Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Well Oiled Wheel

I have been made fun of a fair share of times.  Comes with being a dork and flying that freak flag high, I suppose.  And I haven't outgrown it in adulthood.  There is a particular person that relishes referring to my thought process as "the hamster wheel is turning".  I could spend time getting upset over it, but I'll take my own advice that I give the kids and ignore it.  To a point, anyway. The key is to try not to pick up scissors without a solid plan to use them as they are intended...

If it is a hamster wheel up there and not a super duper nuclear powered energy portal of awesomeness, then my hamster has had plenty of Pepsi today and has been sprinting along on that wheel- and there is not a squeak to be heard.  I pause for a moment of reflection on my younger days of owning hamsters...get within a hair's breadth of considering having one again....and then, ummmm, no.  The last one I owned had babies in her first week.  The babies, although cute and pink and jelly beany in the beginning- grew up to be ruthless gladiators that tore out each other's eyeballs when they were all placed in one giant wood shaving filled aquarium. (True story) Eventually, my dad made them each individual cages and they lived in the garage and he took care of them until they died. I think the one-eyed one was named Champagne, and you had to wear thick leather gloves when you put your hand in her cage because she'd attack and try to chew off your fingers.  Ah, good times.  I'm relatively positive that all of my feelings of being an inadequate parent stem from this episode in my life, and also probably my fear of rodentia.... Time for a cake pop then.  Food is love.

I never said the hamster was running a consistent track- we've got some ambient scenery flashing by as we sprint here.

Things I feel good about today:
1) Hobby Lobby.  This mega super center of crafting, makes Michael's look like a cheap wh---, I mean, lady of the evening.  The only reason why I am not there now, setting up camp to live there the rest of my life is because the baby was sleepy.  And for BabyZilla, sleepy means scream aggressively until given milk, blanket, prime seating on the recliner, and Sesame Street.  Which, even though Hobby Lobby is the epitome of awesome, they can't provide BabyZilla with his "needs".  I bought my glorious treasure and left.  Vowing to return again one day!  My happiest find of the day was  "Toobs."  Made by Safari Ltd., they offer tubes of not only your standard animal habitat fair (which I will get more of to have a complete earth biome set...) they also had Ancient Egypt.  SCORE!  I hope they are making an Ancient China set eventually, but I didn't see it whilst scoring their online store.  And they had Powhatan Indians!  I additionally hope they come out with the other Native American tribes.  I plan to use my Toobs to create oral language stations where they can tell fictional as well as non-fictional stories about the pieces.  We can also use them to construct dioramas.  And I do love me some dioramas...

2) The 7 section expanding plastic file folder.  Pretty much looks like this one here, except mine are blue.
What am I going to do with these babies?  I'm thinking "Homework folder".  Sounds like nothing right? Sounds like everything you've ever heard before, you're already snoozin'- BUT WAIT!  Here's my super duper amazing Hamster running his little heart out plan (should I be concerned that when I liken my brain to a hamster running on a wheel the hamster is male?  I should talk to my therapist about that...):  

First of all, I hate homework.  Partly because I find it a pain in the butt to grade, partly because I can tell when the parents HELPED and I know it's going to come up in parent conferences when I try to discuss failed test scores and a lack of understanding for the basic concept the parent is going to say "but he understood it when I went over it with him!" It's the magic kitchen table effect, and it bites me in the behind every year.

I also dislike homework for the times when it is not done, because I have a tendency to take it personally- don't know why, it's not like they're sitting there at home evilly chuckling and drumming their fingers about how they are going to SHOW ME a thing or two by refusing to do it- and I don't like feeling upset first thing in the morning when they are or aren't turning things in.  And then, if I press the issue with the parents, I either find out that there is absolutely no one there available to help them with their homework, or they have no materials at home to do it properly, or they are busy going from karate to football to debate team to bell choir and then feed the homeless and sing to the elderly every night and I'm just a horrible beast for adding pressure to their already schedule driven lives.

So I really don't like giving it.  I just want them to read at home for at least 20 minutes every night to keep their skills fresh.  Our district also has a homework policy that it shouldn't be more than thirty minutes- so IF I do send home some math to do- and it takes longer than ten minutes- then I start to worry about getting in trouble. And then, dag nabbit!- there is always that set of parents that wants MORE homework. Load my child up with so much they can't breathe sort of homework. Yarg, I just can't win with it.

ENTER BIG IDEA- dun dun dunnnnnnnnn- okay, so in this file organizer I put in a pencil pouch that has a pencil or two, a sharpener, an eraser, a glue stick, a pair of scissors, and a standard 8 pack of crayons.  These are the basic stand-by supplies of any possible homework assignment, that no one apparently keeps in their homes. Are we, as teachers, that odd that we keep glue sticks in our homes?  I feel like my closet might be filled with glue sticks right now.  I will never in a million years run out of glue- but whatevs.
In the first pocket slot, I put the supplies pouch and a letter written in both English and Spanish (and it's laminated) explaining how to use the homework folder and how to bring it back and forth everyday.

In the second slot I put a standard weekly reading log and a couple of books on their reading level to practice with at home.  They can change these out at "shopping time" during language rotations.  In the third slot, and word work they have that week, and a laminated list of different ways to practice the words at home without doing boring call out the word and write it down sort of things.

In the fourth slot, I put laminated or card stocked copies of the math games we are currently playing in math workshop.  Our district is using the Math Investigations series, and there are some very neat games in the series that can easily be played at home.  The kids can teach their siblings and parents and it's a fun learning time for all!  Also put in any baggies of game supplies.  Use felt or foam to make counters and what not so you don't worry about the pieces being lost or returned. Make sure to get Spanish translations of the games.

In the fifth slot, this is where they put study guides for Window of Inquiry, lists of websites they can visit at home, and any foldables that might help them study.  The sixth slot is for a composition book, where they are assigned one day a week to turn in where they have written me a letter.  I will write them back.  I will not be "grading" this letter, just working on getting to know them better, helping with writing skills, looking for spelling patterns that need addressing, blarty blar blar.  I don't tell them it doesn't count for anything- but I will make sure that I put a fun stamp on the page where they write, or draw them a little picture, or include a sticker- so that the word gets around that if you write a letter to the teacher, you get a little something for your trouble.

And then in the last slot they have their regular round trip take home folder for our other handouts from the office and I'm looking into this idea called Fun Folder Homework, and if I get that off the ground next year, this would be a great place to put that.

So here they will have this homework contraption- no they are not required to do what is inside- except the reading part- that's why there is a log- but if the parents are all Ai Yi Yi where is the homework?! Well, cowboy, there you go- pick something. Giddy up and let's go dancin'!

I'm glad I found the folders at the Dollar Store.  I've been thinking about this for awhile and all the folders I had found elsewhere that would work were all seven dollars.  I really didn't feel like spending $210 bucks on a project that I don't even know if it will fly.  But I am hopeful. Ever hopeful.

Pile of Post-its, before sorting
3) And the last thing I feel happy about today is that I sorted through all of the spy notes the kids turned in, and I think I've come up with a pretty decent idea how to present the praise on Tuesday and motivate them to be better spies for the rest of the week.  If you are needing a refresher on what the heck I'm talking about, you can refer yourself to my previous posts about behavior management and character building.

I brought all the little yellow post-its home and sorted through them.  I sorted them out by who was spied on, and then I read through them all to see what was actually said.  I am a bit sad that a good ten of them at least were negative comments.  Nothing mean really, just so and so is not listening.  So and so wont stop talking.  And then there were a handful of ones that were more like activities- so and so is eating.  So and so is staring at the floor.  Things like that.  But all in all, they seemed to be consistently looking for times when a student was listening, paying attention, giving the silent signal, being quiet, helping others, cleaning up, working steadily, and following directions.

rainbow brick cards to make the wall out of
So then I took a regular sized blank index card and drew brick shapes on two corners like it was a piece of a wall, wrote the child's name on the card and summarized the contents of the spy notes. I didn't think it was necessary to write 18 times on one card "is being quiet".  I think once is plenty.  Also, I'm not turning the yellow slips over to the student, because there are many many many spelling errors and difficult handwriting, and I can see already that it would turn into a negative moment with things being said about spelling,  or handwriting, or bragging about the number of post-it notes compared to another student. Because some kids had 18 post-its and others had one.  And one student, had five post-its, but all of them were negative comments- so I had to come up with my own positive memories of her to put on her card for her. No, no, no- I'm not going to give them the chance to compare notes.

close up of brick cards. 
I'm going to take the cards on Tuesday for our morning meeting and read them out loud on the carpet, and add them to a piece of foam board I have where we will "Build up a strong wall of caring and compassion" for the last three weeks of school. On the last day we'll take the cards down, and staple each person's together into a little mini book they can take home. At the meeting we'll talk about trends we notice in the compliments, refer back to the chart we made last week about how to be kind, see if we need to clean that up at all, and then maybe make a goal for how to compliment better this week.  I'm also going to look at our PYP Attitudes, and maybe pick one to concentrate on each day to get some more sophisticated language going on with the compliments.  She is nice- is just uber general, and we've got to get to the meat of this.  I'm hoping that at the end of these three weeks, everyone will have at least one card with a real, authentic compliment that truly reflects their inner character.

Boy, howdy!  This hamster needs a rest, methinks.  Because I have lots of fun to have tomorrow getting those store samples done. Nighty night!

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