Saturday, May 31, 2014

Week of May 26-30

I saw the value in setting up the environment and then just getting out of the way this week.

1. I taught mini-lessons on how to create a strong concept book for beginning readers. Then I just gave time to my writers to work using the presentation mode in Google apps. NOW, I have 10 ABC ebooks in a digital dropbox that I shared with my friends that teach K and 1st grade and 17 concept eBooks in another dropbox. I showed them mentor text, I reminded them to use repeated phrasing page by page to help the reader read it. I encouraged them to add a clear image so the reader can read the picture, too. AND then I got out of the way. They got to work and produced books beyond my expectations.

2. My grade-level is having our students host a Farmer's Market June 11th and 12th. This week, my groups who are making products using lavander and chive, met with me for the last hour of each day to create advertisement for the event. The first 2 days I shared mini-lessons to point out the moves advertizers make including persuasive writing, font size, color and images. AND then I got out of the way. They opened microsoft publisher on their computer and created amazing fliers!

3. On Wed, we ended our session talking about how we might create a music jiggle to add to a commercial to show on our school's morning broadcast. Quickly it was determinied that all knew the song Let It Go from Frozen. So in minutes (because that is all I had), I sent the lyrics to Let It Go to the printer. I gave all a copy and said for homework to think about how we could use this tune with different words to advertise our Farmer's Market. (Literally, this all happened in 4 minutes). AND then I got out of the way. The next day, nine out of 22 students brought in their new words, some scribbled on the lyric page I handled out, others having printed out their ideas at home using their computer. I asked each song-writer to get with the kids who didn't write and share their ideas. I asked them to circle the lines they all think are the best lines. Knowing that 22 of us couldn't really combine all the great ideas into just one song, I collected the ideas and for my homework, I combined the words to be one song. Then next day, I handed out the words. We rehearsed, collectively tweeked some words and lines. Then I filmed them singing this very clever "commerical". It will show all next week on the morning announcements!

These three examples remind me how important it is as a teacher to GET OUT OF THE WAY! I modeled ways to make a concept book and then I let the kids do the work. I shared what good fliers look like and then I let the kids do the work. I listened as the kids shared their knowledge of a song. (full disclosure - I am NOT a singer and I haven't yet seen Frozen!). I set them up with the lyrics and then I let the kids do the work.

I need to keep the spirit that occurred in my classroom this week ALWAYS in my classrooms of the future. It is only by getting out of the way, that kids can really learn!

Looking Ahead: June starts....3 full weeks of school and 3 snow make-up days and then, my 2013-14 school year back in the classroom comes to an end on June 25th. Then June 28th I head to TCRWP for the July Reading Institute!!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Week of May 19-23 - STATE TESTING!

In Virginia the 4th graders take 3 tests, called SOLs; one in Reading, one in Math and one in VA Studies. All are taken on the computer.

So last week I did LOTS of online practice with my students. And I left sub plans on Friday and Monday for my substitute to do the same. Then I left Friday morning to attend my younger daughter's graduation at the University of Virginia (where both my husband and I went for our undergraduate degrees and where my husband returned for his Masters in Architecture!! And where our niece, my husband's brother's oldest, was also graduating!). Needless to say, I proudly watched Anne receive her Drama Major and French Minor degree. WHAT A AWESOME WEEKEND I had!!

Then Monday, my substitute taught my class but I actually went to school to attend an IEP meeting and an afternoon Professional Development session, even though it was my day-off. And then I got the room ready for testing....added a mouse to each computer, put up the privacy blinder boards and made sure all the computers were plugged in and able to get to the state testing site and made sure all the teaching anchor-charts were off the walls. Yes, all on my day-off!

Then Tuesday the boring process of watching kids take tests began. Because the tests are all online, Wed we had the results of the reading test. I was happy to see that 48% of my kids scored Advanced-Proficient and 50% scored Proficient. But that means that 2 scored a 399 (400 is passing) and the other, a 392 (and only hears English at school and Chinese at home but did not qualify for ESOL services). Overall, I'm happy with their reading performance. We are still waiting for the math scores but the Virginia Studies tests on Thursday was 50 multiple-choice questions and in 30 minutes we had the results...sadly 8 failed (30%) but I guess I should be happy that 70% passed and of those, five were Advanced-Proficient. I think I didn't realize the difficulty the kids would have with content vocabulary and these more abstract social studies concepts.

For fun, we have started an ABC Countdown to the end of the year! Tuesday, with 26 more days of school to go, we went outside and made paper airplanes and had a flying contest. Then Wed we blew bubbles and Thur we wore colorful clothes and made a colorful art picture. Friday was the most fun so far - we had a Dance Party! My students can dance!! We made a double line and when we were at the head of it, one from each side danced down the line!!

Taking time to have FUN with my students shows me once again of the importance of building relationships and community. When Jonathan didn't feel like dancing, Yeon Ju told me and together we encouraged him to join in. When one girl didn't have a partner, I became her partner! All felt included. All could safely act silly and take part in the "dance". It may have taken me to the 22nd last day of school but the lesson I learned Friday will stay with me. I MUST do ALL I can in August and September to build a caring, inclusive community. Only then can a perfect lesson plan be implemented! Only then can we learn.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Week of May 5-9: Teacher Appreciation Week

I do feel appreciated! Along with it being the week where I was treated to lunches and got cards and flowers, it was also a school-wide "Stress-less / Laugh-more Week". In the spirit of this, I gave no homework at all and I incorporated that extra practice into the school day. All seemed to enjoy the extra time at home to just play and relax a bit (not that I give tons of homework...)

I'm excited about the project I'm going to have them do to use their creative energy and google apps. I used my knowledge from teaching Kindergarten and got books at the library by Bruce McMillian, Tana Hoban, Donald Crews and others. I did an intro lesson to have them discover the concept that each book was teaching. Then in their writing notebook, they brainstormed possilbe concepts for their eBook that they will create. I scheduled June 13 as the day to invite others to come read our books. It will be our Popcorn Presentation Day!

Along with this fun writing, we are busy doing test prep. The kids reviewed state videos that explain how to use the computer tools on their state tests. We did practice tests to think about which strategies we would use while taking the tests. And we ensured that our computer is working and ready to go for May 20th, 21st, and 22nd. One more week to review and then we can take the tests and then get back to reagular workshop time!

32 more days...

I've been busy thinking about end-of-the-year stuff. I plan to give out Paper Plate Awards (something my daughters got in MS and HS). It's inexpensive and fun. I should start thinking of an award for each kid. I already know that Will is getting the Best Debater Award. Quint might get the Best Poet Award. Lela is getting the Best Dressed for Colonial Day Award. Now just 25 more. I also know I want to take all the photos I have taken all year long and and make a presentation with music. I want to use the song from Wicked, For Good. I think I'll use this part to make a card for my families:

"It well may be
That we will never meet again
In this lifetime
So let me say before we part
So much of me
Is made of what I learned from you
You'll be with me
Like a handprint on my heart
And now whatever way our stories end
I know you have re-written mine
By being my friend...

Who can say if I've been changed for the better?
But because I knew you
I have been changed for good."

It will be hard to say goodbye to these crazy kids. They drive me crazy how they never STOP - stop moving, stop talking. But they also have written wonderful things this year. They have read wonderful stories. They have learned about VA history and done science experiements and played strings and created wonderful art. Most of all they have taught me how to be a classroom teacher again. Some days, it all worked. Other days I had to keep reflecting to see how to get all to be engaged and perform well. Overall, we all had mostly fun times! And we all have been changed for good.

This coming week, I need to stay focused but I'm starting to get distracted because Anne graduates next Sunday from UVA as a brilliant Drama Major and French Minor - WAHOOWAH!! And she has a job this summer working at the Washington Theater Lab's Summer Theater Camp for kids and THEN she heads to FRANCE for a 7 month contract to teach English in French public schools in Grenoble!! So crazy cool!! So I will try to stay focused on my test prep activities. I will try to keep all very busy and focused. I will write sub plans for Friday and Monday as I am taking those 2 days off to enjoy Anne's graduation. Then I return for 3 days of testing. It is doing to be a fast 2 weeks.

Due to Anne's graduation, I won't post next Saturday but will be back on May 24th to post the highlights from graduation and form testing prep week and testing week.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

It's May!

I will now ALWAYS expect certain behaviors related to certain weather and I vow to try to be better about helping students during such weather. It rained horribly for 2 straight days on Tue and Wed and my students were stuck inside. Due to the barometric pressure in the air, we were louder and we couldn't sit still. A stranger looking into my room might have asked if all had eaten a box of donut as it looked like we were on a sugar-high! Luckily, the sun shone brightly on Thursday and the behaviors did a 180...just being able to go outside, see the sky, run around a bit, we could sit and work all Thursday afternoon! From now on, I need to remember how we are creatures of nature. I need to anticipate the natural reaction to weather and be prepared to somewhat contain that which is harder to contain during bad weather! Maybe earplugs?!!

Looking Ahead: I have 2 full weeks (only) of my Test-Prep Unit. My 4th graders take a Reading, Math and VA Studies State Assessment this year all on the computer. So the next 3 weeks won't be too exciting. But I do want them to practice so they feel comfortable with the computer interface. I do want them to see that they know lots and this is their chance to show-off all that they know. I have had them read for 30-35-40-45 minutes to build their reading stamina. All 3 tests require LOTS of reading and I want them to have the energy to sit and read for a chunk of time.

Then after May 22nd, we can get back to regular workshop work. I am planning to have them do the following end-of-year projects:
1. Revision Unit in Writing - I will ask them to take one piece of writing done this year and to spend time further revising it. Then I plan to give them back their Day One of school On-Demand writing piece. I will ask them to reflect on all that they learned this year in writing.
2. Reading - We will read book club books and have book club discussions.
3. Technology - the students each have their own laptop and google apps account. They love making presentations of silly images for fun. This got me thinking. I want to TEACH them what Concept Book writers do and encourage them to instead create a Concept Presentation. I want to get them to critically think about why they are choosing that image to add instead of another image. Why that font color? I think then we might be able to share these with our K-1 students to read and enjoy!!
4. Farmer's Market - the students researched herbs and plants grown during Colonial time. Then we are growing them. Then we are making products with them. Fianlly we will sell them on June 11th and 12th. This Inquiry Porject integrates all the subjects into an authentic project!

LOTS TO DO in ONLY 37 days!