I have unshakable faith in children. They always show me the way. ♥

Monday, December 21, 2009

goods and services...

This past week our class has been learning about Goods & Services in economics. Every year this concept proves to be a little hard for my six year olds to grasp.

note: the language they use for the children is this:
Goods: Things people make or use to satisfy needs and wants.
Services: Activities that satisfy people’s needs and wants.

Every year when we first start talking about this, my gorgeous students get these looks of rather a lot of intense concentration, and then confusion on their face and essentially give me the old: "Um, awesome, Miz F, this is so great and yay learning and all, but, um... what in the ever loving world does all that mean?"

So, we act some things out. We tell little stories. We circle some of the words that make our brains go fuzz-buckets and define them. We do little projects. Eventually we get to this very basic distillation: things you can touch? Goods. Things you can do? Services.

Yes. So, that's not completely accurate. But a lot of the kids need a way of classifying consistently before they can start discussing or thinking more deeply and delving into the grey areas (Can something be both a good AND a service? whoa...)

Anyway, so my class is on their way to this place of classification right now. On Thursday when we were waiting for our reading buddies to arrive, we had a couple of minutes, so I said: "Alright, let's play Goods & Services!" I called out something (books! pencils! putting out a fire!) and the kids called back what it exemplified (goods! services!).

We do have a raucous good time in first grade, I tell you.

Later, in the library, our librarian was reading the children a story in which the two main characters had just done something and were "...carrying the tree inside..."

Immediately, Adin bursts out, "That's a service!"

Yeppers, ladies and gentlemen. Those are my students. Taking their learning beyond the four walls of our classroom. I do believe they might be completely awesome.

Friday, December 18, 2009


Every morning I play music as the kids are coming in. It's a mix of 60's and 70's music that is just awesome (Dancing Queen, Rockin' Robin, Love Will Keep Us Together, You Make Me Feel Like Dancing, and etc...). We all love it. It's fun to bebop as we greet each other and do all of the numerous morning jobs.

I wait for the children in the hallway and greet them as they come in, but I can hear the music from inside. Often, I dance.

Okay, fine. All the time I dance.

This morning I overheard:

student 1: Look, Miz F is dancing.
student 2: She always dances.
student 1: Oh yeah. Look, Miz F is dancing again.

Guess they've got my number now. ♥

Monday, December 7, 2009

hermit crabs!

We have hermit crabs! So much excitement! I brought them in on Friday and set up the tank.

Things they notice: "The shells are different." and "They have legs and claws and like to hide in their shell."

Things they want to know: "Can we please name them, Miz F?" and "Will they have babies?"

Things they want to do: watch them all day long and skip everything else.

My compromise: add a station to Reading time where they can observe and write questions.

So, I stayed after work today to rearrange a bit on one counter and make a more kid-friendly observational space. Here it is:

The empty tank on the far right is a gift from my work boyfriend, Angela. It will eventually hold fish, but probably not until January. I'm not sure the excitement level could take another notch right now.

Which is kind of awesome, if you ask me.

an open letter...

Dear Social Studies Department Office,

I adore you. Over my tenure here in this school system, I have continually been impressed with your depth of knowledge, your professionalism, the resources you develop and provide, and the professional development you offer. In short, you're absolute Rock Stars. Capital R. Capital S.

Keep that in mind.

So, why then, when there is a new element to the First Grade curriculum this year and you've developed a great Make and Take workshop for teachers to create a good resource to bring to their classroom, why would you hold only one session? And limit it to 30 teachers? Aren't there are approximately six squillion first grade teachers in our school system?

Why, Social Studies Department, why?

I even went to register immediately after my SS lead teacher informed me of the workshop and it was already up to number 24 on the wait list.


Don't worry. Our relationship will recover. I know it will.

I think I might need some Ben & Jerry's, though.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

a long hallway walk...

Our classroom is at the end of a long hallway.

Basically, our classroom is as far away from any other place in the entire school as you can possibly get (with the exception of a small area that abuts the street in front of us). Any time we need to go somewhere we always budget extra time. It's a long walk.

Today, my class had a vision screening. Some lady came to take half my class for vision screening and sent back three children at a time. Then she came and got the rest of the class and sent them back three at a time. For the long walk back from the vision screening.

So, when each group of three arrives back in the classroom, they're each out of breath and guilty looking and rather shifty. Do you know where I might be going with this?

Let me restate: our classroom is at the end of a long hallway.

Yeah, so I have to do the teacher thing and look at them and ask if they know what being out of breath shows? ("That we were running, Miz F.") I'm solemn and serious and they're each totally contrite and sweet and awesome, really.

To be honest, though? That's about as far as I'm going to take it. If I were six I would be all over a hundred and twenty foot dash down a long hallway when no teachers are looking. I totally get it. Plus, it's supposed to rain in about an hour and the sky is already looking menacing.

Good for them for getting some exercise while they can. ♥

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

my first grade writers...

Writing from some talented writers today...

My mom is gonna get
me a nintendo (dintendo) DS... in
Walmart. I am delighted!

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, he said delighted! We've been noticing some of the language in the books we've been reading and found "delighted" in one of the Henry and Mudge books.

I can ride it.
I ride it at the blacktop at
my house. My scooter makes
fire. It is a racer scooter.
When I ride it, I yell, "Rock on!" "Man!"

Yeah, okay, tell me you had such a writer's voice when you were six years old. I sure didn't.

I love Writing Workshop.

Monday, November 23, 2009

reading aloud...

On Friday I cried in front of my class.

Okay, that's sort of an exaggeration. But I did get teary in front of them. And they noticed. They knew about it. In fact, they expected it. My friends, there are so many amazing books out there in the world. Tons of them. There are quite a few that I cannot read without getting teary. Dogger is one of them. The writing is lovely and well paced and real, and there is a moment where a sister does something so kind for her brother that I always get choked up. Children always respond to this book, too. They want to borrow it, reread it, examine the illustrations, and make some of their own.

But I can't just go reading any book willy-nilly to my students. Before I can read aloud a book where I'm probably going to get teary for a moment, I have to know that:

1. the kids will be okay with seeing me tear up. (They worry.)
2. our class is in a place where we can have moments of raw emotion like that
3. they're going to get something out of the story, too.

They did. ♥

Before we read, we talked about books we'd read over the year... books that had taught us how to predict, books that had made us laugh, had inspired our writing, had done a multitude of different things. I also told them that sometimes we understand the story or the characters so well that we almost feel what they are feeling. We talked about laughing and crying, about happy tears and sad tears and proud tears, and we talked about what we would do if someone did cry during a story.

We were prepared.

I don't quite know how to describe the feeling of reading aloud to children to someone that has never had 24 children hanging on every dramatic word, but believe me when I say it is magical. Good writing and good reading do this. Shirley Hughes so beautifully described the feeling and action of the main character that by the climax of the story, the children were absolutely still, some with mouths open and all with their eyes no where but on the lush illustrations, and none with a single breath in their mouth.

By the time the children realized that I had paused at one point not because I was being dramatic, but because I literally couldn't read the next words until I swallowed the lump in my throat, they knew exactly how I was feeling.

Because they were feeling it, too.

Reading aloud is such an intimate, exciting, beautiful part of the day, and on Friday they realized another important layer.

Hyung told me later, "I know why you cry, Miz F. I feel like it, too."

So, yeah. On Friday I cried in front of my students. But they were ready. We all were.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


It's coincidental that the 40th Anniversary of Sesame Street coincides so perfectly with my current train of thought... magic.

Not Harry Potter magic, exactly, but the sort of magic or thrill of belief in something.

Years ago, I was watching an A&E biography on Sesame Street. It was really interesting. They showed the set of the TV show. I remember seeing demonstrations of how the puppeteers did their work; I remember distinctly seeing how Big Bird's puppeteer did all of the amazing Big Bird work work. It was fascinating.

And yet, when it was over, I remember turning to my partner and saying to him, "That was awesome. I had no idea how much work went into all of it. But, you know what? There is still a part of me that's convinced that there is an actual Sesame Street. With Ernie and Bert and Grover and Linda and Bob. So, that was a really cool show and all. But there really is a Sesame Street. And that wasn't it."

No matter what I may know now as an adult, there is still the level of magic that I still hold onto. Because it is magic.

My students live the magic every day. I see evidence all the time. I'll give you an example. Every day, wen I go pick up my students at lunch, I bring Zed. Zed is a little zebra puppet attached to a stick that fits inside a cone.

I hold the cone and the stick, and can control Zed with the stick. Zed's story is that he comes out only when it's quiet; loud noises scare him and he goes back into the cone. I initially brought him down to lunch in the beginning of the year when some of my darlings were having trouble transitioning from the loud of the lunchroom into the quiet of the hallway. Zed helped a lot.

Plus, Zed is adorable and I can make him really look like he's peering over the top, or looking intently at a student, or if I shake the stick just right I can make it look like he's waving to the children.

They. Love. Him.

And they wave back. (also, so do many teachers if Zed waves at them in the hallway. ♥)

Recently Sandy realized that *I* control Zed. That he's a puppet. That when I push the stick, Zed comes out. That when I turn the stick, Zed turns around. That when I shake the stick, Zed waves. Sandy noticed this and started watching and telling some of his friends. He was obsessed with it for a few days. His observer eye was glued to my stick hand and he watched every moment, finding triumph in the fact that he was right! Miz F was controlling Zed.

I think he wondered why none of his friends, though, seemed as obsessed by this idea as he was, why none of them really paid any attention to it, even when he pointed it out to them. A lot. He'd whisper to Warner, "look, look! See how Miz F is moving the stick!" Or: "When she shakes it, it makes Zed do the wave at us!" His friends might nod, or look, or acknowledge what he was saying, but only in a polite 'isn't that nice?' sort of way.

About a week later, Sandy stopped paying attention to every movement I made with Zed on the stick. He now waves to Zed as we walk down the hallway; he watches Zed and not my stick hand. He smiles and grins and laughs along with the children as we head down the hallway to our classroom. Sandy knows the truth now, that I control Zed.

But I think he just prefers the magic.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

halloween card...

I can't say that I've ever received a Halloween card from a student before, let alone a handmade one. I'd say Caden has set the bar pretty high. I adore this card. ♥

Monday, November 2, 2009

when I wasn't looking...

I was rereading this post this morning where I was reflecting on the disequilibrium of the beginning of the year. I always find it helpful to go back and reread previous posts both of my own and other teacher-bloggers that I appreciate. In the same way that different books/movies/articles inspire me in different ways depending on when I see them, rereading something about which I was thinking months or even weeks or years ago always gives me a fresh perspective.

The reason this hit me so profoundly this morning in my reread was that we're now somewhere around the 36th day of school. Our class has had eight weeks together and we are starting to find our feet. It struck me on Friday as I sat with a reading group and we giggled together when they realized that we have learned a ton of Quick & Easy words in the past three weeks, I looked out at the rest of the class. They were all working at different Reading Work Stations with their partners: reading, writing, talking, thinking.

Of course, I did have to give Caden a look to remind him to get back and focused, and there were a few other little teacher R's I did, but that's typical all through the year. All of the children were writing, reading, doing the work that we've practiced and thought about. They heeded the Stop sign (which reminds them that I am doing Very Important Work with the children at the teacher table) and solved any pressing concerns with their partner or another friend. They wrote and practiced words from our Word Wall, they worked on fluency in reading, the built words together with magnetic letters and Wikki Sticks. It wasn't perfect by any means, but it was real.

I watched my class and realized that somehow, when I wasn't looking (and when I was), my amazing students became first graders.

What a beautiful thing. ♥

Monday, October 12, 2009

rethinking columbus day...

I have the hardest time with Columbus Day.

In our school system, first graders have to learn about the Columbus Day holiday. To their credit, they no longer tout him as the person who discovered America, but instead say that he was "given credit" for doing so.

When I teach about Columbus, children usually have some knowledge about him already. We talk about his plan to find a western route for sailing to the east, and how his mistake taught people in Europe about lands they did not know existed. We also talk about how there were already people living in the places he landed, so he didn't discover a new land, but rather find land that many people hadn't known about before. I tell them that he didn't always make the best choices with how he treated the new people he met, that sometimes he didn't treat them well at all.

What first graders have to learn is simple: that Columbus Day is a holiday that celebrates Christopher Columbus, that he was given credit for discovering America, and that Columbus day is celebrated in October.

But Christopher Columbus is far from simple. The way he treated the Taino people that he came into contact with, the way he wrote about them as people that would make good servants... I don't necessarily think Columbus Day is the right holiday to be celebrating.

So, I face a professional dilemma every October: how do I make sure children get the knowledge that they're going to need for the future (and, let's face it, for the standardized tests they're going to have to take in a few years), but also make sure not to paint a saccharine, contrived picture of something untrue?

There's a wonderful website and resource - www.rethinkingschools.org. I don't spend enough time reading articles here, but there is a wealth of knowledge here. I've recently found another site: reconsidercolumbusday.org. It's not a well designed site, but there is a thoughtful video there that's worth watching.

So, I don't have any answers to this, mostly just questions. I wonder: how do you reconcile your own teaching dilemmas?

Thursday, September 24, 2009


I have a beautiful teacher's journal that a friend of mine gave me many years ago. It has preprinted pages, the front with several sentence starters, and the back with a place for more in depth reflection. Every time I take it out, I tell myself that I should write in it more, because rereading always gives me some insight into something else.

As I sit with this journal right now, feeling as many teachers feel by the thirteenth day of school (encouraged, bewildered, curious, enthusiastic, exhausted and possibly more), I'm struck by something. I have only written a handful of times and each time was in the very early part of the year. Each entry of mine is wondering about the children, about the group of beautiful young six year olds I have and marveling at how young they are. At the same time, in each entry, I mention missing my former students and yet being fully aware that I sent on children that were end of the year first graders, rather than the beginning of the year first graders that I have now.

Rereading my journal has given me such insight into this: the beginning of the year is a time of great disequilibrium (if that's even a word). It's exciting to build a community with a brand new group of children, it's exciting to try out new teacher learning that I did over the summer, it's exciting to have a fresh start. But it's also a time of learning routines and procedures. It's a time of practice, practice and more practice. It's a time of fun, oh yes, but it is surrounded by a lot of the less fun stuff. (Fire drills, walking in the hallway, walking safely in the classroom, finding out where we put our papers and how we take care of colored pencils, and etc...)

I never doubt the power and absolute necessity of the time we spend at the beginning of the year building our sense together of how we're going to take care of each other, the classroom, ourselves, and how we're going to learn together. It's exhausting, though, and I know it is for the children.

The children remember the end of Kindergarten and all that they did and could do in their classroom on a daily basis. I remember my students at the end of First Grade last year and how independent they were and the quality of their work and discussions.

You know what, though? The reason the students could do all of that was because I taught them how. We went through the same process I'm taking my new class through right now. The reason my current students were so successful at the end of last year was because their Kindergarten teachers taught them how to be successful.

So, really, I need to remember the end of last year as a reminder of what we will be like together (and already are at times) very soon.

In fact, just today we had a moment where we were all struck by something funny and had a lovely class moment together. It gave me a glimpse into what our class is going to feel like in a couple of months. It was kind of magical.

I can't wait.

class library...

We opened our class library yesterday. We don't even have three shelves open yet and they're all so excited about it.

I have a lot to say about the beginning of the year, but I keep spending my time on family conferences and first grade stuff and not blogging about first grade stuff. I'll try to rectify that next week. I definitely miss writing.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


I love Family Conferences.

Today I was meeting with a mom of one of my students and I asked what her hopes were for her son in first grade and in the future. She told me she'd like to see him be a doctor or an engineer or a scientist. We talked a little more and then she thought for a minute and said,

"But what I really want is that whatever he does is what he chooses. That's what I want for him."

I love Family Conferences. ♥

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

excellent mail...

It feels vaguely apropos that I finally start writing in this blog again on September first. In the magical world, children have ridden the Hogwarts Express to school and are starting their year. In the Muggle world, many schools have started already, and in my case, teachers are back and the children come next week.

I'm so excited about the upcoming year, full of new ideas and busily updating old ones. I plan to post some pictures of my classroom set up progress -- I try to take pictures every year because it gives me such a sense of accomplishment to watch the room go from an empty space to a ready classroom.

For now, though, I'm just going to share the single most wonderful piece of mail I received this summer. One of my students moved this summer, and her mother emailed to ask if she could send a card she'd made to my home address.

This is the beautiful card I received:

My favorite part? The PS. Best. Post script. Ever. ♥

Monday, June 15, 2009

structure... taken away

Today was our school's annual Field Day. Classes start at one game and move through stations every 12-15 minutes for a little under three hours. It's exhausting. It's hot. And it's very, very fun.

This was the first Field Day in several years, though, that I didn't have fun. Even though the children had practiced some of the games in PE, even though we divided ourselves into teams of five (even with little colored yarn ties around each child's wrist to help them remember), and even with a little strategy for one team to split if there were to be four teams instead of five... Even with a practiced "two whistle" signal from my whistle, even with a map looked at (well) ahead of time... even with several different lead up days with time for any and all questions the children had...

It was a hard day.

The kids mostly had fun, I would say. Also, luckily, we started and ended with a couple of fun water-relay games, which always put a big smile on people's faces. But, personally, I was miserable for most of it. Children were getting frustrated with games and taking it out on their teammates. Children weren't showing the empathy or respect for others that they have become so masterful at this year. I spent a large portion of the time redirecting children -- redirecting, redirecting, redirecting...

In our school, we spend a lot of energy on Previewing experiences -- we talk about what it will look like, what it will sound like... we discuss and practice how we will handle things that come up that aren't desirable, we talk about how to be assertive in situations like that, and we talk about how to celebrate and share joy in ourselves and in others. With 12 minutes at each place and 2 minutes to get there, we didn't have time to do that between stations.

My class is a particularly needy class this year (I did just reread this post from the beginning of the year again) and today they only had me going through this brand new experience of Field Day with them. Looking back on today and this year as a whole (and yes, there is a glass of wine here with me as I write this), it hit me just how much routine and consistency I built into the school day for the children. Not because I'm some sort of consistency or structure guru, but because they needed it. With that structure, they were able to be incredibly successful and independent. We did a lot of work together this year; we learned and laughed and thought and wondered.

But when all that structure was taken away, even with our relationships and the strength of our community, it fell apart. It was as though we were learning it all over again.

It was a hard day.

And I do wonder... what is there *to* be done for days like this? There will always be times when a predictable routine will need to change -- and the children were just happy, relaxed and quiet at the end of the day, remembering some of their favorite times from Field Day. I don't think it's necessary or even desirable to *not* have days like this. We need them! I just wonder what additional structure can be built in to make it even more successful for everyone.

Any thoughts?

Thursday, June 11, 2009


One of my students had a fever last night, but seemed fine this morning, so his mother sent him to school, but called to let us know.

Well, by about 10:15, he looked exhausted and was burning up, so we took his temperature and it had shot up again. He just appeared at the door (the rest of the kids are in Art) with a buddy.

"I have to go home!" he told me, in tears. "But I want to stay! And learn!"

We gave him love as we got his backpack and sent him down to the clinic to wait for his mom.

I just thought... how amazing is it that kids in our school do everything they can to stay IN school, that they don't want to leave. ♥

Thursday, June 4, 2009

problem solving...

About ten years ago, when I taught Kindergarten, we opened a Conflict Corner in my classroom. It developed out of a belief that children could solve problems between them, and would if they were given both the autonomy to do so and the tools they needed.

Designating a space itself was a realization I had because several of my young lovelies were just not capable of solving a problem about the blocks if the blocks were right there. They needed to be separated from the problem in order to talk about the problem.

It was the sort of successful insight that I was so proud of having as a third year teacher. I was inspired by the ability to invent something that my children needed, simply by watching, learning, and knowing what they needed.

Of course, I was the tiniest little bit let down near the end of the school year when I discovered that it wasn't my invention after all, that classrooms in other schools had Peace Corners, Apology of Action spaces, and etc...

Ten years, two schools, and four classrooms later, I still always have a place in the classroom where children can go to solve problems. The needs of each class are different, as are the structures they need in place for the area. Some classes simply need the space, and the children are able to use and manage it with little to no support from me. Some classes need the ceremony of building an Apology of Action book, of developing the process for solving problems. Other classes, like my class this year, need a specific, but simple structure. (and how!)
This year, we have The Frog Carpet.

It's a space, right behind our classroom library, in fact, sort of in our classroom library, with a little frog carpet (ahh, we are clever titlers in our class) and a small pocket chart with sentence strips on it.

The sentence strips say:

Excuse me, ______, will you please come to the frog carpet?

When you _______, it ___________________.

I'm sorry, how can I help you feel better?

[high five, hug, special clap, short song, handshake]

These are the words that the class decided. I would have gone toward something a little more open-ended, but I mostly tried to keep my mouth shut as we talked about this, and pulled what I was hearing from the children.

I'm glad I did.

Since we put this into effect in February (much later than I should have), the incidence of: "Miz F, Marcella said/did/looked/ate/called me..." has gone down exponentially. Children use this space independently; they know that they can't use it during a lesson time (ie, at the beginning of Math), but that during a work period, it's fair game.

In classes past, I've needed a record keeping system because some children spent all of their time there, and this helped me regulate it for some of the frequent fliers. But in this class -- even with their need of this specific, almost rigid structure -- no one overuses it. In fact, I have kept an informal tally and each of my twenty-four lovelies has been there at least once. On a particularly rough day one of my students has gone four times (I counted), but my thoughts were: if he's having a rough day, and this is a tool that he has found helps him manage himself independently... well, why not?

It's kind of awesome.

NOTE: I do have a story from last week that really illustrates the power behind having a conflict space, but I also have about twenty minutes and report cards are calling my name (do you hear them?), so I shall type that up later. Peace out. ♥

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


Some other glorious teachers at my school and I participated in a short online webinar several weeks ago with Katie Wood Ray. One of the things she mentioned that she's been thinking about and examining in student work recently is children's illustrations and how they can drive their writing.

I'm really looking forward to what she writes about this, because I've long found that their illustrations can be a rich, rich piece of writing. In mid-May, our class was reviewing what we'd learned about George Washington Carver. One of our learning experiences was that each child got their own copy of a book about Carver that our First Grade team wrote a couple of years ago. The children's job was to illustrate the book in a way that would let someone else who didn't know anything about Carver really learn it.

I love how different, yet detailed each of these illustrations are...

Each of these pictures is separated into two parts, with Carver studying science in one, and plants in the other. I just love the illustration of science here, with the test tube and the bubbles coming out. ♥

This student consistently likes to add labels to her illustrations -- she tells me that she thinks it helps the reader learn even more.

This one? Well, I just think the little excitement lines drawn over Carver's head in the second part of the illustration are nothing short of brilliant. I mean, it *is* exciting to study science and plants! I'll bet if Carver were to see this picture he'd agree that it's quite an accurate representation about how exciting it is to learn such things.


Yesterday, in the midst of talking about a book we'd just read, I was gesticulating wildly (as I am wont to do). Hannah watched me, then cocked her head and raised her hand, "Miz F, I saw your muscles. They're nice."

Good to know that while they're not as finely developed as those of my sister in law, or my friend (not)Angela Lansbury, or Ms. Swamp... they are still there. :)

elusive (as it were) standards...

This number begins to consume my life during the end of May. To those of you that aren't elementary school teachers, 16 is a reading level. More specifically, it's the end of first grade benchmark reading level. Yes. This number is a Big. Deal.

This brings up a myriad of insecurities and judgments as I move toward the closing of the DRA assessment window: how many children will meet or exceed the benchmark? who didn't pass? what if I had just two more weeks? why didn't they pass? did I honestly and truly do everything I could have for [insert any child's name here]?

The self-doubt is exhausting.

Case in point. Ammir. Oh, heavens, he is a glorious child. This boy has been moving along in reading this year. His effort is stellar, his connections many. Everything we've talked about this year is right up there in his brain: schema, visualizing, making connections, digraphs, consonant blends, long vowels, short vowels, quick & easy words... all of it.

It's not quite automatic for him, though. If he confronts a word he doesn't know, and someone says, "well, do you see a consonant blend? or another part that you know?" he will always find something, and nine times out of ten, he'll figure out that word. So, he has everything that he needs; he just doesn't have it automatically yet. It doesn't always occur to him to ask himself those questions.

He will, though. This will come. Things will start clicking into place and he'll make sense of things rapidly.

But, as of Friday, he was reading at a level fourteen. This, according to my school system, is not passing performance. You see, children in our school system are expected to pass or be reading on a level 16. The kicker, though? Our children are expected to pass or be reading on this level by last Friday. School doesn't end for three more weeks.

Just to throw another little piece of information into this example, Ammir turned seven a week ago. Another one of my darlings that passed the level sixteen turned seven in December. Ailanya has five more months of existing than Ammir. When one is in their thirties, five months might not seem like a big deal, but that's nearly one-seventeenth of his life. If Ammir had those extra five months, I am confident that he would be well beyond a level sixteen. And yet, even though he was born near the end of the school year, he is still expected to fit into the same little box with all of the other children.

So, that's a bit of a tangent, I know, but I think it helps illustrate my mindset. In some ways, this standard is helpful, but in other ways it's quite arbitrary. It certainly doesn't paint the rich picture of who Ammir is as a reader or as a person.

Now, I don't disagree with standards, and I don't disagree with having a measure with which teachers can consult to guide instruction. Quite the opposite. But I do think that the very act of having standards automatically brings exceptions and places where the standard isn't going to be the best measure.

This is clearly one of those cases.

If I had my druthers, I would much rather write a full page narrative about each child during each grading period and use that to communicate with families and other teachers. It would take a lot more time, yes. But it would allow me valuable reflection on every student in my classroom and their progress and development as the months have gone on.

And it would certainly give a much more developed picture of a child than a single number ever will.

Monday, May 11, 2009

job advantages...

I imagine that a disadvantage to having a job where you go to schools dressed up as children's book characters might be wearing that big, stuffy costume. There is also the limited vision and movement from the costume as you try to act out the book while someone else reads it.

Then again, when you're all done... you get to hug 100 children.

So, all in all, maybe not such a bad deal after all.

No, it wasn't me in the costume. But part of me wishes it were.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

digging in the dirt...

This morning I finished reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. This is the third time I've read it, but only the first time I've finished it. As with all writers that I love (and Kingsolver tops my list), I don't like finishing books because then... well, then they're over. To my mind, if I don't finish the book, then it's not actually done. Strange logic, I know, but it somehow works for me.

After breakfast, I went outside to attack our little sidewalk flower garden. After an April full of showers -- you should see the first grade April weather chart! -- and last week's insane amount of rain, the little garden was definitely worse for the wear, and in need of cleaning, pruning, and weeding. All of these I know very little about and could use a bit of a mentor in this area. It makes me long for my grandfather, who was an accomplished gardener. For now, though, I'm making it up as I go. We'll see how that works out.

As I dug out seed pods that had fallen from the tree above, pulled weeds, and tried to prune off bits of the dianthus plants that seemed spent or too long or just in need of a trim, I encountered bugs and spiders and earthworms (two!). Each of them made me smile, and I admit that I laughed in glee at the first earthworm. As I blundered through the garden I kept thinking: My students need to see this.

I think there is nothing more important in learning about life and life cycles and interdependence than to participate in it.

Now, planting pea seeds in clear cups so we can watch the plant and the roots is a good start. Believe me when I say that there is nothing more resonant than first graders discovering that their plants have popped up above the soil and the roots are growing down!

But, pea seeds in a clear cup inside the classroom don't ever get to interact with worms, and neither do six year olds. I want to build and cultivate a garden with my students. I want them to dig around in the dirt, to turn it, to weed it, to watch things growing above it. I want them to harvest greens and tomatoes and herbs and then make food that we've grown together. This makes me want a modified calendar school so we can be in school during part of the August harvest, or to at least have a garden already going that incoming students can help harvest, knowing that their first grade predecessors made the delicious foods available for them.

How, though?

I first would have to have more knowledge of gardening myself. A good friend of mine introduced me to square foot gardening, which sounds like it would work pretty well. We'd still need to build the frame, acquire soil & compost & seeds, and figure out how to keep it tended during the summer time when we're not in school.

None of these obstacles are insurmountable. In fact, I know it's very possible. I just need to find enough people willing to put in the time with me, to build it into the structure of our school so that it becomes sustainable and not simply a one person job.

Does anyone have experience with gardening at school? How did you/your school make it happen and how did you make it sustainable?

Or... does anyone want to come here and do it with me?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

poetry work stations...

Jenny wondered about some of the literacy work stations in our class that connect to the poem we learn that week. I've uploaded two pictures to show examples.

This one is our Pocket Chart Work Station. It's pretty simple: pocket chart, basket, pointer, envelopes. On a 9x12 mailing envelope, I glue a copy of the poem and then laminate the folder. I write the poem on sentence strips, then cut apart the words and put them into the envelope. At the work station, children have the choice of reading poems directly from the charts or putting together the poem and then reading it. This is a new(ish) station, as I haven't done it in many years. What I hope to do better next year is enlist the help of the children for other I can... ideas for this station. (example: include some Word Study as well...)

This station is very preparation heavy, but all on the early end. Once each poem has been made, it doesn't need to be made again, though words get lost every once in a while and need to be replaced. Here's how I make the tools for this station: First I print a copy of the poem (generally in 18 or 20 point font, Comic Sans or Century Gothic). I cut apart every word in the poem and glue them on brightly colored card stock. I also make a smaller copy of the entire poem for reference and glue that on the card stock as well. I laminate it (or cover it all with clear packing tape), then pour myself a glass of wine, for the next part is seriously tedious. I cut out tiny pieces of adhesive velcro (the scratchy hook side) and affix them to the back of each individual, laminated word, then cut each word out. See? Tedious. All the velcro words go into a ziploc bag along with the smaller copy of the poem that's been mounted and laminated.

I've made a couple of velcro boards on scrap pieces of cardboard by affixing adhesive velcro (the soft side this time) across it in strips. Though, really a piece of felt or a carpet square could serve just as well. In fact, we always use a carpet rectangle (ours are not squares) as the base for this station because it lets the kids spread the words out and keeps the words from sliding off the table. This is our Poetry Work Station.

The kids also get their own copy of the poem on paper that they illustrate and put into a binder. We call that work station Poetry Binders. There are many other options: putting a selection of poems on acetate for an Overhead Projector station, recording a selection of six or seven recent poems (or having the kids do so!) for use at the Listening Work Station, even creating mini stick puppets to go along with a poem and putting them into a Drama Work Station. All of these I've done before, but don't happen to be doing this year for various reasons.

Question to readers: what other literacy work stations do you use that you find the children enjoy and get a lot out of?

an organizational retro-fit...

In our class, we learn a new poem every week. Some of them are songs, some of them are related to curriculum, and some of them are just for fun! We use these poems for a lot of learning experiences during the week, and the poems show up in different literacy work stations.

Organization of these poems has been a difficult, but over the past few years, I finally got smarter and hung the poems on hangers. That way, they're more accessible to the children and they're easier to store.

The problem? Once we get more than eight hangers on the chart stand, it's easy for them to slip off the edges as the children flip through.

So, here was my solution: masking tape a small block to the top of the chart stand so the hangers hit the block and don't slide off. Useful? Yes. Elegant? No.

Has anyone else faced a similar problem? How have you solved it? (Or, for those of you reading that may not have experience with this -- do you have any suggestions?)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

little notes...

There are some times where I'm working with a group of students and there is a Stop Sign hanging behind me. That means: Do not disturb unless there is emergency blood or vomit. (the very important corollary was added by the students). Now, there is also a very real six year old need to share Very Important Information like: "Miz F, my eye hurts!" or "Miz F, I can't find my pencil." at the exact moment that they become aware of this information. Quite regularly, my lovely students would have these important things to share with me right when I was in the middle of working with other children.

So we made a little plan.

Now we have a little basket of papers on my desk that say: "Note to Miz F" with a cute little frog on it. The purpose of these papers change as the year goes on because children use them for a new reason and then that one catches on, too.

The great thing, too, is that I already had the template for these notes on my computer. I've used them in my classroom for many years, but I generally don't bring them out until our class discovers a need for them. They don't even know they exist! But because their writing skills (and the desire to write) develop so rapidly over the year, first graders almost inevitably suggest having a place to write me notes.

This one showed up in my box this week.

Ms. F, The "I" in April in the Poetry Work Station is missing. Love, J...

EDIT: I find it!

I just adore it, particularly because she went back and edited it when she found what she thought was missing. Ahhh, first graders. I do so enjoy them. ♥

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

work vs. fun...

Apparently this sitting outside and reading thing has become, well... a thing.

One night last week I was sitting outside after dinner, reading again, when my husband poked his head out of the window to see how I was doing. I held up my book and told him that it was still completely awesome, and that he should grab a book and come out and join me, but he said:

"I can't; I have to go upstairs and do a bit more for work."

"No!" I said. "No work! You're not allowed to do anything for work... um, I mean... only if it's fun!"

He laughed at me and I glared at him in mock-indignancy, "What??"

"I saw what you did there."

"What did I do?"

"You realized that you, too, were doing work, so you couldn't very well tell me not to..."

"I did nothing of the sort."


Yeah. Except I totally did.

In my defense, though, it was a really good teaching book that I was reading...

Monday, May 4, 2009

more structure...

One of my first educational mentors once told me that he thought a very important aspect of teaching was becoming a "professional child watcher." Now, his language was most likely far more eloquent than mine (it usually was), but it still rings true on a very regular basis.

I've mentioned before how deeply my class this year has challenged me, how the children have taught me so many things and reminded me of others.

Their behavior over the past couple of weeks has made me sit back and reevaluate some of the things I've usually thought. When my students and I build our classroom community together throughout the year, I always think backwards. I envision where I want them to be, what I want the different learning and social times of the day to look like, what I want it to sound like -- I enlist this insight from the children as well.

Then I move from the goal back toward the beginning. I think: what structure do I need to put into place now that will enable us to get to our goal? I think about the structure that needs to be there to guide us all, structure that can be taken away as children take on more responsibility, more independence.

What I don't think I've envisioned so well is that the same thing is just as important for the end of the year. As we head into the last six weeks of school, it brings up emotions and insecurities and excitement for all of us. My principal describes the end of the year fidgetiness and snippiness as: "a family that's been on vacation together for too long."

Maybe what I've been missing in my evaluation and planning is the sense that structure within the classroom needs to be fluid, it needs to be able to ebb and flow as needed. Right now my class is showing me that they need more structure -- not in every area, certainly, but that they need just a bit more from me.

And if they're doing me the privilege of showing it to me... well, who am I not to oblige?

[NOTE: I would be remiss if I didn't point out this great post by Chip Wood where he mentions the very same thing, though with many more concrete suggestions. I do so adore learning from other educators. ]

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

organized chaos...

When I was in high school my family owned and operated a restaurant. I worked various jobs at the restaurant over my years in high school and college, the most common being the front desk as a hostess (I can be quite charming at times).

On nights when the restaurant was busy, I often found myself highly stressed and not enjoying work all that much. It was too chaotic, too unpredictable.

My father, though? He loved it.

I distinctly remember making arrangements for several parties of two and four, sending another party to the lounge to wait for a table, escorting a party to their table and sending my father to seat another group. Back at the front desk, I took a moment to breathe, to look at the seating chart and do a bit of mental rearranging. I remember wishing I could fast forward through the next few hours so I wouldn't feel so stressed with seating and tables and numbers and checks and menus and organizing.

I remember looking up to see my father walking back from seating a party with his eyes shining and an enormous grin on his face.

"I love this shit!" he said to me in a voice full of pure happiness.

It was his place. And while I just tried to get through it, my father thrived on the chaos and unpredictability of nights like that.

In first grade today our Writing Workshop buzzed and hummed and twirled. We're finishing up non-fiction books about animals and my students have been getting ready to publish their stories on the computer. I'd signed out the laptop cart and set up eight laptops on tables, logged in and dropped the book templates into each student's folder so they could access it and start typing.

Eleven students worked on computers with various questions, excitement, and frustrations. Six children worked on the rug, trying to finish their own work for publication, while others were at tables around the room, doing the very same thing.

Computers froze, left arrow keys stopped working, papers were misplaced and exciting words were written. I probably walked a quarter mile during Writing Workshop today, moving from student to student, solving issues and having mini-conferences.

My hair fell out of it's clip and tickled my nose as I talked with one of my students who'd just finished typing her story. I looked around at the blissful chaos of my classroom and thought:

"I love this shit."

[Please pardon the profanity. I blame my father for the sentiment in the first place. I'm sure he'll take full responsibility. :) ]

Monday, April 27, 2009


On Saturday I got to sit outside.

I was fighting allergies or sickness or some state of general non-well-being, so I stayed home while my husband went to visit with some friends and relatives. I took a shower, made some tea, and went to sit in our backyard and read.

It was the first sense of sheer contentment I'd felt in a long time. It wasn't too hot or too noisy. I wasn't forgetting a meeting or forgetting the tools for a teaching lesson. I was just reading.

On Sunday I'd finished my other book so I grabbed Study Driven by Katie Wood Ray and went outside to read again. Same feeling. The wind blew gently around me, rustling the leaves; birds flew around, hopping into the drip tray under our grill (what in the world are they finding there?), and I read.

I thought about writing. I thought about myself as a writer, I thought of Antonio's recent blossoming into a poet and then a non-fiction animal enthusiast, I thought of Leslie's recent foray into finding a clear and very funny voice as a writer. I thought of our first grade writing workshop. I thought.

The more I read, the clearer a picture I had in my head about where our class could go next in writing, and how we could help each other get there.

Today was Monday. What did I think about during my free moments today? I thought about exactly when I could get home so I could sit outside in my backyard and read. I still had ten more chapters to go in Study Driven. There was so much more thinking to be done!

When I got home today, after doing dishes and straightening up a few things, I did get outside to read more, to think more. I read another three chapters and felt refreshed. I felt inspired.

I've realized this: sometimes I am rushing around too much, getting this done, or that done; photocopying, cutting, sorting... And what I'm not doing -- what I'm not doing nearly enough -- is sitting. And reading. And thinking.

In the current educational climate, I know it's not an easy choice, but it's a choice I have to make more often. Thinking.

What a novelty.

Monday, April 13, 2009


Visiting your writing workshop was the highlight of my day. The routines and procedures you have set into place clearly sets your class up for independence and success... [SNIP] ...While I listened to your students talk during writing worship, they were all talking about their writing and answering and asking questions of their peers. Today's experience reminds me of the importance of talk during writing. It was clear you practiced the level of noise since the students used appropriate levels during the session. I look forward to having our students share their writing with me.

Before spring break, my principal paid a visit to our classroom for an observation. This year I'm on the evaluation cycle, so she'll visit a few times throughout the year. The above was part of the feedback I received in my mailbox this morning.

As I read, I thought about our Writing Workshop. It is a busy, active time. We've worked hard to make it productive and fun, where the kids have a lot of their own direction and work really hard. Another person might sit in on our workshop and wonder why there is a lot of talking, why some children stand up a lot, why one boy only draws on Mondays, and etc...

I realized (again) how important it is to have administrators that understand child development and that regularly look for the positive in children, teachers, and classrooms.

It's a good thing.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Monday, March 16, 2009

my work boyfriend...

Okay, so I have this teacher friend, not!Angela Lansbury. We'll just call her Angela.

We have a lot in common, and get along really well. I generally try to avoid going to chat with her in her classroom unless I have five hundred and sixteen minutes, because once we start talking, time seems to sink into this school-portal time warp that makes time go by extra-wicked quickly to the point where one of us says, "holy crap, is it really forty-seven o'clock??" and the other one says, "I didn't think the clock could GO that high..."

A big part of it is that Angela just "gets" me professionally. We have similar views on children, on teaching, and talking to her always helps give me greater perspective. We also do some extra curricular activities together: running a Dance club for some of the older kids, taking dance classes together, and going for lunch & giggles on teacher work days.

She's my work boyfriend.

I say this because one evening, a week or so ago, when the clock was doing it's school-portal time warp trick, Angela and I were sitting in her classroom, solving the problems of the educational world when the Speech & Language clinician poked her head in,

"Angela!" she called, "where's your other half?" (meaning the other teacher that works in Angela's room)

My immediate (internal) reaction was, "I'm right here!" with a strange sense of near indignation. Could she not SEE me? Sitting RIGHT NEXT to Angela??

Clearly having a close teaching buddy has some interesting implications.

I wonder if this counts as cheating on my husband...

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

love notes...

This was a rather new brainstorm, though I don't know why it took me so long...

I now keep this little container on my desk. I pull out a note when one of my students has done something insightful, something kind, or just something that I want to note. I write a few lines about what I wanted to say, read it to the child, then have them put it in their backpack to bring home to their family that night. I've copied them all on brightly colored paper and so far I've been writing a few of them every day.

Hopefully I'll keep up the habit; it takes a very short time to write one, but I love knowing that the student for whom I wrote a love note is going to be able to share something great about themselves with a family member later on... plus, pretty colors and a great font -- how can I go wrong?

Monday, March 9, 2009

I do think that six year olds in pajamas walking down the hallway with gigantic, anticipatory grins for Read Across America Day might be the eighth wonder of the world. ♥

Thursday, February 26, 2009

extra-wet eyes...

Earlier this week in my tap class, we were warming up to some beautiful stringed-techno music by a group called bond. I immediately thought of my students, who respond to music with such affection and appreciation, so I found the album on iTunes and bought it.

This afternoon as we were working, I put the CD on to inspire us. One of the pieces that the band plays is their own variation on Pachelbel's Canon -- it's beautiful. Well, during that piece I happened to wander over to hang out with my students at the blue table and they were all really quiet and looking at each other.

Benicio said, "That music. I know it. I love it."

They all nodded with him. Then he continued, "It makes me cry a little sometimes."

"Me, too," I admitted. And the other kids nodded. So, we all sat there for a moment or two, listening and looking at each other with extra-wet eyes.

I think sometimes we all need moments like that. I know I did. ♥

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

On Poetry -- days of happiness, day 7

No pictures today, but tomorrow I'll make sure to take some photographs of my students' writing.

During the month of February, we've been studying Poetry. Now, I've been teaching for many years and I'm embarrassed to admit that I've never really explored poetry with my students. Sure, I've taught with poetry, and exposed children to some, but we've never really studied it, nor written it with any real dedication.

This has been an amazing experience for me. I've been using one resource in particular to help me, the poetry unit from Lucy Calkins' Units of Study for Primary Writing.

This resource is valuable in so many ways. First of all, there are more than fifteen lessons, planned and written, with in class examples of how a conversation might occur, as well as examples of conferring with students.

I find this so helpful, because it's really helped guide my own planning and instruction, and I've only used a handful of the lessons. Really, my class just needed to slow down, experience, and think about a few elements of poetry.

What I find the most helpful, though, is not the planned lessons, but rather the wise bits of advice sprinkled throughout the lesson... as little notes to the teacher. That has helped me immeasurably. She gives examples of conversations with children, but also takes a realistic view that while there are going to be amazing things that come from the children automatically, a lot of the other diamonds are uncovered through conferring, through conversation, through gentle guidance (through teaching!!). She cautions teachers not to get discouraged, but to find the small bits of brilliance in the children's work and help them expand on it, then teach others, so they're learning both from adult and young poets.

It's been a magical ride.

Well, and also a mundane one. An entire class of children does not sit down in Writing Workshop every day and create Priceless Pretty Poems. In fact, there's a lot of "pretty flowers" and "I loves" and "my shoe is green" -- but I've tried to see this as typical... to be their guide, as best I can, and help them find the small bit of a poem in what they've written and craft something from that. I can honestly say that each child has written something beautiful. The great thing, too, is they're starting to both emulate others and find their own style.

I'll try to give some examples of their work tomorrow, but for tonight I've just been musing, because we're winding down our study. In fact, the curriculum is bearing down on us, whispering "time to move on..." and "so much more to learn..." so we're working toward creating a class poetry anthology to immortalize some of their favorite work and then we'll move into another bit of study.

What I realize, though, is that next year, I need to immerse them in Poetry a lot more than I do, as well as spend as much time reading poetry as we do writing poetry. I want the kids to explore poets, read to and with each other, notice little nuances, and just live and breathe it. This time we swam in the writing, just not as much in the reading.

A good lesson for me for next year. :)

Monday, February 23, 2009

days of happiness, day 6

I've mentioned before that I struggle with organization. Apparently I hide this well. I've had many people comment on how organized something looks or ask me how I make x or y or z look so organized, and I'm always surprised.

I'm convinced that I'm an organized person living inside a disorganized person's body.

So, any time that I try a new organizational method that works I'm always so pleased. From an amazing 3rd grade teacher at my school, I learned a simple, but easy method that has worked really well for me. She has several tubs on one of her shelves, each labelled with a different subject area. She puts books, notes, copies, lesson plans, anything that fits that subject area that she's currently teaching, it goes in that tub.

For me? Perfect. I hauled out four brightly colored (this is important) containers, labeled them with pretty fonts (again, very important) and stuck them on my windowsill. It's been... well, almost magical, to be honest.

You see, I suffer from the "oh, mother of crap, I just had it in my hand, where in the *^#@%$ h#@%$ did I put it?" disease. But this -- this is helping! Now, everything just goes into those buckets and I can always find it.

the buckets!!

(note: the coffee pot. Also very important.) This is right behind our math shelf, so it blends with kid tools as well.

This is where I keep my plan book and the stack of file trays that only live there because I haven't figured out a better method of organizing those papers yet.

I imagine I'll need to sit down and cull the contents of the buckets every few weeks or so, but that actually doesn't sound like too much work.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

days of happiness, day 5

I love drinking tea in the afternoon or early evening. It's relaxing and a welcome ritual. I love it so much that sometimes I serve (herbal) tea to my students. Today I was musing on the most recent time. In December, our class finished writing individual How To books and we had a writing celebration at the end. We all sat in a circle and everyone read aloud a small excerpt that was their favorite part, then we raised our cups of tea and gave a toast, "To writing!" then we had a reception. During the reception, children walked around sharing their books with each other and asking each other questions and drinking tea. Many of them found that the tea was not to their liking (I told them that was okay, not everything will be), but everyone tried it. It was truly amazing to watch how seriously they took our reception -- not serious as in stoic, but serious in terms of talking to each other, trying the tea, and being genuinely excited about our writing.

Our Poetry writing focus is winding down -- I can't wait to have our writing celebration for that!

This is (nearly) every class picture from my years of teaching. Earlier this year I thought that I might have misplaced some of them, but today I discovered that I have every one. It's exciting to have so many, and to remember such vivid things about each class when I look them over.

I would love to hang them all up, but I'm not sure the best way to do so. Any suggestions?

Friday, February 20, 2009

days of happiness, day 4

See, the county where I work a lot more money than I'm used to. And schools have things in their teacher workrooms that never fail to amaze me (a laminator?? that we can use when we need to instead of on Tuesday afternoons? More than one copy machine?? Multiple paper cutters??). Believe me when I say that I've still not lost my appreciation for these things. Anyway, our school has an Ellison die cut press and many die cuts (alphabet and various shapes), but just this week we got a set of die cuts that cut out PATTERN BLOCKS!!! This is more than exciting because before I'd always spend time photocopying and then many hours cutting out pattern blocks so that we'd have enough for the kids to use to save work they'd done. Now!! Now, we can just use the Ellison press. Ahh, glee. I do so love how you feel.

These? Much prettier and about a thousand times cooler, but mostly self explanatory. We're working on consonant blends. In the past, I've just put up these key word cards, but we decided to make posters with the kid art illustrating the pictures and they're just GORGEOUS. *looks more* (did you see the "weeeeee!" ???)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

days of happiness, day 3

I wish I could show you the entire picture, but I think this well demonstrates their body language. Look at the curled up posture and hand in the air of the one in the green pants. His hand was twirling in his hair and his grin stretched across his whole face. Similarly, the jean-clad older student was flushed and grinning, with his hand clenched happily on his lap. And all because of some cross-grade level reading. Today we went down to one of the fifth grade rooms for our first time Reading Buddies. My first graders were simultaneously jazzed out of their skin and totally nervous and awestruck by the hugeness of the ten year olds.

Reading buddies, though... oh man. Words cannot describe the beauty of watching younger and older children reading together. A big part of it, for me, is the fact that while I know that a teacher can do a lot, there are things that older kids and younger kids can do for each other that I can just never do.

Remarkable, really.

The fifth grade teacher [I need to get her to pick a name ♥] and I were both awed by the beauty of it.

Also, both classes are now clamoring for a repeat performance. *pulls out calendar*

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

days of happiness, day 2

day two of things that make me happy (with pictures)

More math. If you read the problem my students solved yesterday, you'll note that the solution to the problem was 60. Yesterday I'd challenged Antonio to figure out how many shakes it would be if two people did the energizer. So, he ran out of time yesterday but today he asked if he could work on it.

Not long after, he came to me to tell me that it was 120 shakes, because he knew that "40 was inside 60 and there was 20 left" and that he also knew that 60 and 40 made 100, so 100 and 20 was 120.

Yup. My students, ladies and gentlemen. Showing brilliance on Wednesday afternoons.

This one I love because of what came out of it. My class has really grabbed onto the idea of squishing words together. We use it to encourage word play and the use of other words to help them spell new ones (ie, if you know how to spell "make" you know how to spell snake and rake). Sometimes, at Morning Meeting, I might put the Greeting and Activity together, and we call it a "greetivity"

This afternoon we were clearing off the easel so we could put up our cooperative posters to share. The easel looked like this. Then Nijjar said, "don't forget to move the fragnet."

"The fragnet?" I asked.

"Frog. And magnet. The fragnet."

hahahahahahahaha, yes! How did I not think of that?

lightbulb moments

Masonhall made a good point here on her blog in talking about different types of reading. She had an a-ha moment when she realized that her 5th grade students might not know how to read a magazine, so she did something about it.

It reminded me of this post I made back in November about my students getting interested in reading Mr. Putter and Tabby books on their own and checking them out of the library to read at home. As a corollary to that, I thought the students might find as much joy out of the Henry and Mudge series by Cynthia Rylant and started recommending them to my students.

Didn't work.

Well, it worked for Lanie, who pretty much takes my word as the gospel, but the others? Not in the least. They nodded and smiled at me as I told them a bit about Henry and about Mudge, basically giving me the 6 year old equivalent of a pat on the head, and then went and checked out other books.

Well, it took me another week to have the *lightbulb* moment of: "If I want them to enjoy these books, I can't just tell them about the books, I have to read to them!"

So, I did.

And now? Every Wednesday, the library supply of both Mr. Putter and Tabby and Henry and Mudge books is well depleted by my class.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

days of happiness, day 1

In various places online, I've seen the 8 days of happiness meme (I don't remember exactly what it's called). Essentially, for eight straight days, the blogger posts something from the day that made them happy. I think I'm going to try to do this -- but with photos! Much more interesting!

My desk drawers aren't always clean, but I try very hard to keep the top of it clean and uncluttered. It makes me feel more centered and I can get work done there. score!

This math solution just rocks my world. With my class, I do a lot of "energizers" -- little songs/activities to wake us up when we're getting a bit glazed over. One energizer is the 5-4-3-2-1 shake, where we shake our left hand five times (and count to 5), then shake our right hand five times, then left foot, then right foot. Then we do them all again with 4, 3, 2, and then 1. Well, in Math today, their challenge was to figure out how many times they shook their hands, how many times they shook their feet, and how many times they shook them all. The kids could use whatever tools they needed to solve the problem and they could work independently or with a partner.

They had some truly amazing strategies for solving they problem, which they also were able to explain to others. This image I love because you can see they used tally marks, but ALSO made groups of 5 with the tallies so they could count them easier, then they used groups of ten to count 30 + 30.

This is the kind of thing I always want to show to people when they claim that public schools are failing and horrible places for children to be. Not in my classroom, ladies and gentlemen. Not in my classroom. ♥

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

on writing...

Something I think about...

Why have I taken so well to blogging?

Just recently I was looking over a bunch of my blog entries from November -- a month where I'd committed to (and succeeded!) blogging every single day. Rereading many of the entries re-inspired me, both as a teacher and a blogger. I think one of the reasons it was so empowering was because I was thinking, reflecting again about things that were on my mind in November.

When I was younger I would sporadically write in a journal, but it was never a habit I could develop or maintain for any length of time.

Yet somehow this idea of SHARING writing in blog format has really clicked for me. I don't know if it's the idea of it being public, or the idea that friends and family might read something and come to me to talk more, but something about it makes me aware of what I write in a way that I never was before. As a teenager, sure I was worried that someone might find and read my private thoughts, but I was vaguely aware that I didn't know who my audience was. Was it me? So if it was, why bother to write it down when I could just think it? Now, though, while I write knowing that others might read (which I both love and encourage!), I think I've realized that my audience is, well... me.

As a teacher, so much of my day is spent by myself with my students. One a particularly full day, I might have another teacher with me for two hours, tops. Generally, though, it's my students and me for 90% of the time. So, that's a whole lot of just me to grapple with. When I take the time to write out something about which I'm wondering (academic choice) or something that amazed me, or something I needed to feel... it's out there for me to read, later on. It serves so many purposes, not the least of which is reminding me why I teach, why I love it in spite of the things that dishearten and discourage me. Also, when I reread, it's often just me thinking with myself.

So, maybe that's exactly why I've taken to it so well. I write with the idea that I'm talking to my future self, in anticipation of further thinking.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

random housekeeping:

  • I have an email attached to this blog now: skirted.blog [AT] gmail [DOT] com. It's an easy way to get in touch with me if you'd like to contact me privately, rather than commenting.

  • Second, due to the brilliance of Swampy, it's now possible to receive email notifications when I put up a new post. If you go to the main page of my journal -- here -- you'll see a subscription box in the top right. Type your email, follow the directions, and voila! Messages in your inbox when this blog is updated. Ain't technology grand?

    And, yes, this is mostly for my family. ♥

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

professional dilemmas

A professional dilemma I keep facing:

How do I balance what I truly believe is right for children with the ever-increasing expectations (and standards and mandates, etc...)?


One example: this class. They love books. Love them. Now, it's not odd for children to love books. In fact, it's quite rare when they don't. But often, even during a read aloud, many children zone out, fidget, and etc...

But not this class. Nope. They are many things: young, loud, varied, talkative, curious, challenging -- but if ever I want to regroup them, to calm them down, to amaze them... I read a book. It's amazing to watch. Really. They are always mesmerized. PIcture books, nonfiction, chapter books -- anything. We have two read aloud times per day but I've been trying to find time for at least one or two more.

But, oh... the guilt...

In order to carve in 1-2 more read alouds, I would have to take time away from another subject area. This worries me because there is just so much packed into the curriculum that they have to know (to be tested on in grade 3) and if we don't do it, they might not get it at any other time.

And yet I keep thinking: what is more powerful than delving into literature? What is more powerful than talking, discussing, wondering, counting, thinking, feeling? Should I really have to justify reading aloud more often when my students get so much out of it?

In my heart... I just don't think so.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

the world is just awesome

It feels rather apropos that I finally get back to blogging today. I've missed the chance to sit and write and think. Also, that I share someone else's project -- because isn't teaching often the sharing of amazing things that other's have done?

This video is Matt Harding, traveling over the world and dancing a little dance in countries all over the world. It's absolutely incredible. It had me in tears. I want to hug this guy and then dance with him and everyone in the world and then hug him again.

I can't explain why this affected me so... maybe just because it reminded me again of the fact that no matter where we go, we're all just people... humans that laugh and cry and dance and sing.

It's rather amazing to watch people doing so together.

So... watch. And dance. Then come back here and I'll dance with you, too. ♥

Where the Hell is Matt? (2008) from Matthew Harding on Vimeo.

[the link is here in case the embedding doesn't work]

Happy Inauguration Day!