Friday, January 31, 2014

2014 - Week 4: 3 days of teaching, kinda...

Monday - The kids love the new arrangement and I love the new arrangement! They said is it like a maze and I thought, exactly! Now, as they move, they must slow down to move through the maze of 4 desk clusters. Then, in record time, they came to sit in their assigned square on the rug for our mini-lessons.

Tuesday - We made it to the National Air and Space Museum. As teachers, we were concerned as the temperatures were predicted to be very low causing another 2 hour delay. But no word came, so the day proceeded as planned. It felt like we had rented out the museum for ourselves! Very few others ventured to the museum making me feel very relaxed. I was not afraid of losing any of my friends. We had fun learning as we walked from room to room. Then we watched Hubble 3D - awesome!! Now I want to be an astronaut when I grow up!

I went to sleep Tuesday night and surprisingly awoke to snow on the ground and ANOTHER 2-hour delay on Wednesday. Really?

However, I squeezed in time for the kids to think about ALL we had done during 2nd quarter. I created a Mind Map and they reflected on what they were proud of accomplishing during 2nd quarter and what they want to work on during the 3rd quarter.

We also ended our shortened day with a classroom cleaning party! Come Monday, we are ready to start quarter 3 with clean desk and orderly materials.

I spent Thursday completing report cards. I realize now that I really know these kids. I know their strengths. I have seen them grow. I see areas for further growth. I am happy that I still get two more quarters to learn with them!! I am glad I am a teacher back in the classroom!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

2014 - Week 3: didn't teach much

Monday - no school; Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday.
Tuesday - not a flake had fallen (until 10am Tue) but due to the forecasted snow coming, Monday night school was canceled.
Wednesday - snow stopped Tue night around 11pm so Wed was needed to shovel and plow so Wed. night it was announced that no school on Thur.
Thursday - still so cold but roads were cleared; Announced Thur night that we'd have school but 2 hour delay.
Friday - 2 hr delay; my kids went to specials, lunch, Spanish, and a 2-3pm Assembly - I taught for 1 hour and 15 minutes...

1 hour and 15 minutes.... I made the most of it!!
READING WORKSHOP: Students shopped and independently read from the 95 picture book Biographies I checked out from the Public Library for 15 minutes (better than nothing and now books are on their desk for Monday morning RW)

WRITING ABOUT READING - I used Tumblebooks and the students listened to The Librarian of Basra. Using an organizer, they wrote in complete sentences (I modeled this strongly as I'm tired of reading sloppy written phrases) under the headings: Somebody - Wanted - But - So - In the End - Lesson Learned. Then I had them write longer about what kind of character Alia, the librarian was. Would they have acted as she did? Why? Why not? Did she change in the story? Why? Next week, they will be asked to do the same kind of writing about reading for homework with two more stories. My homework over this weekend is to read their classwork to see if anyone needs further modeling before I set them free to do it as homework.

SCIENCE: Students watched the brainpop video about why we have Seasons. Then we started to think about which side of the debate we'd be on: I want to live where there are 4 seasons vs I want to live near the equator vs I want to live near the poles. Monday we will prepare our argument and have a class debate. (I got this idea from following the Wed, Jan. 22nd twitter chat at #TCRWP led by Maggie.) My RT led my class before break in a debate using The Giving Tree: The tree is strong vs the tree is weak. But I love the idea of trying the debate with a science topic!! Looking forward to Monday!

When the kids left at 3:15pm, I got to work rearranging my classroom!!
My smart friend, Grace, visited exactly a week ago and this was my first chance back in the room. So from 3:30-6:00pm, I got busy. Now the desks are arranged in clusters of four and the rug is taped off and ready for assigned seating.

As Grace made these suggestions, she told me, "It is the little things that can really make a difference." I so agree. When the kids return Monday (barring no further disruptive weather), they will clean out their desks. I am collecting their Reading Notebooks and Writing Notebooks to store until RW and WW. I am collecting their SS notebook, too. Then inside their desk, they will have room for their computer. It will no longer just be on their desk as a distraction. I will no longer need to say/shout, "Shut the lid." It will come out when we are using it to produce our next project!

I am sure I have NOT solved all the classroom management issues for the year but I left Friday night feeling like I finally deeply understand the importance of management and how so much CAN be done so good teaching can happen.

I started the school year focusing on all the good teaching I would do. Then I met my 27 kids and was given a very large classroom to house them in and they came with all these supplies and a computer was placed on each desk and it was suggested to have groups of 6-8 desks clusters so all the cords could reach the extension cords (as the computer batteries don't hold a change well.) And I just jumped in and looking back, now realize that I was spending such energy reacting to the inadequate classroom environment I set up in August and then rearranged and now rearranged again.

Now I am seeing that the little things MUST be put into place: Having 4 kids in a group to converse works...groups of 5 and 6 and 8 don't as well. Having supplies stored and pulled out to use during the designated time works. It ensures precious notebooks are not getting lost and it signals that RW or WW is beginning. Having the table leader get their table's 4 notebooks from the storage bin while the other 3 meet me quickly on the rug at their assigned spot. When I say, "Now turn and talk to your partner", they are right there because I have assigned them to sit next to their partner. Maybe everything I learned, I really did learn in Kindergarten (as the poem says!) because even 4th graders need a place to sit on the rug. It may appear to look like a babyish K rug now but I know it WILL work. Kids, at all ages, need boundaries!

Looking Ahead: 
It's another week with limited time to teach - why?
Monday- the kids come to learn from 8:15-12:30pm
(On Monday we have early release time so teachers can plan/meet)
Tuesday - fieldtrip the the Air and Space Museum from 9:30-1:30.
Wed - just a regular full day of school (last time that's occurred since Jan 17th!)
Thur - no school; quarter ends and teachers have a day to complete report cards
Fri - no school; district Staff Development Day

So check back next Sat...I will have seen and can report on how my students act with their new room routines and arrangements. And I'll be celebrating being half-way through my year back in the classroom!!

Friday, January 17, 2014

2014 - Week 2

I'm counting...
I get a 3-day weekend (thanks MLK!)...then I'll teach 4 full days...then after next weekend, I'll teach 3 more days (yet one is a field trip to the Air and Space Museum)...and then the 2nd quarter ends! My county then gives me two teacher-workdays to complete report cards and attend a professional development. Then I'll officially be halfway through the school year!

Personally, I decided my New Year's Resolution would be to seek out as many smart people to help me as possible, starting in January and continuing until June. I know literacy but I can still get better at it. I do not know classroom management enough. I do not know how to teach math that well. I do not know how to deal with boys so much, having raised two amazing girls. I'm an experienced teacher who has taught or been a resource support for 21 years yet, I WILL still be humble and ask for help and push to keep learning.

So this week I was able to get two smart people into my classroom to help. A District Math Resource person, Spencer, came and watched me attempt to teach the steps of long division (my lesson that day) to my 4th grade math class and then stayed to chat with me for the next hour while my students were at specials. And a colleague I taught with last year and who now is a grad student at TC came on Friday for an hour.

First, Spencer was SO helpful!! How?
Once the lesson was over and the kids left, he asked me what I thought went well. I immediately wanted to launch into how I don't think the lesson went well. I only felt that a handful got it and those probably had it before my lesson. Many, instead, seemed so confused. I used a YouTube video that taught the 4 steps of long division by thinking of FAMILY - father/find, mother/multiply, sister/subtract, brother/bring down - I learned it this way and I get this but so many of them didn't, I observed. Yet, Spencer pushed me first to name what went well. So I told him I was proud that I had the kids engaged right away by reviewing fact families. He commented that the white boards were ready with numbers already on them. No time lost and more time to review and practice. I commented that using technology also kept all engaged, even when some felt a little confused. He also agreed and praised my pacing. He noted that I paused the video to ask the question again and give the kids a little more time to think.

Then he very kindly told me that developmentally, kids can't always "get" long division until the end of 5th grade. Yes, due to the state standards, I am to introduce it in 4th . He assured me that only two long division questions will be on the State Test and I should, instead, think about giving my students strategies to help them choose how to solve a division problem. He then taught me the Partial Quotient method (which made more sense to me) and then reminded me that when the test is multiple choice, the answer IS there. So I need to teach them the strategy of using multiplication to see if A. B. C. or D. is the answer without having to even do division. Then he said kids need a multiplication chart in front of them always. When they use it, it helps to make the memorizing of their facts stick.

When we asked what my "go to" resources were for planning math lessons, I just wanted to laugh, as I don't really have any as of yet. He showed me resources available from the district and suggested for the next month to just go there and use what has already been created.

The biggest ah-ha I had was when he connected what I know so well about reading/writing workshop with math. I know during reading and writing, I teach a mini-lesson and then I send all off to work at it. Then I confer and meet the readers and writers where they are and work to move them forward. He reminded me that the same process needs to also happen in math. DUH! But until he said it, that light bulb had not gone on for me. I am feeling better about teaching math. And Spencer plans to return and co-teach with me soon! Learning from experts is so important!!

Then Grace visited on Friday. She was only free while my students were at specials and lunch but that gave us a chance to talk. She knew from prior discussions that I was struggling with the management of my 27 friends. Right away she saw my table groupings of 6 and suggested that 4 works so much better. She suggested that even if my school isn't a Responsive Classroom school, that I should still have a Morning Meeting. The lessons learned through Morning Meeting are too valuable not to teach. And she suggested a great way for my students to share their computer nonfiction presentations with parents. The laptops can all be grouped by same topics in the room. Visitors can go to the area and learn from the creator of the presentation, and using headphones, they can watch the presentation and listen to their embedded videos. While we talked I decided a Breakfast Museum Walk would work great at end of the month! It felt great to talk this out!

Again, I know I need to group the kids in small groups in the room but the computer cords and extension cords were distracting me from doing what I know I should be doing. But come next week - groups of 4 will be created and I already asked the computer teacher to come help me make sure all the cords are following the safety rules. She suggested having assigned seats on the carpet so I'll tape it off to be a grid and make the assignments. Then I will make an agenda magnet that says MORNING MEETING and it WILL be in a part of our daily schedule. Again, DUH. I know this but as a classroom teacher I get distracted. Then I have fires to put out. Instead, Grace reminded me to set the kids up for success...groups of 4 and assigned seating so no fires even need to be put out. She also immediately saw how distracting the computer was on the desk. She ask, "Can it fit inside the desk? Then it is just brought out when needed." Again, DUH! Yes. We are going to clean out our desk and make room for the computer. Again, instead of saying, "I said Lids Down, Now" they won't even have the chance to open a lid and be distracted by the computer because it is in their desk.

I found it very helpful to have two smart friends visit my classroom this week. I'll admit, it was humbling and, for a moment, it felt like I wasn't doing anything right as I listened to their suggestions. But then I remembered that I have LOTS to learn and here are two friends who can help. So now, I happily type this blog entry. I'll admit, I'm happy that I have a 3-day weekend before I need to really implement anything different. But I am grateful that I opened myself to learning from others to learn things to implement!

2014 - Week 1

I worked Monday, had Tuesday off due to the Polar Vortex and 9 degree temperatures (too cold to go to school!), had a 2-hr delay Wed due to the still early morning cold, worked all day Thursday and then another 2-hr delay on Friday because some ice was on the road. Crazy week of weather.

Even with the disruptions to our schedule, I ensured I taught RW and WW each day. What suffered? I taught math once and science once.

I was able to still launched the Realistic Fiction writing unit using the new Arc of the Story book in the new 4th grade TCRWP Writing kit. I am finishing up the nonfiction reading unit. To celebrate, the students are making a Presentation using Google Apps to teach a few ideas about the topic they read about. Then on Monday I plan to launch the nonfiction narrative unit of study using biographies.

And maybe I should teach some Social Studies and try to figure out how to teach math better...

Happy New Year!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Happy New Year - 2014 starts with me teaching my 27 4th graders!

My alarm is set for 5:23am and once it goes off tomorrow, I'm back in the classroom...

I have enjoyed my time off during the past 16 days of Winter Break. Two Sundays ago I was entering a Holland America Cruise boat with my family where we quickly removed our jeans and fleece sweatshirts and changed into our shorts and t-shirts to enjoy the 80 degree+ weather. Then we enjoyed all that was offered...the snorkeling, the sights in San Juan, the Pub trivia, the listening and dancing to the bands, the buy-one-get-2nd-cocktail-for-$1 happy hours and the around-the-clock meals that required no cooking on my part and no cleaning of dishes! I took time to read and nap and reflect. Then I returned to VA and started wearing fleece and my winter coat again. It even snowed and I got to shovel! Now, tomorrow, my 27 students will enter the room and we will begin learning together again. I'm ready...or as ready as I can possibly be...

My New Years Resolutions:
1. I WILL be better about the recordkeeping of my conferences, something upon reflecting, I realize I am bad at. I work hard to prepare a strong mini-lesson. I then move around the room, stopping to confer but I am really bad about documenting this practice. And if I really want to grow students' LA skills, I MUST. SO today as I do my homework, I will create some organizers to jumpstart me toward meeting this goal. And each Saturday in Jan. and Feb. I'll reflect on how it is going. If I can get it going, it WILL become a habit!!

2. I WILL seek out help...the RTI team to help me with a struggling student...the school counselor to help me with a student who is very disruptive due to his ADD behaviors....the district's math resource specialist to offer suggestions on how to best teach math...the school Reading TCRWP Units of Study....I am not afraid to ask for help and even though I have been a teacher in this district for 12 years and for a total of 20 years, I MUST seek out expert help...I MUST keep learning! I had many days from September to December 20 that included tears. But I do NOT need to do this work alone. I am humble enough to ask for ideas and help. So I will also note on my upcoming posts the ratio of tears to help!

3. I WILL empower my students to run the room even more...I started the year posting a TWEET of the DAY @MsDgrade4 (ask to follow us!) and I ended up tweeting 145 times and have 27 followers. I think this is a pretty good start! This week, we'll make a rotating schedule to name two students to compose a tweet at the end of the day to be posted. I'll also ask what other tasks the students think they should be doing to help our classroom function. It is THEIR room and THEIR learning and as 2014 begins, I want to start with an empowering attitude!!

4. I WILL teach a Fiction Writing Unit of Study. I spend New years Day reading The Arc of the Story by Calkins and Cruz and was getting annoyed as hours passed and I was still reading. This work is golden but so wordy! The good news is that I have taught fiction using the book in the 3-6 kit and many of the sessions are exactly the same so I am feeling prepared. I spent some time picking some fiction stories I have already sharing as read-alouds to revisit as mentor text. I have picked Ish and The Dot by Peter Reynolds, Fireflies by Julie Brickhoe, The Marble Champ by Gary Soto, and Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed by Mo Willems. I plan to have the students co-construct an anchor chart with me using these fiction headers: Character - Wanted - But - So - In the End - Lesson Learned. This close work will help them as they start to create their own fiction story!

It was suggested to have the students do a personal narrative on-demand which I have planned for tomorrow. Then I read this blog post:
Now I plan to be documenting their stamina as they write and then using these on-demands to closely plan teaching points that match my writers. I actually observed for an hour in Kristi's K class as a former colleague, Grace, was her intern this fall and when I attended the TCRPS Saturday Reunion, Grace arranged for me to visit for the LA block. I was amazed at how great K teaching is also great teaching at any grade and learned so much that hour as well as reading this blog post today!

In the spirit of learning (#2) I add: I WILL take time to read blogs of great educators to learn from them!

5. I WILL teach a Narrative Nonfiction using Biographies Reading Unit of Study. As soon as the public library opens today, I plan to go checkout TONS of biographs!! The Book 2: Navigating Nonfiction book will be my teacher's guide. I have not taught this unit before but as I skimmed through the sessions, I see it will mesh nicely with the fiction writing unit and will keep all of us reading strong as the new year begins!

I like being a teacher...September is a new beginning. Then in Dec, you get a break and then January is another new beginning. After lots of resting and reflecting, I'm ready to make the most of this 2nd new beginning!! Come to think of it, the 2nd quarter ends at the end of the January, giving me one more new beginning! All these new beginnings takes the pressure off of having to get it all in place right now!!

Here's to great learning in 2014!!