Sunday, November 11, 2012

Best laid plans...

Lots of different moments in this past week.  For one, I had parent/teacher conferences.  I saw all but 5 of my kids, but only two of those five were parents I had no communication from whatsoever.  And one of THOSE kids had been out of country for three weeks.  So really, just one.  Pretty good, I must say. 

Overall, I found the evening incredibly positive and energizing.  I think it was the first time ever in my teaching career that I felt ready and significant and knowledgeable about what I was doing.  It reminded me of the very first time I ever had conferences.  I did them with my teaching mentor, dear Mags, love her still- and I was completely blown away by how IN CHARGE she was.  A great commander, but it was so pleasant and helpful, but it was also honest and there was no sugar coating.  This is what is wrong, this is how we're going to fix it, and this is what it'll look like when we're done.  She was magical.  And I felt some of that on Wednesday.

I was also able to use some of the insight I'd gained through an on-line ESOL class and be able to encourage my parents to go ahead and teach their children how to read and write in their native tongue.  So many of them concentrate on behavior, because they know they can help with that, but feel powerless when it comes to the English.  Being able to tell them that they would be doing their children a  great service for the future to make them literate in both languages was encouraging and uplifting, and brought a smile to everyone. 

But working my conferences with a translator at many of them made me feel like I really need to learn some Spanish.  It's isolating to be sitting there and wanting to participate, but having to wait my turn to hear what's being said. I suppose it must be how they feel much of their day in an English environment waiting on a translation.  So I'm going to look into a little language touch-up.

I also got to visit a PYP school this week, take a tour, and have a pretty good discussion on integrating math across the curriculum.  I think the most interesting thing I took away from the day was actually seeing two different classrooms prepare for student-led conferences.  Pretty exciting idea, the student taking on the responsibility to discuss their strengths and weaknesses and lay out a plan to improve or change.  I was talking to a second grader at one point who was filling out his conference plan worksheet.  So here he is- a punk rock kid with a faux hawk and skull earrings in both ears, and he's got listed on his sheet that he is doing a super job at showing caring in the classroom but he's got to work on his risk-taking.  Seriously, kid?  I think you've got that part covered.  But after talking to him for a little, it turns out he was talking about how he needed to be a risk-taker in spelling.  "I won't write a word down unless I know how to spell it, and that makes my writing slow and not very interesting.  So I've got to start taking risks with my spelling."  Pretty cool coming out of an eight year old, I have to say.  Rock on, buddy!

So, of course I had a sub that day.  And in my sub binder it does talk about how we're focusing on the positive and talking about behaviors rather than people.  And then I come back into the classroom and see that there are a list of names written on the board underneath an unhappy face.  And here's a list of notes about so and so did this, and I didn't give any punches to THESE BOYS because blah blah blah.  Really?  Come on!  So irritating.  So, I've gone back to my sub binder file and added in a whole section on how I do not accept shame systems in my room and they are not to do it under any circumstances.  Not that anyone is going to listen, but I want it NOTED.  And then I had to gather up my boys and talk to them and try to smooth out the kinks.  Of course this had to happen to my boys that have very negative feelings about school and I've worked so hard at helping them see the positive.  Booger.  One of them wouldn't even answer me for an hour.  Now granted, he should NOT have been arm wrestling during reading centers- but frankly, if I can keep that from happening on a daily basis, what the heck was the sub doing?  Grrrrrrr.acious.  I should just change that to gracious, and stop being upset over it.  But it's hard. 

But I'm going to move forward.  It was still a positive Friday.  They finished up a small moments piece of writing for me, so we'll be ready to move on to Writing for Readers next week.  And I had a great rotation of reading groups where we practiced using highlighting tape to really zero in on the basics of a passage and use those key words to write a summary.  Got my second quarter math pre-assessment finished, so I;m crunching data this weekend to share with the kids next week.  And we had a great science class watching Bill Nye the Science Guy on magnets.  Lots of times, to be honest, I throw in a video just to be able to breathe after a stressful day.  But I actually did some legitimate teaching with this one.  

Started out by making a big chart of everything they already thought they knew about magnets, and then we watched the first eight minutes of the video.  Checked off any thing that was confirmed, added to anything that needed to be fluffed for accuracy, crossed out anything that was wrong.  And then when we went to the next section of the video, we were watching for items still left unconfirmed and anything new.  Did that three different times, and I have to say, they really paid close attention to the video so they could add something to our chart.  You Tube has the Bill Nye episode sorted into three segments- but it's grainy because of the TV to digital factor.  But, if you don't have the actual show, worth using in a pinch.

Today is my birthday, so I'm going to be getting my Mexican Food and Cake on here soon- and it's also Veteran's Day- so thanks for your service dear people in the military!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Data Wall Worries

I've never really kept a data wall before.  My old school didn't do them when I was there, and then last year at the new school I just was clueless.  But I told myself this year I'd actually do it- but I worry sometimes about how to keep it accurate and respect every one's privacy at the same time.  I don't want any of my kids to be embarrassed by their data.

This is how I ended up doing my reading data:

The blue area is what is considered on grade level at the beginning of second grade, and the green area for the end of second grade.  The X's are each kid in my class, plotted by their DRA level.  So the concentration is not on WHO but WHERE we are.  No one has asked which X is theirs yet either.  In general, I think they know, because we talk about what level we are reading in group, and how we are making progress forward.  So nobody feels like they are stuck anywhere.  It was nice too that in a month we were able to push everybody up one, so I could cancel out one of the boxes with the yellow.  The kids felt proud of themselves for marching the X's along. 

At our school, we have a motto, "We are response-able to to the success of the group."  We talk about how we all work hard at becoming better readers to do our part in making our progress chart march forward.  It doesn't matter where we started, as long as we get somewhere at the end. 

I showed our goal at the bottom, what our chart will look like in June if everyone improves by a year from where they are now.  Personally, I would like all of the X's to get past the green.  I struggle with whether or not is it fair to set a goal for a child below grade level to advance more than a year's worth by June.  I mean, some kids do, that magic reading light bulb turns on and they go like gang busters.  But some kids, this isn't the light bulb year.  So what to do?

We discuss our progress charts during class meetings, and one little boy asked "Can we move our X farther ahead than just one year?  Can I take my X off the chart?"  And yeah, I got nervous- because I didn't want to say to them "some of you can, but some of you can't".  I was afraid for a moment, that if I told him yes, and he didn't progress very far, then what?  But then I thought, if I say no, why should he try?  And then I noticed a lot of WIIIIIIIDE eyes, and a little bit of leaning forward, and I could see it- their desire to achieve higher than what I had suggested was the "norm".  So I just said  "Yes.  As long as you keep trying to become a better reader, then your X will move.  And I will never stop your X.  If you make me need to make a bigger chart, I will make it."  Grins all around.

Do all of them try hard all the time?  Um, no.  They are eight, after all.  But for some, the chart provides intrinsic motivation.  That little boy goes back every once in awhile and taps his X.  I've even seen him drag his finger to the goal line and tap the X all the way at the end.  I think he's decided that one is going to be his.  And I know it will be, he'll decide when.  So I won't worry.


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Lining Up is a Piece of (Cheese)Cake

There was a post I had read over the summer, or last spring about a song a teacher was using as just a fun moment in her classroom.  Classically, I cannot find the post again or remember the post-er, so if it's you, or if you know WHO, then please let me know so I can give credit where credit is due.  Wahoo- I just went all Seussy on that.

Moving forward...

Here is the song by Louis Armstrong:

I have noticed that this particular video always has a commercial before it, just so that you're aware of that.  But regardless, it is a great song!  Granted, my second graders are super music lovers this year, but I think it just has a playful fun quality that any group would enjoy. 

As far as becoming our lining up song, it started out easily enough that it was just a song I played at the end of the day as we packed up and got in our bus line.  And then one day, I said, "Hey gang, let's make a line up procedure with this song to help us with our goal".  (They were wanting to work on making a quick and quiet line that week.  Ah, me.  I just love my class this year.)  So we decided that I would say, "Line Up, Cheesecake."  and they would respond "Gobble Gobble, line up!"  It sort of works out that they get to say those four words, and know not to say anything afterwards until we get to our destination. 

Also, our school taught them in Kindergarten and First grade to walk "with a bubble in their mouths"  while in the hallway.  It makes for an incredibly long line of spectacularly bizarre fish faces.  Smushy cuteness on kindergartners.  Isn't that adorable on first graders! But second graders are sort of, "What the hey?  I know I look ridiculous doing this."  However, adding in this Gobble Gobble cheesecake dealio, they started walking with a bubble in their mouths again.  And I said to one of them one day, "Hey!  Nice Bubble, kiddo!"  And he said, "No, No, Ms. M.  It's not a bubble.  My mouth is full of cheesecake."  And so there we are.  We can't talk in the hallway because our mouth is full of cheesecake.  Works for me.

Loving every minute this year!  Hope you are enjoying yours as well.


Saturday, November 3, 2012

Grading My Grading Ability is Greatly Grating

Awhile back I made a new school year's resolution to keep up with my gradebook this year, and not wait until the last minute to do it.  And this was based on how I didn't log in any of my grades last year at all until the computerized gradebook was due to the main office for archiving.  So I was hoping to be organized enough to keep up with the grades as they happened so I wouldn't have that mad rush at the end of the year.  I'm giving myself an S- in this category for my first quarter.  Since, I uh, just entered them all in now and the first quarter ended Friday.

However, I'm not failing myself completely, since for one, I actually have my grades and report cards done FOUR WHOLE DAYS before they are due.  Clearly I've been taken over by an alien.  Gee, I hope she diets and exercises for me before I have to return to my own body. 
Two, because of my awesome upkeep with my daily lesson plans over the last nine weeks, it was quite easy to look them over and see which grades I cared to enter into the gradebook and what date applied correctly.  Super stoked about that.
And three, doing this process this evening at home, made me realize that it would be easy enough for me to do on a weekly basis while I was creating my lesson plans for the week if I would just not be lazy about it.  IF, and JUST, and LAZY being key words for me. Ah well, maybe one day I'll grow up.

Looking back on the first quarter, I've decided to give myself the following grades and comments:
Class Management: S (I'm a helluva lot better than last year, but still room to improve )
Writing: S+ (I am rocking this out this year)
Reading S (But I'm learning a lot with the Jan Richardson Workshops, so perhaps S+ is in my future)
Math S- (I'm struggling with small groups and I'm behind in my pacing.  Boooooo)
Inquiry NS (I am still totally sucking this year.  Gahhhhhhhhh)
Teachery Duties: S (Overall, since I'm rocking keeping up with lesson plans, but I'm an S in general organization, and an S- in grading, so there we are.  Fence sitting.)

I'm not sure how I feel about my report card.  I wonder what my kids would give me?  I wonder what my colleagues would give me? But, it's good to reflect.  It's good to notice my shortcomings.  I might post this near my desk so I can try to focus more this next quarter.  Anybody else grading themselves?


Friday, November 2, 2012

Revisiting the Last Kid Picked

Economics.  I thought it would be awesome at the beginning of the year.  But, sheesh.  I don't know gang.  Maybe it deserves to be the last kid picked.  Maybe it really is the worst player in gym class...

Not to say that the kids did not have  a great time creating the town this year.  And, to be fair, I do have the whole rest of the year to get my act together- but the concepts seem a bit too hard for my kids at the beginning of the year.  So it wasn't as fun as it was last year, and we haven't accomplished as much.

It's a little tough on me too this year since I am hosting an addition five kids during that hour so I'm sporting 28 at the end of the day.  But my teammies who are not sporting the extra five kids are saying similar things.  They did not have as much fun with it this year as we did last year.  So poop.

One thing I did come across this year that was great was this book by Paul Fleischman.  Click on the picture to go to  This was a great read-aloud for actually creating a civilization.  My kids were able to get the whole concept of a main crop after hearing this story.  And it got them excited about the idea of creating a different language and what not.  The book is pretty cerebral though- so it's not a "quick" read-aloud for a second grade crowd.  Much better done over a few days so they can chew over the information.

It did help that we had two weeks of Citizenship lessons before we started.  This economics curriculum is part of my PYP planner How We Organize Ourselves.  They were completely into the idea of community and citizen responsibility as we began this unit.  It also helped that we had been creating class mission and vision statements at this same time- because they were able to apply this to their pretend town.  They did decide on calling the town Super Mooseville, and they chose to have a lake town, which specializes in fish, corn, and mango, and our power is generated through wind mills.  I am hoping to be able to consistently use our town in other curriculum areas as a touching point.  We'll see how that goes.  The kids voted on what they wanted people to say about their town, and they came up with the following.  I had to help them out with the words multi-cultural and globally minded because they didn't have the vocabulary, but it was completely their idea that they wanted a place where no one felt different or unaccepted because of their race or skin color.

This has also helped me separate my kids into three project groups, since they each have expressed interest in one of the three concepts as being of interest to them.  My Clean Committee is currently working on designing a recycling center and plans to actually show it to our county recycling center. 

It's definitely going to be a year long project with this town- and I hope that over time I start to have more fun with it- but at the moment, the momentum is a bit slow.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

My Love/Hate Relationship with Small Group Math

To be clear- I LOVE the concept of small group math.  I really do feel it is the best practice for making sure you are reaching your students.  But I HATE wrestling with curriculum pacing.  Small group work takes time.  It is not a bulldoze though sort of method.  But then I'm supposed to complete this entire math text in a very specific amount of time, and have county assessments done on time for data review, and it's sort of impossible to do all that without bulldozing through it.  So, what to do?  Suggestions, anyone?

Mercifully, I have a really good group this year, so when I've had to teach whole group, I haven't had behavioral issues.  Aaaannnd, when I've taught small group, the behavior hasn't been too bad either.  Just a noise level issue we're working on.  But I've been combating that by giving them a partner and separating them around the room. 

We did create an i-chart for math workshop time- kid generated of course, and it has been helpful.  I made a copy of it for each kid to keep in their math notebook.

This is one of the first charts I made this year, so I hadn't transitioned into the eye and ear and heart model yet- but it hasn't seemed necessary to update it to that style at this point.  I probably will for next year though, to keep all my i-charts cohesive.

What I'm working on currently, and hope to share regularly on Thursdays, is my battle with small group and whole group math.  I've been playing around with how to do centers with math, and thus far not found a method that feels successful for myself or my students.  I'm also working on creating partner friendly math kits.  Crappy picture, I know, but I can't find a pic of exactly what I'm talking about, and I haven't snapped a pic yet at school.  But I found these small square plastic lidded containers in the kitchen section of the Dollar Tree.  They are perfect for holding dice for quiet shakers, but they also fit the right amount of bingo  chips, coins for money games, and other little manipulatives that my math series uses for games.  I'm trying to get everything a pair of students would need to play any math game in their space, to fit in a plastic shoe box.  To set up my whole class, I'd only need twelve shoe boxes (which I have) and it would only take up half of my crate storage- which I'm currently using one third of anyway.

I'd really love to figure out a way to Daily 5-erize my math time.  And I know there's different things out there.  But like I said, I just haven't found anything that works for me yet.  If anybody has found a solution, please do share.