Tuesday, March 31, 2015

In Reflection, In Celebration

Today is the last day of the Slice of Life Story Challenge.  It's been 31 days of writing.  Sometimes the words came effortlessly and sometimes the words were strained.  It's a day for reflections and a day of celebration.

In Reflection

This challenge has helped me to...

  1. identify with the writers I teach.
  2. recognize that I have a few rituals.
  3. push through the dry days to write something worth sharing.
  4. use inspiration from mentors and others.
  5. discover things about my own writing.
  6. explore new techniques and formats.
  7. gain more confidence as a writer.
  8. develop my voice and my writing style.
  9. build my stamina for writing.
  10. use my intuitive nature to write stories I didn't know existed.

In Celebration

This challenge has helped me to...
  1. Grow as a writer.
  2. Improve my practice as a writing teacher.
  3. Write, Write, Write...even when I thought the words were not there!
Thank you to everyone involved in this challenge!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Today I...

I use this format in the beginning of the year with my first grade bloggers.  I decided to use it for today's Slice since I am running out of both time and inspiration.

Today I ...
hugged my pillow a little bit tighter because I did NOT want to get out of bed.
Today I…
smelled fresh coffee brewing in the kitchen since my husband makes it before leaving for work.
Today I…
called my mom on my way to work because she's an early riser and I like checking in with her.
Today I…
missed four of my first graders because they were absent.  The room felt different without them.
Today I
laughed with my first graders because they are always very entertaining.
Today I …
talked and listened.  Hopefully, I did more listening than talking.
Today I…
was hugged, complimented, smiled at, and questioned.  Spencer enjoys asking me lots of questions.
Today I…
felt a gentle breeze move across my face as I waited with my students in the pick-up line.
Today I…
squinted at the sun's brilliance and immediately reached for my sunglasses.
Today I…
called out to a young man who I thought was my nephew, only to find out, it wasn't him.
Today I…
spent way more money at the grocery store than I originally intended.  So, what else is new?
Today I…
am writing my next to last Slice (for this challenge) while dinner is baking in the oven.

I wonder what tomorrow will bring?

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Students Need to Connect (Day 29 #SOL15)

It's true that most kids love to tell stories and share what's going on in their lives.  When one of my first graders wears a new pair of shoes, they can't wait to show me.  If they bring a new backpack to school, they can't wait to show me.  When they loose a tooth, they can't wait to show and tell me.  Each day in my first grade classroom we have a Morning Meeting.  Our morning meetings start with greetings.  A small ball is passed from child to child.  Each child greets the person on either side of them as they say, "Good Morning,(insert name)."  After the greetings, we have a lightening round.  During the lightening round you get to share news or information with the class.  The only rule is it must be quick, like lightening.  It cannot be a long, drawn out story.  Lightening is fast.  So our round of stories should move along fairly fast. Of course, you can pass if you have nothing you would like to share.  This is a favorite part of our morning meeting.  We don't hold a lightening round every day, but we always have them on Fridays and Mondays.  The lightening round gives my first graders a chance to tell the stories they can't wait to share.  Sometimes, a little one will approach me saying, "Mrs. Ruckes, guess what?  I went to..."  I will usually say, "That's great, but let's save the details for the lightening round."  They always agree because they know they'll have a bigger audience if they do so.

I have one student who loves to share stories with me about her weekend, something that happened that morning, or something that happened the night before.  These stories are very long and she tells them at a whisper.  Sometimes these stories occur during our work time and they prevent her from focusing on her activity.  I've recently resorted to giving her talking sticks.  She gets three sticks each day.  She has to use these sticks when she wants to tell me a special story.  This doesn't include questions about her work.  She can ask me as many school related questions as she needs.  The talking sticks are for those random stories that she can't wait to share.  The second day she had her taking sticks, she almost used them up within the first hour of school.  I reminded her that if she used them all, she would not be able to share any stories with me for the rest of the day.  She thought about it, and returned to her seat clenching her last talking stick.  It's been two weeks since I gave her the first set of talking sticks.  On Friday, she even had one to spare that she didn't need to use.  Now that's progress.

How do you balance your students' need to connect with you and each other and your instructional time?  Please share in the comments below.

Accepting the Bad with the Good (Day 28 of SOL15)

Since I teach first grade, I'm assigned an early childhood education para-educator.  This individual is assigned to my classroom three days a week for 45 minutes.  I don't get to choose which person is assigned to my room, however, this year I was fortunate enough to get someone I had worked with the previous year.

My para-educator is amazing!  She's been in this position for a number of years and knows exactly what to do to provide the kind of assistance that's needed in a primary classroom.  The downside is, this person has accumulated a lot of sick/personal days due to her years of service.  It seems like whenever I have big project planned where I'm counting on her support, she happens to be out of the building that day.  I've exchanged phone numbers and asked that she send me a text when she is out but that doesn't seem to work either.

Today I was considering how to best deal with this situation since her absences do affect what I can accomplish on a given day.  As I was contemplating all of this, it occurred to me that there are so many things that she does well.  Yesterday, she was catching up my stack of returned homework papers.  She was doing this on her own time and without me asking her to do so.  She works with two book club groups each week, she helps me assess my students, she's great at art projects and displays.  I could go on and on.  The thing is, I can't fault her for the time that she takes off.  When she is present, she makes up for the days that I refer to as "missing in action" and I appreciate her immensely for all of those things that she does so well.  Sometimes, you have to accept the bad (or not so good) with the good!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Don't Quit Your Daydream (Day 27 #SOL15)

This week we had a "wearing words" day to celebrate March is Reading Month.  My shirt said, Don't Quit Your Daydream.
Today I was thinking about daydreams.  In a classroom setting, daydreams have a negative connotation.  When kids are daydreaming, we see them as unfocused, not engaged, not listening, etc.  I almost didn't wear the shirt because of that thinking.  I decided that having daydreams, really should not be viewed in a negative way.  Daydreams are a good thing.  Daydreams motivate us to reach goals, make plans, and look towards the future.  I am a huge believer in dreams in general.  Hear are a few of my dreams (or daydreams).

I dream ...
that one day my daughter will become an acclaimed writer and a published author and illustrator because that is her dream.  Now, it is my dream for her.

I dream...
that one day my husband and I will retire to somewhere warm and live in in a beautiful house with a big wrap-around porch and a porch-swing where I can sip iced tea and read, read, read until my hearts content and has beautiful views that will inspire me to write.

I dream...
that one day I will be able to travel on a whim, to wherever I want and when ever I want to.

I dream...
that my first graders will, each in their own way, leave first grade with a love for learning!

I decided to ask my first graders about their dreams.  Dreams are hard to articulate when you are only six or seven years old.  Hear are a few of their dreams:

I dream...
I will be a teacher or an astronaut. S.S.

I dream...
I will go to Florida and North Carolina again.  M.B.

I dream...
I will be a pediatrician one day. K.M.

I dream...
I will go to Cedar Point and Splash Village again. E.V.

I dream...
I will be an eye doctor or an architect one day.  L.E.

I dream...
I will be a singer. A.F.

I dream...
I will be a scientist. A.W.

I dream...
I will go to Washington D.C. and I will ask the president where the pet shop is.

I dream...
I will get another cat.  T.C.

I dream...
I will write a book. H.Y.

I dream...
I will go to Florida again. J.P.

I dream...
I will be a game expert. N.C.

I dream...
I will have 3 guinea pigs.  I already have 2.

Daydreams are important.  What are your daydreams.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

My Top Two Patience Testers (Day 26 of SOL15)

I think you need to have a lot of patience to teach a group of first graders.  When I find myself loosing patience, I remind myself that they're only 6 years old.  Today I'm considering two things that are currently testing my patience.  I'm calling them Patience Testers.  

Patience Tester #1
This week our Physical Education Teacher started promoting the Jump Rope for Heart event.  Kids jump rope to raise money for heart disease.  In addition to raising money, they win prizes.  One of the prizes they can earn is a lanyard and plastic ducks they can attach to it.  It is one of the first prizes they can earn and extremely coveted by all first graders.  This morning a parent dropped off her little one early (about 10 minutes before the morning bell).  She wanted to deliver the pledge money for her first grader's pledge form that she forgot to attached the day before.  Shortly after, the bell rang and we started our morning.  A little bit later the mom appears in the doorway with the lanyard and the ducks.  Her son excitedly runs over to collect his prizes.  Let's forward to about an hour into our morning.  One of the ducks has fallen off the lanyard and he brings it over for me to fix. This is where my patience is tested.  I'm in the middle of teaching and the last thing I have time for is attaching ducks to the lanyard.  I calmly tell him to put the duck in his backpack and his mom can attach it when he gets home.  A little bit later the same child comes over to me again with a second duck that needs to be hooked onto the lanyard.  I repeat my earlier instructions.  Now, this duck thing is becoming a Patience Tester.  I'm happy that my first graders are raising money for a good cause, but those annoying ducks are a big distraction.  My new rule:  All ducks must remain in your backpack so they arrive home safely.

Patience Tester #2
Shoe tying!  Need I say more?  To solve the problem of having to stop what I'm doing to tie shoes throughout the day, I created a list of Shoe Tie Helpers.  It doesn't solve the problem completely because my first graders often seek shoe tying helpers at the most inconvenient times (like right in the middle of a lesson).  "Can somebody tie my shoe?!" has been a common request in our classroom.  Rarely, will I assist in tying shoes because it's a skill I encourage my first graders to learn as soon as possible.  Today, I made an exception and stopped to tie a pair of shoes for one of my first graders.  An hour later, the same child yells, "Can somebody tie my shoe?"  I couldn't believe it!  The same shoes I tied an hour earlier and with double knots.  When I questioned him about this, I found out that he had untied his shoes on purpose.  My plan:  Send home a note to parents requesting that they teach their first graders how to tie their shoes over the break.  I will no longer tie shoes for the remainder of the school year. If they can't tie their own shoes, they will have to enlist a Shoe Tie Helper.

Spring break is around the corner.  I'm sure my patience for ducks will return.  Not for tying shoes, just for ducks.

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.