Wednesday, February 29, 2012

What a Wacky Wednesday...

So I promised you that today I would try something new with my students and share!  I totally stepped out of the box today and my kids loved it! One student said, "This is the best day ever!"

We started our day with a lesson on drama.  My students have not been formally exposed to it, but it is something we may see on the STAAR test.  I used the text I told you about, Path to Discovery, as our Shared Reading text.  There is a drama piece that connected their previous non-fiction lesson to today's text.  I introduced drama and we created an anchor chart with drama definitions and text features.
Selected students stood up and played characters in the drama, while I explained stage directions, acts, scenes, and narrators.

This led us to our writing activity.  I used the drama idea to let students know that I had created characters for a short example about writing.  I introduced them to three characters.

The first character was Hip-Hop Harriet.  My sweet husband lent me his Steelers jersey and hat.  Since my team teacher was only there a half-day, I had to take pictures of myself. Yuck!!  I had to take them in the restroom when I changed! Gross!  I hate pics of myself, but I'll share to "make a difference". Hahahaha!!

Hip-Hop Harriet came in and said (in her best rap voice):

"Yo, yo, yo.  I gotta go!
I hate to write,
It's hard, ya know?!

Let me read this prompt,
Get it outta the way,
I'll make it really short,
What I gotta say!"

The kids CRACKED UP!  But once I read the narrative and expository prompts (in my SkippyJon Jones muy, muy rap voice), they listened intently.  For the narrative, she told them a simple story.  It was only 4 sentences:  First, Then, Next, Last.  For the expository, she told them her choice and gave three simple, general reasons.  Then she walked out.

Next, Gabby Grandma came in.  Beware, this pic is worse!!!
Gabby Grandma came in bent over, talking like an old lady.  She read the prompts, too.  For the narrative, she told them a long, detailed story that frequently went off topic.  She talked about her narrative and just about everything else she could think of!!  For the expository, she gave them off topic, boring reasons.  Then she hobbled out.

Then, Perfect Patsy came in.  Yes, the students concluded, she was my twin with a red headband!! (I couldn't think up a quick outfit on the fly!)
Ick!  Anyway, she came in with a sweet little girl voice and read the prompts.  For the narrative, Perfect Patsy stayed on topic and gave a couple of sentences about each event she described.  Each event was detailed just right before she moved on to the next.  For the expository, she gave three reasons for her choice.  All were on topic and she explained explicitly how the reasons were important.  Then she skipped out.

Finally, Mrs. M returned!  The kids couldn't wait to talk about the characters.  We brainstormed what we heard in each story.  Here is our chart:
They did a WONDERFUL job listening for story clues, the good, the bad, and the awful!!  I told them that I will let them know, from now on, if their stories were like Hip-Hop Harriet, Gabby Grandma, or Perfect Patsy.  I am so excited to see how they do on their next writing assignment!

My idea came from .  She did not use them for writing and our characters are not the same and did not say the same things, but I used her basic idea.

Drama seemed to be in play (little word game, there) amongst adults today.  That's  life isn't it?  No one likes change (especially me) but we all have to go through it...the good and the bad.  I hope I remember that.  It is difficult for everyone to be happy at the same time. 

So I close with another Harry Potter quote (yep, AGAIN!)from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone--

"There are all kinds of courage.  It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but a great deal more to stand up to our friends."--Albus Dumbledore

We all have to stand up to both, sometimes.


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Thinking about Tuesday...

Today was Math Benchmark day.  All LA teachers know what that means...monitoring without a desire to even glance at a test!!! While they are my students and I want them to do well, it's one test that I truly know nothing about!  Don't misunderstand...I know how to teach math ...I mean, I can add and subtract.  Heck, I can even multiply and divide! But I am not familiar with the 4th grade curriculum.  And, quite honestly, I wouldn't be very good at teaching it!  One of my students asked me a question during the test.  I looked at her and said, "I cannot help you.  Just do the best you can."  And I meant it...because, even if I was allowed to help, I would not have had a clue how!!!

After the test, I had an opportunity to pull a few students out into the hallway to review the assessment they took on Friday.  The students were actually very open with me and told me what they found difficult.  Many of them felt rushed and did feel that a small break would help.  One student told me that he tries so hard but starts worrying about failing.  (Can anyone say another test anxiety prospect??)  Another told me that he feels in a hurry.  He also told me that he LIKES doing the strategies..."They help me a lot." Yay!!  I noticed that having a conversation with my students instead of giving a lecture just telling them what I think was extremely productive!

So I decided to make a recording page to keep notes on my students.  I wish I would have done this from the beginning.  After each failed reading or writing assessment, I will conference with individual students.  I will ask them what they found difficult and what they think would help.  I will give my suggestions.  I will then record whether or not there was improvement on the next assessment.  Not only can I use this to jog my memory, it would also help with intervention and RTI documentation.
Here is my recording document.

On a separate note, I was tricked asked to present at our district staff development on February 17.  I presented two workshops for elementary teachers on Social Studies foldables.  I really enjoyed it!  Many of the teachers from my campus came to my workshop.  Today, one of my teammates and a 3rd grade teacher told me that they have used foldables since then! Yay!  And one of my former first grade teammates was able to use a flip book with her little ones.  She said it went well!  She used it for math. Thanks for texting me your pictures of your students using foldables, Patty!
First grade foldable for shapes
I was so happy that teachers at my campus were able to use the ideas across the curriculum!  Thanks, ladies, for being so open-minded!

Well, I'm off to get things together for my writing lesson tomorrow!  I'm so excited to try something new.  I will try to take pictures of Hip-Hop Harriet, Gabby Grandma, and Perfect Patsy!  I will share what I did, my dialogue,  and how my students embraced my "act" to improve their writing tomorrow.  But here's a preview of Hip-Hop Harriet's "bling"!

I'm such a dork!!!! I thought I had glitter, but all I had were foam boards and glitter stickers.  Oh well!!!

Today I had to make a choice between two things.  All I could think of is a quote from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. (Oh yes, I went there!!!!! Hahaha!!)

"Some day, we all have to make the choice between what is right and what is easy."--Albus Dumbledore

I think that I chose the right road, instead of the easy one.  And, of that, I am the most proud!


Monday, February 27, 2012

Monday, Monday ... (la la lalala)

I stepped into the classroom this morning with high hopes and a head full of ideas!  It was actually a great day in as far as what I got accomplished with my kiddos!  Today we reviewed inferencing (again).  Before we began, I re-introduced non-fiction text features.  I created a stolen borrowed anchor chart and adjusted it to meet the needs of my students.
Not the neatest charts, but we did them together and helped me complete my lesson!

We then used "Paths to Discovery", a magazine type text from our adopted basal.  The students became absorbed in the text, so finding and identifying these features was a lot of fun.  This text is unique in that it has a non-fiction and fiction piece for each topic.  There are poems and drama pieces.  Really cool!
Excuse the iPhone skills aren't the best!

I did have to pull in my own non-fiction texts and our Texas History book to illustrate a couple of features, but it was still a great lesson!

It was also a great segue into writing.  Our portfolio project this 6 weeks is research.  Now, with the writing STAAR right around the corner, it's hard to get off the "prompt" writing and do something different.  But it's also a fantastic way to continue expository writing and connect the text to writing. I get the reading/writing connection! LOL! 

Students collected research last week in the tech lab, so they are using what they selected to complete a foldable.  The foldable will be their "sloppy copy", or planning page.
Students are writing about a person, animal, or place of their choice.  These were their foldable guidelines, based on their choice.
Here's what their product looks like.
I can't wait to take this foldable to the next level.  They are going to create their own magazines!  More details later.

We received a new student today...yes, the day before a Math benchmark.  Go figure.  She is also a NES (Non-English Speaker), so we have our work cut out for us.  Right. Before. STAAR.  Ugh!  I can compare it to teaching first grade AND fourth grade.  At the same time.

Well, I hope my kids give the Math benchmark their all.  Confidence is the key. 

Nothing is impossible.  Even the word itself says, "I'm possible." --Audrey Hepburn

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sunday musings...

Today has been a relatively restful day.  It seems like I have these nice, long, stressfree weekends, until about 7:00 on Sunday nights!!!  It happens every single weekend and it goes something like this:

Friday nights: I do NOTHING school related.  My day is done. Scott usually picks up dinner on his way home from work.  We watch a movie, browse the net, check Facebook (Scott!), and talk about everything, or nothing in particular.  We both fall asleep early.

Saturday/Saturday nights:  Since both of our kids have left home, we have no where that we have to be!  This is yard day, pick up the house day, run to the store, maybe do something get the picture.  After 16 years of softball/football/basketball/soccer/volleyball every afternoon and weekend...we deserve it!

Sunday:  Lay around the house day!  I usually take two or three naps ::hangs head in shame::  We watch all of our DVR stuff.  Then, I decide that I need to work on lesson plans, turn in supply orders, finish grading and entering into the gradebook...etc.

Today, I had to complete my TELPAS callibration.  Talk about a nightmare!  There is no other test in Texas that makes you check, recheck, and re-recheck your answers because of the enormous amount of self-doubt it creates!  Is it advanced or advanced-high?????  Every year I do this and I doubt every answer choice I make.  Every question is tricky.  If this is how they treat educated professionals, imagine what the kids feel like!!!!!!!!

I also planned a couple of new anchor charts.  I will post them here tomorrow.  This week, I have a few tricks up my sleeve that I hope make an impact on my kiddos!  I'll let you know as they happen. I do have to give a shout out to an AWESOME website: !  Ms. Noren has some really great ideas, and the more I read, the more I identify with her.  I feel like her "older" version! LOL!

Have a great Monday!


Friday, February 24, 2012

You Gotta Try...

You know, today was just "one of those days".  It is Friday, so it's testing day for my kiddos.  It's when I test my students on skills learned and practiced throughout the week.  Since we are preparing for the new STAAR test, the practice is really a reteach/relearn time.  I thought my students had a great week.  They were on the ball, responding to questions with enthusiasm and interest.  I just knew they would do well on their writing (revising/editing) test.  As I graded the papers, I was excited to see that most of them used their strategies.  My stomach fell as I realized that, while the strategies were there, the grades were not! Oh my!  I'm simply lost...

My first idea was to create a contest chart.  I have two periods of LA/SS, so I decided that I would set up a competition graph, in the hopes that they may try to do well to outdo each other.  Here is how I set it up...

It's kind of crude, I know.  But it's a "You Gotta Try" moment.  My team teacher and I are going to graph the number of students from each class that pass any kind of assessment.  Since the Writing STAAR is only about 15 days away, we probably won't run out of room! LOL!  The winning class will get a Pizza Party or treats or ... something exciting!

Few of my students in either class passed.  Most of the ones who did pass are not ELLs.  The ELLs really seem to struggle with comprehension.  So, even though they know the strategies, they have difficulty comprehending the sentences in order to understand what the correct answer should be.  I did have several students that did perfectly on the first story questions, but bombed the second set of questions.  I'm just confused by that!

Then, I talked with our CIS.  He is a former ELL himself, so he gets how these students think and process.  He suggested that I teach the students to take breaks and make sure they learn how long those breaks last.  Then, in theory, they should be able to come back to the second story fresh and ready to go.  He also thinks that maybe they are expending too much energy on the strategies! WHAT?!  I feel so guilty!  I have stressed the strategies because, otherwise, they just pick random answers and I have no way to evaluate why.  But, I can see his point.  And then I feel bad because I've made the strategies so important.  So I will spend my weekend adapting and trying to make things easier on my students.

On Tuesday, my students have a Math Benchmark.  After the benchmark, I plan to pull students out and talk to them individually about their tests from today.  I need dialogue with them to figure out why they choose the answers they do and how I can help them focus.  Hopefully, I can target the needs of each individual student and see what will work for them.  It's a definite change from my normal conferences with students.

Flexibility is the key here, I think.  I've always been able to go with the student flow, but since it's so close to student assessment time, I'm nervous about making the right choices. But I just have to figure out what's right! 

On another note, I had a couple of students really make poor choices today.  It's a difficult balance trying to determine how to handle a situation while remaining calm, respectful, and authoritative.   I have to make sure I listen without judgement and then decide consequences based on rules and procedures.  All while allowing the student to save face and have dignity.  I'm human...and it's difficult sometimes.  However, I'll leave with a quote from one of my all-time favorite movies and books, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  (It's actually a movie quote...I don't remember it in the text.)  If I remember this, I can make the right choice...

"Words are our most powerful form of magic, able to both inflict injury and remedy it." --Albus Dumbledore

I should always remember to "remedy it..."


P.S. I am, indeed, a Potterhead!
Thursday, February 23, 2012

A little sharing time...

Well, I have really become a Pinterest fanatic!  I love some of the wonderful anchor chart ideas I've seen.  I am now a firm believer in these charts, especially for ESL students.  When we were first introduced to them, I was skeptical.  However, the more I used them, the more tailored they became to each class.  I have two rotations for Language Arts, a morning group and an afternoon group.  While we study exactly the same material, their anchor charts usually end up different.  It is essential that students help you create your charts.  While I use the Pinterest ideas, I absolutely tailor my chart to what my classes discuss.  Students take ownership of their learning when they participate in it and, in some way, help to create it.  I usually have my students copy the chart into their Reading Response Journals before they move on to their independent reading activity. 

I usually hang my charts here and rotate them in and out as I teach and reteach certain skills.  Two of these charts are recycled from earlier in the year.  The inferencing one on the far right is a new one we tried this week.  We are reviewing literacy skills in preparation for the new STAAR test, so that's the reason for the recycle/update kind of charts.

Another thing that I am passionate about is my word wall.  Coming from a primary background, I know the importance of a visual vocabulary reminder.  However, 4th graders don't need to know how to spell their sight words.  Even my ESL students have that down.  So I created a Parts-of-Speech word wall!  I absolutely love it and so do my students.  Here is a picture of it:

In the beginning of the year, I would write words on sentence strips and staple them to the chart.  Then I realized how much easier it is to just write new words on the butcher paper!  Duh!  (I'm not known for my common sense!)  I choose words that students ask about or that we see in authentic texts.  My students use this wall in writing as well.  I did use pictures with the idioms at the beginning of the year to support my ELLs.  By the way, Parts, More Parts, and Even More Parts, all by Tedd Arnold are FANTASTIC stories to read aloud when teaching idioms!  My ELLs especially benefitted from the texts.

I really love and trust my students, so today was a disappointing day for me.  I have a huge collection of books that I have bought over the years. I have everything from simple texts to hardback novels.  I always spend at least $100 at our school bookfair.  I also buy new books that I find interesting or that I want to read.  I put the books in my classroom library, unless I am saving them for a lesson.

 My students come from low income families who may not have access to new books or transportation to go to the library.  They are allowed to check out three books from our school library, but there are limited times that students can visit the library.  So, after reading The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller, I decided that if I wanted to create readers, I needed to be willing to allow students to use my books as needed.  I allow my students to check out books from me, take them home, and return them when they are done.  Last year, my students handled this very well and treated my books like treasures.  This year, not so much.  However, I've soldiered on.  I also allow students from other classrooms, who come to me for focused instruction during small group time, check out my books.  Well, today I caught one of those students with one of my paperback books.  She was on the carpet, kneeling on my book while it was open, and moving her knees back and forth.  Essentially, she was tearing up my book.  I could not believe it!!  She is no longer allowed to use any books from my library and I let her know that I was disappointed.  I was almost in tears! 
My books are my specials things that I share with them.  I didn't yell at her or stomp around.  In my calmest voice, I told her what my books meant to me and how she let me down.  She started to cry so I knew there was remorse there.  But I feel betrayed and let down.  I don't know...maybe I took destruction of my treasures too personally.

Well...tomorrow is Friday.  That means our weekly assessments!  I can only hope thier scores improve!  15 more days until the Writing STAAR!

Have a Fantabulous Friday!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

In the beginning...

So...this is my first blog post...

Where to begin?  As I stated in my profile, this blog is for me.  Teachers in my education classes always stressed how important "reflection journals" were to teachers.  Well, 6 years later, I still don't have one! So, here and now, I've decided that I need to start my!  I feel that maybe, just maybe, I'll feel obligated to keep it up! 

Tonight's post won't carry a teaching reflection.  I'm just trying to figure this all out!  However, I will share that I am a married, 4th grade, middle-aged, mother of two, mother-in-law, Potter-loving teacher who loves her job!

Now, being a Texas teacher is a bit of a stressor at this time.  Our new state assessment, the STAAR, has turned out to be a pain in my curriculum-overwhelmed butt!! I teach ESL students, on top of Language Arts and Social Studies, so my students will be assessed in Reading AND Writing.  Needless to say, within the last week, I have resigned myself to the fact that as long as I know that I have done my very best and used every idea that I've had, I can let go and pray.  When I know better, I will do better.

Until then...

I have a serious Pinterest problem!!  But I am sure finding some FANTASTIC ideas that other teachers have posted, as well as some fabulous blogs!

This blog will start off simple, but I sure hope it turns into something productive for me!!