MacLachlan, perhaps best known for Sarah, Plain and Tall, winner of the 1986 Newbery Medal. The story today was What You Know First, a short story about a girl who has to move from her home that she knows to a place that is new and unfamiliar. In this short but touching tale, we are drawn to thinking about how we take what we know wherever we go. I tied this to how all of my students have gone from something they knew, third grade, and have moved to something completely new, fourth grade. They were great listeners and shared some wonderful insights about moving and doing new things.

I also wanted to have a writing assignment today. During the summer I became familiar with a song by American Authors that has become something of a theme song for me and many of the young adults I work with through the Cebrin Goodman Teen Institute. Even though I wasn’t able to go to the Institute this year, I was still able to connect and knew that I would be using this song with my class. I thought this would go well with our story, also, since there are two ways to respond to change: fight it or embrace. In the story, the girl wanted to fight it until she realised it was an opportunity to share what she knew and to take her experiences with her as she created something new. When we have change, we can embrace it and make the best of it, or we can fight against it and harbor resentment. I choose to make the best of each change, each experience, each day.

We watched the video, which I downloaded and saved to avoid any inappropriate advertisements which, unfortunately, I can’t control if streaming, twice and then I gave the students their first writing assignment: with a partner, using words and pictures, describe the best day of your own life. It could be something real, something imagined, or something longed for. We are going to use the work today as a seed for a lengthier writing assignment that I will display on one of our hallways bulletin boards. Today was just to get used to writing again and to get the ideas started.

Some students wrote about special holidays or cherished family traditions. One wrote about adopting their family dog. (Inspired, possibly, by the lyric music video we watched.) Others chose to take a fantastic route, writing about gaining special powers, like controlling weather or fire. All of them were working during the short period of time allotted for the activity.

Today was a fantastic start of the year! There were no fights, no arguments, no overturned desks (except when I did so as a non-example of how to deal with a challenging situation), and no melt-downs. Just twenty fourth graders who were working, following directions, listening, and getting ready for the best year of their lives (at lest so far). My challenge to my students, and to myself, is to make every day the best day. I am hoping today was a foreshadow of what our year will be like!

Intermediate Informance Assembly

The music/dance/drama teacher for the intermediate classes this year has done some amazing work with Wiley’s third, fourth, and fifth graders. The students have been working hard throughout the year. This last quarter has been their dance block. In addition to meeting with them during their regular fine arts time, she has been taking the fourth grade classes to work on dances and songs related to our social studies units throughout the year.

Today, though, the intermediate classes were putting on what she called an “informance,” or an informational dance to show what they have learned. Earlier in the day, she asked if we could bring our two fourth grade classes together to practice their dances for the afternoon. After running through their performances a couple of time, my fourth grade partner and I decided to utilise our time in the gym for some more practice so the classes could work at syncing up with each other. I think the extra practice really helped! It also let us, as their teachers, see who was paying attention in fine arts classes!

The assembly started with the third grade classes each doing a dance. It was really cool watching how the classes have come together to learn these dances. The fifth graders also did two dances, one inspired by traditional African dance and one from their upcoming musical. But as much fun as those were, my interest was, of course, on the middle performances of the fourth graders!


Spring Training

One of the highlights of the end of the year at Wiley is the epic (and yes, I do mean epic) Teachers vs. Students Kickball Game. This tradition has last several years and I have been a proud part of it since my first year here. (Admittedly, this is only my third year, but still, I love the kickball game!) The game is a part of our annual Wiley Fun Day, which is our big PBIS send-off for the year.

Not all of the teachers play, but there are enough of us who volunteer to do so that we are able to field a respectable team. The students’ team, on the other hand, is by peer nomination. The six intermediate classes (third through fifth grades) each select two boys and two girls to represent them on the team. I allow my students to vote for the classmates they want to have participate based on the criteria of athletic skill and good sportsmanship. We have had students in the past who were very athletic but had failed to demonstrate good sportsmanship and therefore didn’t make the team. Each year I can guess who will be selected but I refrain from sharing my thoughts with the students because I want them to have total ownership over the selection.

Before voting, though, I make sure all students have an opportunity to properly train for the game! So we use our last few weeks of school to train during P.E. If the weather is agreeable, we go outside and have kickball games. Today, though, it was cold and damp, so we did some indoor training. After stretching and warming up, the students divided themselves into two groups which ended up being all the boys in one group and all the girls in the other. (This was entirely their doing.)

For the next ten minutes, the girls practiced throwing, catching, and sometimes dodging while the boys practiced speed and dexterity. Then they switched places and practices for another ten minutes. Some students were initially reluctant to participate, but their friends encouraged them and soon everyone was joining in on our Spring Training. We will continue our kickball unit for the next couple of weeks before voting for our representatives on the Wiley Student Kickball Team.