Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Power of Laughter (SOL15 Day 25)

Today's Slice is sort of a part three to the continuing story of one of my first graders.  Two days ago I wrote about his uncooperative behavior during our guided reading lesson.  Yesterday, I wrote about how this little one had turned things around, and at the beginning of our reading lesson he admitted to having had a "bad" day the day before.

I found out today that I use the word "so" a lot.  Have you ever had someone bring something to your attention that you didn't know, but you sort of do?  This was how I felt.  I was sitting in the meeting area with my first graders.  The little one that I mentioned above said, out of the clear blue, "Mrs. Ruckes, you say 'SO' a lot."  I'm sure I had a puzzled look on my face.  "I do?" I asked with a surprised tone.  That was all I needed to hear to get me started...a little fuel to my fire.  I started saying "SO" before every statement I made and with each "SO" I would look at the little guy who brought this to my attention.  Each time I said it, he covered his face in anguish.  At one point I looked right at him and asked, "Am I annoying you yet?"  "Yes!" he replied emphatically.  "Good!" I said and I continued to repeat the word "SO" before everything I said.  The two of us began to laugh hysterically.  Finally, another first grader asked us why we were laughing.  "It's an inside joke." I replied.  I don't know which of us enjoyed this episode the most but I suspect it was me.  I love having a good laugh with my first graders.  I can't tell you how surprised I was that this particular student noticed that I use the word "SO" frequently.  Usually, he appears uninterested in what is going on around him and I spend a lot of time trying to keep him engaged in what we are doing. That's one of the reasons why he sits directly in front of me.  I think this proves that, sometimes, when he appears not to be listening...he really is!

I love this time of the year with my first graders.  They have grown so much since the beginning of the year.  I love how confident they have become.  I love that they feel comfortable enough with me, to share a personal observation about me.  I love that we can laugh together and have a bit of fun while we are learning.  I love that I'm still discovering new things about them.

I am NOT going to love letting them go in June.  This group has a special place in my heart.  I suppose, it's only fair that another teacher gets the chance to enjoy this great group of kids.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Connecting With Books

On Monday I wrote about one of my first graders who was being somewhat uncooperative during a guided reading group.  When he joined the group he was giggling, making his voice sound strange, and basically messing around.  I sent the other readers back to their reading spots because I needed to have some one-on-one time with this little guy.  If you would like to hear more about what happened yesterday with this little one, you can read about it here.  To make a long story short, I wouldn't let him off the hook and insisted that he participate in what we were doing.  What he was really doing was going through the motions (of reading).  He wasn't putting his heart or his thinking into it.  After all, reading is thinking.  When readers are engaged with the text they are making meaning, applying reading strategies, and enjoying the text.  He was reading as if he just wanted to get it over with.

Today when this first grader and I met to revisit the text.  The first thing he said to me was, "I read the book to my mom last night."  "That's great!" I responded.  Then he went on to say, "You know yesterday, I was having a bad day."  My reply was, "I'm glad that you are having a good day today!"  He agreed and then proceeded to read the entire book to me perfectly and without hesitation.

I don't know why he was uncooperative and a bit off-kilter when we met yesterday.  Today he obviously had a change of heart (or change of attitude I should say).  A few questions ran through my mind as I reflected on the situation.

  • Did he mention our encounter to his mom and had she scolded him?  
  • Did he realize that his uncooperative behavior was unnecessary?  
  • Was he simply trying to avoid the task because he thought he would not be successful?
This first grader recently completed 12 weeks of reading recovery.  He didn't successfully discontinue but he has grown a lot as a reader.  In these last few months of school I know I'll need to spend a lot of time keeping him connected to books.  My goal for him this summer is that his books will become some of his best friends.  I'll keep you posted.

How do you keep your at-risk readers engaged and connected to books during the school year and especially over the summer?  I would love to know.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Sometimes We have to Redo It (SOL Day 23)

As I was reading with one of my first graders today, he was being a bit uncooperative.  Each time he would make a mistake, he would insist that he had said the word correctly.  When I would ask him to reread the page to correct his error he would become frustrated.  At one point he said, "Why do I have to start over again?"  My response was, "These are words that I know that YOU know.  Each time you read these words incorrectly, you have to go back and reread that part again."  He straightened up, took a deep breath, and reread that part again perfectly.  He continued to read the remainder of the book accurately and with confidence.  When he was finished, he smiled and I smiled back at him.

Reflecting on this moment, I'm thinking about some of the things we may have to do again in our lives.  Here are a few things that come to mind.

  • We rewrite writing pieces.
  • We reread books.
  • We replay movies and songs.
  • We reorganize our closets, offices and work spaces.
  • We reexamine our motives and priorities.
  • We reconsider our decisions.
  • We rekindle relationships.
  • We rework our plans.
  • We revise our goals.
  • We reclaim territories and positions.
  • We reacquaint with friends, family and colleagues.
  • We recharge our batteries.

What are some other things we may have to do over?  Please share.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

A Great Day of Learning at the 2015 MACUL Technology Conference (SOL Day 22)

Today's Slice is a reflection on my experience at the MACUL Technology Conference  in Detroit, Michigan.  MACUL is an acronym for Michigan Association for Computer Users in Learning.  MACUL brings educators of all levels together to share their learning.  I attended the conference on Thursday and wrote a slice about how it was one of the best parts of my day.  Some of my fellow Slicers wanted to know what my biggest take-away was and if there were any cool ideas I could share.  Thanks to their questions,  I thought it would be a good idea to write a reflection on my conference experience.

This was a three day conference which started on Wednesday, however, I was only able to attend on Friday.  The most difficult thing about the day was deciding which sessions to attend.  I downloaded the conference app a few days before the conference and I bookmarked way more sessions than i could possibly attend.  My thinking was, if a session was full then I would have a back-up and if a session turned out not to be what I expected, I could leave it and head to another presentation.

The first session I attended was, Creating Next Generation Classrooms:  Innovative and Personalized Learning Through Technology Infusion.  Saline Area Schools' teachers and administrators shared how they redesigned learning to provide a personalized curriculum and 21st century experiences for their k-5 students.  With this approach the classrooms are called learning labs.  In these learning labs everything is happening at once.  In this environment, lessons are flipped and teachers act as facilitators/coaches.  This approach fosters collaboration and critical thinking and learning experiences that are project-based and real-world.

The second session I attended was, Inspire Innovation By Fostering Collaboration and Creativity.  This was presented by Drew and Brad from Two Guys and Some iPads.  I loved this quote from Brad, "Our job is to teach kids to love to learn."  Here are some of the cool tech tools that these two guys shared:

  • Pixel Press Floors: Draw Your Own Video Game - This is an app that uses symbols for secret messages.  It allows you to draw levels on a sketch sheet, capture it on a device, edit from the app, then design and publish it to the arcade.
  • Canva - This app allows you to create a graphic design like a pro.
  • Tinker Cad - Use this site to build 3D models.  Students create and publish for the world.  A very cool feature is that these models can be downloaded into Minecraft.
  • Structure Sensor - Is a 3D sensor that plugs into a device and allows you to scan people and objects and send them across the world.  You have the ability to pull your world into a digital form.
My third session was, Think Like a Teacherpreneur.  This session was all about making the most of the educator business world.  Marketing you materials on Teachers Pay Teachers, writing and publishing ebooks, and using social media through Twitter and Blogging.  In one word "Branding".  The biggest take-away for me was the emphasis on asking questions.  If someone is doing something that you would like to do, ask them how they did it.  That's a no brainer, right?

The last session I attended was, Coding…It's Elementary.  The presenters shared how they are introducing students to coding across their district.  There's a shortage of coders and the tech tools are free at sites like  These are student driven projects.  I loved the idea of their "Code and Tell" sessions where their students present and give feedback to their peers.  I can't wait to introduce coding to my students.  

The highlight of the day was meeting three of my Twitter friends face-to-face and for the very first time.  I feel like I've known these ladies forever, but we had never met in person until that day.  I first caught up with Shannon (@ShannonDescamps) and Amy (@allaidlaw) and later I caught up with Kristi (@KristiZoerhof).  I chat with these ladies every Sunday night during #1stchat and it was so amazing to be able to see them in person.  

Amy, me, and Shannon

Me and Kristi

The closing Keynote was delivered by Two Guys and an iPad.  I mentioned their presentation in my second session above.  You can also follow Brad (@Techbradwaid) and Drew (@TechMinoc) and @2GuyShow on Twitter.  They gave an amazing and motivating talk to a ballroom full of educators.  They shared The YOU MATTER MANIFESTO which you can read more about here.  My favorite quote of the day from their presentation was, "Michigan has some of the best educators around."  "Many people ask us, what's in the water up there?"  I have to agree.  Michigan teachers rock!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Good Friends (SOL Day 21)

Yesterday, was part two of a very long end-of-the-week.  I came home from a technology conference and I was exhausted.  Part of it was from the field trip my first graders went to on Thursday.  Part of it was all the planning I did for the sub who was to cover my class while I attended the conference.  Part of it was the hour long drive to and from the conference.

As soon as I arrived home, I had a quick snack and…crashed!  I took a very long nap and then woke up in a panic because I remembered I still needed to write my Slice.  As I was writing it, my phone starts to buzz.  I had it on vibrate because I didn't want it to ring, chime, or send alerts while I was sleeping.  I picked up the phone and noticed two missed calls from one of my friends.  I called her back and she invited me out for a drink.  At first I declined, explaining my long week, the conference, my exhaustion, and my Slice.  As we continued to talk I began to change my mind.  "Okay", I replied.  "Call me when you get there and I'll finish my Slice and meet you there as soon as I can."  I think I wrote the fastest Slice I've ever written.

I met my girlfriend at a local mexican restaurant.  We had the best time catching up and the entertainment was good, too!  I'm so glad I let her talk me into joining her, she's quite good at it.  I think I've turned the corner on my stressful week.  I would even venture to say I feel energized!  Good friends can have that effect on you.   

The Best Part of the Day (SOL Day 20)

Today's slice describes the best thing about today and the worst thing about today.  Even with a bad day we can finds something good, if we look hard enough.

The worst thing about today:
Yesterday, I wrote about a very challenging day.  I hate to say that it didn't end there.  I got four hours of sleep last night because I had a number of things to do before going to bed.  This morning I got up at 5:00 a.m. and after getting dressed and eating breakfast, I drove for an hour in horrible traffic and a congested parking situation to attend a conference.  I was so tired I could barely see straight.

The best thing about today:
Attending the MACUL Technology Conference was one of the highlights of my day.  I was exposed to some of the most innovative ways to use technology in the classroom.  My head is still spinning with all the things that I learned and want to incorporate before the school year ends.  To top off this great day of learning, I had the pleasure of meeting three of my Twitter friends face to face.  These are teachers I chat with on Sunday nights during #1stchat.  It was so much fun meeting them in person.  I feel like I've known these ladies for years, even though we've never met in person until today.  It was smiles and hugs and stories.  This was truly the best thing about today.
A Selfie with Amy and Shannon

A Selfie with Kristen

Thursday, March 19, 2015

One of Those Days

It's field trip day!
Excitement in the air.
No bus.
Schedule conflict.
Returned to the classroom for another hour of learning.
Had a 15 minute lunch.
Bus arrives.
We board.
Arrive at our destination.
Great presentation and lots of learning.
Returned to school for more learning.
School day ends.
Stayed late to write sub plans and get a few things done.
Left work and 8 p.m.
Picked up dinner.
Ate it!
To tired to think straight.
Tomorrow's another day.
Thank goodness!