Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Farewell My Friends - A Note to Fifth Graders

If you have ever stopped by this blog before, you have probably noticed that I write about my first graders often.  Today, I was thinking about Tessa.  Tessa is a 5th grader.  She’s bright, mild mannered, and tall.  I know that sounds odd, but I have a soft spot for tall girls because they remind me of my daughter and of myself.  Anyway, Tessa was in my classroom when she was in first grade.

It occurred to me that I would soon have to say goodbye to Tessa and her friends as they move on to middle school.  Each year, the teachers write notes to the 5th graders and they are arranged into memory books for each student to have as a keepsake.  I was thinking about what I would say to these kids.  This is what I would want them to know.

Thank you 5th graders for allowing me to teach you when you were in first grade.  You were the first, 1st graders that I had ever taught after having taught third graders for 10 years.  When I agreed to teach first grade, I had no idea I would enjoy it so much.  Because of you, I fell in love with teaching first graders.   I’m not going to say good-bye, so Farewell my Friends.

What does your school/building do to celebrate with your 5th graders who are moving on to middle school?  I would love to know.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Ballerina Flats and Snow?

Eight of us are gathered around a long table in the corner of the room.  Excited chatter fills the air and settles around us like a warm blanket.  There are two or three conversations taking place at one time.  There’s laughter, questions, smiles, and more laughter.

Outside the snow continues to fall.  Just a few minutes earlier, we trudged through three new inches of snow amidst complaints of how some of us chose the wrong shoes this morning.  Some of us were complaining about how the salt stains were already starting to leave ugly impressions on our nice leather boots.  One person had bravely chosen and worn ballerina flats without socks.  Another of us had selected a pair of athletic shoes.  None of which was the appropriate choice for a day like today…snowy, windy, and blustery cold.

None of that really mattered now because we were enjoying the moment, an early lunch with colleagues after a morning of professional development.  We were not scarfing down food in our classrooms for a chance to get a few more things done.  We were not eating among the familiar people and surroundings of the staff lounge.  

We were enjoying a meal far away from thoughts of rubrics, checklists, and writing samples. 

Well, almost.

There was still school talk mixed in with a few other conversations.  But today, in this place, at this time…it felt different.  It felt warm…in spite of the snow.

Monday, March 2, 2015

What Happens in 1st Grade - Stays in 1st Grade

Today is Monday.  Most Monday’s are quite busy in my first grade classroom.  However, today was a bit busier than usual.  
Why you ask?  
It may have had something to do with any or all of the following:  We are celebrating “March is Reading Month” with various activities, including visits from mystery readers like, The Cat in the Hat.  We are reading and voting on our favorite books like Amazing Grace and Chester.  We are also rehearsing Michael’s Cat, our readers’ theater play, so we can read it with our first grade friends in Iowa during a Google Hangout (which is similar to Skype) later in the week.  During our busy day we solved lots of problems and one mystery.

These are snippets of our busy day:

 First Graders: 
“When is the Cat in the Hat Coming?”
“What time is the Cat in the Hat Coming?”
“Why isn’t the Cat in the Hat Coming today?”
“It said on the calendar that the Cat in the Hat is coming today!”
“The Cat in the Hat is coming on Wednesday.” 
“He’s going to some classrooms today and he’s coming to our room on Wednesday.” 
“He couldn’t go to all the classrooms today so some classes have to wait until Wednesday.”

First Graders:
“I can’t see myself on the Smart Board.”
“Where am I?  I can’t see myself!”
“It’s not important for you to see yourself, it’s important for the other class to see you.” 
“Make sure you are facing the camera.”

First Graders:
Amazing Grace only got 4 votes and Chester got 16 votes.”
“It’s o.k. If one book got 16 votes and the other book only got 4 votes.” 
“Other classes will be reading and voting on the same books and we’ll add our votes to theirs.”

First Graders:
“I can’t find the cap to my marker.”
“Where is my eraser?”
“Check under you foot, I see a cap over there.”
“Look behind you, I bet that’s your eraser.”

First Grader:
“I put my backpack on the floor in the meeting area and now it’s gone.” 
“I think someone took it!”
“Did you look everywhere?”
“Let’s take another look.”
“Is that it, over there, by the trash can?”


I wonder what mysteries we'll solve tomorrow?  Stay tuned!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

It Starts With Relationships

Sometimes, I have to remind myself to slow down, and enjoy the moment.  This statement can be applied to so many areas and events in our lives.  This mantra seems to have attached itself to my thoughts these days.  If I embrace it, it will certainly impact my teaching and the relationships I'm building with my students in positive ways.  When I think about it, this is the reasons why I became a teacher in the first place...because I wanted to make a difference.  

It starts with relationships.  Maybe you've heard this before, but it's true.  If you want to reach a child, build a relationship with him first and the rest will follow.  It's easy to get caught up in the day to days of teaching.  The mental checklists, the lesson plans, and the curriculum are all constant staples in our world.   However, these will not be the things that our students will remember.

Last week, one of my first graders asked me if she could share something during our morning meeting.  If you know anything about first graders, you know they enjoy telling REALLY long stories.  While I enjoy their stories, we don't have enough hours in the day to entertain them all.  So, I reluctantly agreed to let this eager first grade share her story.  We were in the middle of our meeting and Karina asked if she could get the note she wanted to share.  I said yes, and she returned with a piece of notebook paper.  The title at the top was, "10 Things I Like About My Teacher".  Here is her list:

1.  She is nice.
2.  She loves us.
3.  She believes us.
4.  When we can't do something she helps us.
5.  She lets us have free choice.
6.  She is wonderful.
7.  She is funny.
8.  She laughs at what we say that is funny.
9.  She is serious.
10. We love her.

As she was reading this list, I had to smile.  I had no idea that I was the subject for her list.  It was so sweet and so sincere.  I can't tell you how glad I was to have taken the time to let her share this note.  I especially like number nine but I'm not so sure how to take it.  It does confirm a few things.  Karina knows that we do "serious" work in our classroom, but we also take the time to know each other, love each other, and... laugh.

By the way, Karina said that it was o.k. for me to share her note.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015


It was the morning of our Polar Express Party.  My first graders were expected to arrive at any moment.  Everything was set up and ready to go.  One of the parents had already agreed to bring in the milk that morning for the hot chocolate.  As I plugged in my Crock Pot and turned it on, I was praying that the milk would arrive soon so that the hot chocolate would be ready in time for the party. 

As the morning bell chimed, I could hear excited, little voices in the hallway.  My students started entering the classroom with big smiles and even bigger bundles of blankets and stuffed animals.  The milk arrived sooner than I expected.  I thanked the parent and immediately began to pour the cold milk into the HOT Crock Pot…crackle, CRACKLE, CRACKLE.  WHOOOOOOOSH!  OMG, OMG, OMG” was all I could say as the milk went everywhere.   I stood there with my mouth agape and holding each half of the Crock Pot in my hands.  I watched in amazement as the milk poured down the counter and onto the floor.  The milk was on my jeans and shoes, but I stood there motionless and in disbelief.

Weeks later I would use this story during writing workshop.  We were adding ideas to our Tiny Topic notebooks.  “Do you guys remember our Polar Express Party?” I asked.  “I’m going to add that story idea to my Tiny Topic notebook and I’m calling it, The Hot Chocolate Fiasco.” I told them.  “What’s a fiasco?” several kids inquired.  “It’s when something turns out to be a disaster,” I admitted.  They all laughed and immediately started sharing ideas for what they would call this story.  The most popular idea was, The Hot Chocolate Explosion.  I love when my stories inspire them to write similar stories.  Now we have a shared experience that could be used in our writing.  It’s really important to show them how we can use our daily experiences for great writing ideas.

Last week I was looking over some of the pieces in our writing folders.  I came across this story by Spencer.  It’s called, Exploding Hot Chocolate.  Take a look at the title page and the dedication page below.  By the way, the circled “c” stands for copyright.

I absolutely love working with early writers.  They are so brave and often very willing to try something new.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015


It’s hard to believe that it’s already February.  February happens to be one of my favorite months of the year.  It could be because it’s my birth month, or because it’s the shortest month of the year.  It could be because of Valentine's Day.  Maybe it’s a combination of the three.  When I think of February, I think of love. 

What does love mean to you?  The first thing that comes to mind is a scripture from the bible; ‘For God loved the world so much that he sent us his only son…’ I’m paraphrasing just a bit, but I think you get the meaning.  Some of you even know this scripture or have at least heard it before.  To think of sending away your only child for the sake of others, now that’s what I call love.  I have an only child.  Only, she’s not a child anymore.  She’s 20 years old.  However, with the exception of my husband, I can’t think of a single person I love more.  I used to tell her when she was just a little girl that I loved her so much that I would give my life for hers, if it were ever necessary.  She would always look deep into my eyes when I would tell her that. Then a little smile would appear on her face.  She knew that I meant those words and I knew she took comfort in them.

It’s so important to show and tell the people we care about, how much we love them.  I don’t think anyone gets tired of hearing another person utter the words, “I love you”.  However, saying, “I love you,” doesn’t come easy for everyone.  Sometimes people show love in the things that they do.  As a child, I don’t recall hearing those words spoken by my parents very often.  I think they grew up not hearing those words uttered to them and, in turn, it was that much more difficult to utter them to their children.  However, I’ve always been of the opinion that just because that’s where you come from, it doesn’t mean that’s where you have to stay.  So, I made a conscious decision that when I had children I would not only show them, I would tell them and tell them often.  Don’t misunderstand, I knew my parents loved me because of all the things that they did for my siblings and I.  They showed us love through their work ethic and by providing us with a better life than the one they had.  They showed their love by always giving us their time and attention.  I always felt their love as a child, even though it wasn’t expressed verbally.  Those various “acts” of love also count.  This leads me to my question.  How do YOU express love to the people around you?  How do YOU show love to the people you see each day?  I'm referring to family members, children, friends, colleagues, neighbors and others.  Do you show love in your deeds and actions?  Perhaps we need to expand our circles of love and extend them to encompass more people.  I’m going to expand my love circle to my colleagues this week.  Perhaps they will notice, perhaps not.  It really doesn’t matter because my gift will be the love that comes back to me.  You get what you give, right?

Thanks for stopping by.  Don’t forget to show or tell someone that you love them today or during the week.  Prepare for the love that’s coming back your way and look for it to come in different ways.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Is Every Group of Kids Really That Different? Yes!

It always amazes me how every group of first graders I teach is different.  Yes, there are some things that are the same about all first graders.  They are still very little, they are excited about learning new things, there is a huge range with regard to first grade reading abilities, they still cry in first grade, and they love when their teacher acts silly.  All of those things tend to hold true with each first grade class I teach.  However, there are so many other things that make each group of first graders uniquely different from the previous groups.  My class this year is no exception.  There are so many things that amaze me about my current group of first graders.  I know what you're thinking.  Of course they are different from your last group because each child is different.  When you have a different group of kids you have a completely different classroom.  Yes, I can't argue with that.  However, it's more than that.  This group of kids...this group of personalities that has been put together to make up my wonderful classroom, has a very different vibe.

One of the things that I love about young learners is their excitement.  My current group of first graders gets excited about everything, even little things.  Little things, like Cougar Paw stickers, pleases them.  They beam with pride when they are recognized for working hard or helping a friend.  Just the simple gesture of sticking a tiny Cougar Paw on a hand is enough.  This class also loves, loves, loves to dance and sing.  During morning meeting they happily sing songs/poems for our fluency practice.  They enjoy creating hand movements to go along with the songs.  They even sing songs that they remember from previous weeks.  When we add new poems/songs each Friday to our Poetry Notebooks you find many flipping back through the pages to read or sing their favorite poems and songs.

One of the best things I noticed about this group is how much they love to work on their blogs.  They love connecting with other first grades in our classroom and from around the world.  They also enjoy creating new blog posts and they come of with some very creative topics.  Topics like, My First Grade Chores, Walking in the Hallway, The Best Halloween, and My Favorite Story to name a few.  This weekend I found myself approving 69 comments.  That's a huge increase compared to last year's class.  Whenever we have a short week due to a holiday break or other school closing the first thing my students want me to do is to establish a time when they can reschedule their blog day.  I also have more parents and relatives commenting on their child's blog this year.  Many of my first graders are even using their blogs after school and on weekend.  I don't think I've ever had as much excitement about blogging as I have this year.

I have a very thoughtful group of first graders this year.  I continue to get tons of "love notes" and drawings that are created especially for me.  I get tons of hugs as they enter the classroom or leave for recess or at dismissal.  I have kids who enjoy helping their peers with drawing bat wings because they are "bat experts" or putting away supplies for a friend who forgot to clean up after an activity, or volunteering to switch a Daily 5 choice so that a classmate would have a partner for buddy reading.  I could go on and on and on.  The thing is, this group of kids has a special place in my heart.  It's not possible for me to have a "bad day" because every day that I have the pleasure of teaching this group of kids makes for a "very, very good day". 

What's different about your group of students this year?  Please leave a comment.  I would love to know.