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

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. ♥