Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Liebster Award

I love meeting other educators through this blog and on Twitter. I have made a lot of connections and I've gotten a ton of support. When I found out that one of those educators had selected my blog for the Liebster Award, I was thrilled. The Liebster Award is given to a fellow blogger who has fewer than 200 followers. This Award would certainly give that blogger a lot more exposure and their blog would no longer be a well kept secret. Thank you Nancy at Teaching is Elementary for this wonderful nomination!

The Rules for the Liebster Award are:
1. You must post 11 random things about yourself.
2. You must answer the questions that the nominator set for you.
3. You must create 11 new questions for the people you nominate.
4. You must choose 11 other blogs with fewer than 200 followers to nominate and link them in your post.
5. No tag backs to the blog that nominated you, but do leave a comment on their post with the URL of your Liebster post.

 Here goes...

 Random Things About Me:

  1. I have three sisters.
  2. I have a 17 year old daughter.
  3. I'm a huge movie buff.
  4. I love, love, love chocolate!
  5. I prefer daisies to roses.
  6. I get up at 5 a.m. to hit the gym by 5:30 a.m.
  7. I love getting cozy with a good book.
  8. I restore antique furniture in my spare time, when I have spare time.
  9. My Ipad is my favorite new toy.
  10. I'm a shoe fanatic.
  11. I've know my best friend since kindergarten.

Questions from Nancy:
  1. Favorite Book?  The Hunger Games
  2. What is your earliest memory?  Picking apples
  3. Favorite Sound?  The sound of rain
  4. Book or eReader?  Book
  5. Last movie you saw at the theater?  Flight
  6. If you weren't in education - what would you do?  Write Children's Books (future goal)
  7. Can you speak another language?  If so, which one?  No
  8. Favorite subject to teach?  Reading
  9. Sports team you like to watch?  Detroit Tigers
  10. A favorite lesson to teach?   Fluency lesson on Tuning into interesting words 
  11. Would you rather receive an email or letter in the mails?  Letter in the mail
Questions for My Nominees:
  1. Favorite flower other than roses?
  2. Favorite book?
  3. Favorite sound?
  4. A place you want to visit?
  5. Friday evening ritual?
  6. Heals or sneakers?
  7. Morning person or night owl?
  8. Your Star crush?
  9. A person you admire?
  10. Three people (living or not living) you would love to share a meal with?
  11. One word you would use to describe your personality?
My 11 Nominees are:

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Science Rotations in the Primary Classroom

My colleagues and I decided earlier in the school year to teach our science content as a team. In my building we have four first grade teachers. We would use our first science unit, Weather Watchers, to rotate our first graders around four different lessons. We chose Friday as Science Day. Friday is the day we have no special classes and it makes for a very long afternoon of teaching and learning. Additionally, we have to teach this unit during the fall and winter in that it's a weather unit and many of the lessons require observing the weather and using snow (which we didn't get much of last winter here in Michigan).

Last Friday, was our first rotation day. Each of us would teach one of the first 4 lessons. I was given Lesson 1, another teacher was given Lesson 2, and so on. Each of us taught our particular lesson to our own students on Thursday. On Friday we would only need to teach 3 lessons having taught our own students the day before. One of the benefits to teaching rotation style is that each teacher needs to prepare and set up for one lesson rather than 4 different lessons. Our rotations consisted of three sessions that were 35 minutes long with a 15 minute recess in between the second and third rotation. We also scheduled in transition time of 5 minutes between each rotation. The schedule looked something like this:

Rotation 1: 1:15-1:50
Transition: 1:50-1:55
Rotation 2: 1:55-2:30
Recess: 2:30-2:50
Transition: 2:50-2:55
Rotation 3: 2:55-3:30
Transition back to homeroom: 3:30-3:35

 Our first rotation day was exhausting!  There were some things to consider and a few minor problems to work out.  I've listed them below:

  • Two of the teachers didn't have their students wear name tags-Interacting with students is more difficult when you don't know their names.
  • One of the teachers sent her students with pencils-The kids were playing with them during my lesson and were very distracted.
  • Behavior was not at it's best.  Students interrupted the lesson because they wanted to use the bathroom, some were arguing over where they would sit, and several were playing around and not following directions.
  • We have a lot of content to teach in 35 minutes and every minute counts.
Honestly, I wanted to throw in the towel.  It would be so much easier to teach my own students and a lot less stressful.  However, I'm not one to give up so easily.  I had committed to trying the rotations and I wanted to see this through to the end.  What we needed was to make a few adjustments.  These are the adjustments we made prior to our second rotation day:
  • Everyone would remember to have name tags for their students.
  • Each of us would have our students use the bathroom prior to rotation time.
  • Students would not come with pencils since each of us have plenty in our classrooms
  • We would provide students with an incentive to maintain good behavior during the rotations
What would that incentive be?  McGregor Bucks!
What are McGregor Bucks and how do they work?

We have a school-wide behavior program already in place.  In that plan, student get guiding reminders (4 in the morning and 4 in the afternoon) to help them monitor and regulate their behavior.  When a student receives her 4th reminder (for blurting, not following directions, disrespectful behavior, unsafe activity, etc.) they receive a Student Learning Form that is sent home and explains their reminders.  Our "McGregor Bucks" are meant to work within our behavior program.  For our Science rotations, I copied a strip of four, one dollar bills on green paper with our school name (McGregor) written on the front of each one.  We stapled the strip in the back of each students' Science Notebook.  Each time a child was given a reminder, the teacher crossed out one of the bucks.  When the students returned to their homerooms, they were given a treat or reward if they had at least 1 or 2 bucks that were not crossed off.  Treats/rewards included stickers, candy, a classroom celebration to occur on another day, etc.  I'm somewhat old school.  I gave my students a piece of candy for each McGregor Buck that was not crossed off.  All of my students got 4 pieces of candy and one of my students got 3 pieces.  My most difficult to manage student was able to redeem all 4 of his McGregor Bucks and was hooked on the Bucks from the start.  The McGregor Bucks became a visible tool to help them regulate their own behavior.

I have to say that our second Science Rotation Day was a huge success.  The students were exposed to 4 different teachers with different teaching styles, my colleagues and I have new relationships with the other first graders in our building, the students learned a lot of content and had fun in the process.  Our science rotations not only demonstrate best practices in teaching, they are also great examples of collaboration, teamwork and school community.  It's also a reminder of how important it is for educators to work smarter and not harder.  We're already working so very hard these days.  Aren't we?

How are you teaching science in your classroom, grade level, or building?  Do you have an unique way of teaching science?  Leave a comment below.  I would love your input.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

August 10 For 10 Picture Book Event

This is my first year participating in the August 10 For 10 Picture Book Event.  Choosing only 10 books to share with you was a very difficult task.  However, I did manage to shrink down my list down to ten favorites.  These are the books that I tend to read each year in my classroom.  I share these books with my students for various purposes.  Sometimes they're chosen to support a reading strategy, sometimes they teach us life lessons, and often they are read for pure entertainment and enjoyment.

My 10 For 10 Picture Book Favorites

Product DetailsThe Old Woman Who Named Things 
Written by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Kathryn Brown

Cynthia Rylant is one of my favorite picture book authors.  We read a lot of her books in my first grade classroom.   She has two books on this list, so that in itself speaks volumes for her work.  The Old Woman Who Named Things is about an old woman who names the things around her.  She names her car, her furniture, her house, etc.  She names the things she knows she will never outlive.  This is all good and fine until she meets a puppy that she becomes very attached to.  After much reluctance on the old woman's part, she finally names the puppy.

The Old Woman Who Named Things is a wonderful story to read when building conversations around the themes of love, loss, and loneliness.  We use it to help us create a classroom community that is sensitive to those ideas.  I have also used this text with my first graders to demonstrate the comprehension strategy, checking for understanding.  It's a favorite in my classroom each year.  Look closely at the cover illustration...don't you just love her cowboy boots?  I think they're hilarious.  They really give you a glimpse of the old woman's character.

Product Details
Sometimes I'm Bombaloo
By Rachel Vail and illustrated by Yumi Heo

Sometimes I'm Bombaloo is one of the books I read during the first days of school.  I use it to introduce one of our classroom structures, The Safe Place.  The Safe Place is an area in my classroom where students can go when they feel sad, angry, or just plain "bombaloo".  It's just a bean bag which I've placed next to our Friends and Family board.  Sometimes I'm Bombaloo is about a girl who gets angry at different times throughout her day and finds that it can be a little scary having to deal with those feelings.  It's a great book that helps students recognize and deal with their own anger.  My students make lots of connections to the story and it helps us build important conversations around feelings, how we handle disagreements, and what we can do when we need a few minutes to ourselves.

Product Details
By Kevin Henkes

Chrysanthemum is book written by one of our favorite authors, Kevin Henkes.  It's another go-to book I read when we are talking about feelings, and building a classroom community where everyone feels valued.  In the story Chrysanthemum is teased because her name is too long, and she's named after a flower.  The teasing finally stops when the music teacher tells everyone that she has a long name, and that her name is a flower too.   Chrysanthemum is also one of our favorite books to use when we are focusing on expanding our vocabulary and tuning into interesting words.

Product Details
No, David!
By David Shannon                                                                      

No, David! is a big hit in my classroom each year.  I'm always prepared for lots of laughter when I get to the page where David is running down the street naked.  My students think it's hysterical.  It's one of the best picture books that I've come across for helping students make inferences.  I love that it's a quick read since my first graders don't have a lot of stamina, in the beginning of the school year.  We read all of the David
books in my classroom.

Product Details
George Shrinks
By William Joyce

The first time I read George Shrinks, I fell in love with it.  It's a story about a boy who dreams that he turns small.  The suspense starts on the very first page, when the letters GO FROM LARGE to small type.  I love the colorful illustrations in this book.  Imagine being smaller than all of your toys, sitting on a spoon, and riding on your baby brother's back.  Joyce creates a story that uncovers the childhood imagination at its best.  You can't beat that for excitement!

The Paper Bag Princess
By Robert Munsch and illustrated by Michael Martchenko
Product Details
If I had to sum up this book in one word, it would be "Empowering".  The Paper Bag Princess is sure to empower young girls everywhere.  It's not your typical princess story.  There's a prince, a princess, and a dragon to boot.  However, Munsch gives this story so much more.  The Paper Bag Princess doesn't wear a beautiful gown, instead she wears a paper bag, she outsmarts the dragon, and she calls the prince a "bum".  This princess has courage, smarts, and lots of attitude.

The Relatives Came
By Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Stephen Gammell
Product Details
This is the second book by Cynthia Rylant that made my Top 10 list.  The Relatives Came is the story of a family that packs up all their things, jumps in their car, and drives all day to visit relatives.  When they get to their destination there's lots of hugging, pulling, crying, eating, and snoring as the relatives sleep all over the house, in the beds and on the floors.  Most students can relate to the happy times that the relative have during their visit.  I use this book to prepare them for our Family Read-Along.  Parents are invited to bring in books, blankets, and snacks on the second Friday of the new school year.  My first graders are so surprised to see their "relatives" arrive at our door, unannounced.  It's our first reading event of the school year and it's a great way to show parents how much we value reading.

The Table Where Rich People Sit
By Byrd Baylor and illustrated by Peter Parnall
Product Details
The Table Where Rich People Sit was given to me some years ago by one of my students.  It's been one of my favorites ever since.  I love the messages in this story.  The Table Where Rich People Sit is about a girl who thinks her family needs to get more serious about their financial situation.  She calls a family meeting to talk to them but instead she gets a lesson on what is truly important in life.  The pages have a lot of text.  I usually save this on for the second half of the school year when my first graders have more stamina to sit for longer periods of time.  It's a great story to build conversations around the things we value in life and how we can be rich in ways that have very little to do with money.

My Teacher Likes To Say
By Denise Brennan-Nelson and illustrated by Jane Donovan
Product Details
I love language and sharing idioms, proverbs, and cliches with my students.  My Teacher Likes to Say is a visual interpretation of those familiar idioms/proverbs/cliches.  Children, especially first graders, are not at all accustomed to hearing adults speak in these "funny" kinds of ways.  When I was a kid, my teachers often used phrases like, "put on your thinking caps".  Needless to say, I enjoy sharing some of these idioms with my students.  One of my favorites is, "please button you lip".  Read the's a great way to share these fun sayings.

What Do You Do With A Tail Like This?
By Steve Jenkins and Robin Page
Product Details
Steve Jenkins is one of my favorite writers of nonfiction.  He doesn't disappoint with What Do You Do With A Tail Like This? Jenkins introduces readers to all kinds of animals, and shows us how these animals use the different parts of their bodies.  In the very first pages of the book you're shown various noses, and my first graders love guessing which animals they belong to.  If you need more nonfiction books in your classroom library, your students will certainly enjoy this wonderful addition.

I hope you find this list helpful.  There were so many others I wanted to add to the list.  After all, It's 10 for 10!

You can see more August 10 for 10 Picture Book lists at Cathy Mere's site, Reflect and Refine.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Power of Listening: Opening Minds - #CyberPD Part 3

Opening Minds:  Using Language to Change Lives by Peter Johnston (Chapters 7-9)
After reading Johnston's book, Choice Words, there was no question as to whether I would read his latest book, Opening Minds.  As I finished the final chapter, I thought about how reading this book has really opened my mind in terms of the kinds of conversations that can and should be taking place in our classrooms and the learning those conversations can lead to.  As Johnston states, "Given what we know, failing to attend to students' civic, social, and broader cognitive development in school is not only academically shortchanging children, it is criminal." (p.124)

As I think about opportunities in my classroom, the first thought that comes to mind is teachable moments.  Like most teachers, I try to take advantage of the teachable moments that occur naturally in the course of a day.  They don't always happen at the most convenient time, but they are great moments for teaching and learning.  "It might be better to view these interruptions as opportunities for building a moral compass and both the tools and inclinations for social problem solving." (p.91)  I want to embrace these moments and points of conflict as they occur.  The great thing is, I don't have to plan for them, all I have to do is notice them and use them as opportunities for us (our classroom community) to learn.

I want to remember that social problems offer:  (p.91)
  • concrete spaces for understanding different perspectives
  • understanding and managing emotions
  • learning strategies for negotiating social conflict
  • asserting a commitment to fairness
I want to remember that conflicts offer:  (p. 91)
  • opportunities to make clear that we value considerate, empathetic behavior, and
  • disapprove of non-considerate behavior

I recognize that fact that listening is an important skill, both inside of and outside of the classroom.  We all know individuals who are terrible listeners, and we find ourselves gravitating to individuals whom we view as good listeners.  Johnston spends a lot of time talking about the value of listening.  Why?  "Perhaps it seems trivial to mention this, but in order to have dialogue, people have to listen to one another." (p. 100)

Johnston shares several examples where teachers use "turn and talk" during discussions in their classroom.  I use it, as well, in my own classroom.  I'm often perplexed by the children who feel they have nothing to share or the children who are not really listening when their partner is speaking.  Johnston talks about the need to teach our students to listen.  This was an "aha" moment for me.  Teaching my students to listen, is definitely an area that I need to pursue and spend more time on.

"A turn-and-talk is not simply an opportunity to say what you have to say and allow someone else to do the same.  When we are listening to a partner, we are actually doing more than that.  We are offering through our bodies a responsiveness to the other that, in a sense, brings the other into being.  If there is no responsiveness between us, no openness to being influenced by the other, there is no trust.  It is through persistently being heard that we take ourselves seriously and view ourselves as agentive--someone who has interests and plans and acts accordingly." (p.102)

Talk that promotes engaging conversations: (p.104)
  • Why do you think that?
  • Could you explain?
  • I agree because...
  • I disagree because...
  • And...
  • I agree, and...
  • I have evidence
  • sometimes...

Books as Vehicles
Johnston frames a lot of his information around reading aloud to students and having conversations around books.  "That these students are thinking through social problems in their school lives--bullying, discrimination, loneliness--using the books as vehicles, expanding their social imaginations and their relational ties, should be celebrated more than their test scores." (p.120)

In my district we use a resource called, Making Meaning.  It's a great resource to promote listening, viewing, and speaking development.  As I think about using this resource in the upcoming school year, Johnston's words cause me to ponder how I might use it in even more meaningful ways.  With the support of this resource, we already have a lot of conversations around books.  However, our focus is on comprehension skills and strategies.  Can I use the books that are a part of this resource in more meaningful ways?  Can I use this resource to help students develop their social imaginations?  As Johnston states, "Making meaning is good.  Doing meaningful things is better." (p.124)

How will you support your students in doing more meaningful things in your classroom?  How will you support the social imaginations of your students?  I would love to hear from you.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Teaching Them To Teach: Opening Minds - #CyberPD Part 2

Opening Minds:  Using Language to change Lives by Peter Johnston
"How we give children feedback is probably the most difficult for us to change, but it is probably the point of most leverage." (Opening Minds, Chapter 3, p. 37)This is the last sentence in chapter 3 and after reading it, I could hardly wait to read chapter 4.

Teaching Them To Teach 

In chapter 4 of Opening Minds, Johnston explores interactions and the consequences of different kinds of feedback.  According to Johnston, "We are not just giving students feed back; we are also teaching them to provide it.  In a way, we are teaching them to teach." (p.36 )

I don't recall when I started to pull away from giving students person-oriented feedback, like "Good Job" or "Nicely Done" but  I think it was several years ago when my building started using a behavior program called Conscious Discipline.  It was through that program that I began to learn how to notice instead of judge students.  A lot of the thinking in chapter 4 reminded  me of my training in Conscious Discipline.  

"If you are going to give feedback, focus on the process and possibility." (p.37)  It's important to use process-oriented feedback rather than person-oriented praise.  These are examples of process-oriented feedback:  
"You tried really hard."
"You found a good way to do it; could you think of other ways that would also work?"

Process feedback is important for the following reasons: 
  • It gets children into the habit of explaining successes and failures in terms of strategy use.
  • The more process talk becomes part of classroom conversations, the more strategy instruction will be occurring incidentally, without the teacher having to do it. 
In the midst of a teaching day, it's so easy to revert back to old standbys such as, "I like the way..." but in doing so we are offering judgement.  I know I've been guilty of using those words on many occasions.  Instead, we should say, "Look at how you...", which turns attentions to the process.  "Causal process statements are at the heart of building agency.  They show the consequence of a process, making it into a tool that the child can use again on another occasion to accomplish a similar end." (p.42)  I love the idea of creating a classroom community where process talk is a part of our every day classroom conversations.  "We need to help them become lifelong teachers as well as lifelong learners." (p.50)

Tools for Growing Minds

Chapter 5, Johnston describes a dialogic classroom.  "A dialogic classroom is one in which there are lots of open questions and extended exchanges among students." (p.52)  Theses are classroom where rich conversations are created.  A lot of these conversations are created around books.  Johnston referred to books as "tools for growing minds".   Having conversations around books is right up my ally.  I think my classroom is one where a lot of dialogic instruction occurs.  It's not where I want it to be, yet, but as I read this chapter, I can honestly say I'm  on the right track.  Here's a quote that Johnston shares, which I want to remember and keep in the forefront at all times, "Judith Lindfors observes that dialogue is a bit like a game in which keeping the ball in play is the goal rather than winning." (P.57)  I had never quite thought about dialogue in that way.  However, It's a good analogy for promoting rich conversations.

In my classroom, we love to spend time thinking together about books.  We often use "turn and talk" and "think pair share" when we discuss books.  I love the examples of dialogue in this chapter.  Students engaging in conversations without a lot of "talk" from the teacher and a free exchange of ideas.  It reminds me of something Lester Laminack said when I heard him speak on reading aloud.  He said that students should not have to raise their hands.  Instead, there should be respect within the learning community so that children are careful not to interrupt others but are free to interject their own ideas without waiting for the teacher to recognize their raised hands.

Social Imagination
Most of the information in chapter 6 was framed around books.  Johnston talks about social imagination.  Which he refers to as an ability to make sense of social cues and to think through their implications.  According to Johnston, there are two main dimensions of social imagination:  mind reading (the ability to read  facial expression and figure out what's going on in their mind)  (p. 20)  and social reasoning (the ability to imagine and reason about other's actions, intentions, feelings, and beliefs from multiple perspectives.) (p.71)

Johnston states that having children talk about others through storytelling is a good place to start.  He goes on to state that, "Social imagination directly affects the child's ability to comprehend complex narratives." (p. 72)   That statement alone puts a smile on my face.  I love my classroom reading time.  For me, it's the best part of the day.  Being able to support the idea of  social imagination by having conversations around books is a major bonus for me.  I had to laugh, however, when Johnston stated that the hard part for teachers is keeping our mouths shut while our students engage in conversations.  Fortunately, most of us have learned from experience that the more the teacher talks the less students listen.  This book shares a lot of great examples of the way we should facilitate the conversations in our classroom and not dominate them.

Johnston also shares that there are other benefits too.  "Children with well-developed social imaginations have, according to their teachers, more positive social skills than those who do not." (p73)  Not only are we building comprehension skills, we are helping our students learn to problem solve on their own, and all of this contributes to better classroom management.

Below is a Wordle  I created with some of the key words from chapters 4-6.

 Wordle: Opening Minds 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

#CyberPD - Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives by Peter Johnston

Beginning this week and for the month of July, I'm participating in #CyberPD (online professional development). A group of educators, like me, will be reading Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives by Peter H. Johnston. We'll be writing reflections about the book on our blogs, commenting on the blogs of others who are participating, and using Twitter to continue the conversations. In this first session, I'll be reflecting on chapters 1-3.

Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives by Peter H. Johnston
I believe that Words Have Power. The words we use and the feedback we give our students can impact them either positively or negatively. According to Johnston, "The language we choose in our teaching changes the worlds children inhabit now and those they will build in the future." (p. 7)

Johnston talks about the meaning of errors. When we make a mistake it should be viewed as an opportunity to learn. I can't tell you how much this resonated with me, it's a belief that I have tried to instill in my students over the years. Teachers and other adults make mistakes too. As Johnston suggests, we want children to feel valued even when they make mistakes. Consequently, my students enjoy catching my mistakes and they are quick to point them out. Johnston confirms the importance of creating an environment where students are safe to make mistakes in order to risk participating in learning challenges. This book and it's big ideas are centered around productive talk and creating a culture of positive language.

Dynamic-Learning versus Fixed-Performance
  • In a dynamic view, the process (how things are done) is most important.  In the fixed view, the outcome (performance) is most important.
When students operate within a fixed theory, they view everything as being out of their control.  Students operating within a dynamic theory believe that things can change and improve.  As I was reading, I started to ask myself, "What is the best approach for changing a fixed view to a dynamic view?  I found the answer on page 18.
Johnston gives three major points of influence:
    The first point is what we choose to say when children are successful or unsuccessful at something--when we give children feedback or praise.
    The second point of influence is the way we frame activities. 
    A third point of influence is what we explicitly teach children about how people's brains and minds work.
Johnston gives a great example of the third point. "If children know that each time they learn something new, their brain literally grows new cells, they can apply that to their thinking about the stability of intelligence." (p. 18)  My students would be all over this statement. The idea of their brains growing new cells would be totally motivating to my first graders.

I love the idea of turning attention to change rather than stability.  The teacher reading the story, Martin's Big Words, was a perfect example of embracing change.  I can't count how many times my students have told me another teacher had already read the story I was about to read to them. While I think my responses to that statement has usually been appropriate (For example, when we read a story for the second time we often notice something new, something we didn't notice before.), I love they way Pegeen Jensen responded.  When she reminds her first graders they are not exactly the same people they were in kindergarten.  By sharing this moment, Johnston gives a wonderful example of weaving change and growth into our classroom conversations.

There are so many important ideas in the first three chapters of Opening Minds, I can hardly wait to share my reflections on chapters 4-6.

Quotes I Like:
    "Teaching is planned opportunism. We have an idea of what we want to teach children, and we plan ways to make that learning possible." p. 4
    "Our language choices have serious consequences for children's learning and for who they become as individuals and as a community." p. 7 
    "By affirming that someone is smart, we agree that smart-dumb is the way to think about people." p. 10 
    "Because we all make mistakes, even teachers and presidents, and it doesn't make us bad people. It makes us people who are trying--taking on challenges in order to learn." p. 31 
    "Indeed, school interventions based on the dynamic-learning framework can change the trajectory of children experiencing difficulty in school." p. 18 
    "Since learning is fundamentally social, basing a classroom on dynamic-learning principles offers a double boost to learning." p. 21 
    "Turning attention to change rather than stability makes a difference to all kinds of learning." p.26 
    "Process information removes the "genius" from performance and replaces it with both a dynamic-learning frame and the strategic knowledge of how the success was accomplished." p. 31
Words I want to think more about in the context of using language to change lives:
conversational current
re-voicing words

Friday, June 29, 2012


Trying to keep 25 first graders engaged and involved during math instruction is no easy feat.  My goal is to provide instruction that is meaningful, manageable, and measurable.  This is where math workshop comes in. I've tried teaching whole class math lessons with my first graders and I must admit, it wasn't some of my best teaching.  Using a math workshop approach has made all the difference in the world.  Not only do my student thrive, but I keep my sanity and my hair from turning gray in the process.

My students love our math workshop time.  I teach math at the same time every day.  Whenever I announce math workshop, cheers echo throughout the room.  Yes, cheers, even though math workshop happens daily  in our classroom.  I think the cheers have to do with the element of surprise as my first graders anticipate what they will be doing at each of the rotations.  My workshop revolves around four rotations:  Teacher, Computers, Independent Work, and Games.  I start with a whole class focus lesson, which includes a review of the rotations, and an explanation of any new game that is introduced.  I end math workshop with a whole class sharing session.

Rotation 1:  Working with the teacher.
Group 1 meets me on the rug near our SMART Board  or Interactive Whiteboard.  Since my district uses the Everyday Math program, my instruction and rotations are centered around the lesson that I'm teaching in Everyday Math.  We usually work on our math journal pages together or in partnerships, as I project the math journal page on the SMART Board.  Sometimes we use manipulatives to demonstrate our learning.  At other times, we use the tools on the SMART Board to support our learning.  Everyday math has a huge collection of eTools that students can interact with.
Working in Math Journals
Working with Base Ten Blocks and Dominoes
Rotation 2:  Computers
Group 2 starts at the computers.  We have four classroom computers.  Students work in pairs and individually.  I choose math games that reinforce the skills and concepts that we are working on that day.  One of my favorite math game sites is  They have a ton of games that are organized by grade level, concept, and themes (ex. holiday themes).  The Everyday Math site also has a ton of games that my students enjoy playing and learning with.  I allow my students choice when we use the games from Everyday Math.  They learn how to play a variety of games and at varying degrees of difficulty.  Allowing them choice with the games is highly engaging and keeps them interested in playing and learning.
Math Games on the Computer
Rotation 3:  Independent Work
During rotation three, students work independently.  One of the favorites at this rotation is Number Scrolls.  Students use hundreds charts to write and record numbers.  They tape additional charts together to create a scroll.  As an incentive I have a Thousands Club lunch twice a month with students who reach a 1,000 number milestone.  One of my students had lunch with me 6 times since his scroll was over 6,000.  I also have leveled math packets that students often choose to work on, and baskets of math trade books students may read.  Using templates and pattern blocks to design pictures are examples of other math related experiences students participate in at this rotation.
Concentrating on a Number Scroll 
Rotation 4:  Math Games
Students play math games both  individually and with a partner at this rotation.  Most of the games are from the Everyday Math program.  Some of our favorites are Number Top-It, Rolling to 100, and Beat The Calculator.  We also use some of the games from the Daily 5 website.  One of our favorite games from that site is, Sum It Up.  When we are not playing math games, we sometimes complete investigations as a group or with a partner at this rotation.
Using a Balance Scale
Math workshop is manageable for me.  My math block is 90 minutes long.  I spend 10 to 15 minutes on the focus lesson, and each rotation is 15 minutes long.  My students rotate four times in order to participate in each rotation, and it takes an hour to go through all four.  I leave 15 minutes at the end of math workshop for sharing and putting away supplies.  Once students learn the rotation routines, the rest is easy.  This chart helps us stay on track. If someone forgets their group or rotation, we can refer to our chart which I keep posted the entire school year.  My students are very independent during our workshop time.  They know what the expectations are for a successful workshop, and any problems that come up are discussed during our share time.

Rotation Board
 Names are across the top.

One of the most important benefits to doing math workshop is that learning is measurable.  I know my students as mathematicians better than I ever did when I taught math in a "whole group" lesson format.  By working with small groups, I know when students are struggling with a concept, and I can give them extra support.  My quiet students don't get left out or overlooked.  I can also enrich the instruction for my stronger students so they are challenged and continue to grow as mathematicians and learners.  Students are grouped by mixed ability and they support, encourage, and challenge each other as a community of learners.

I'm still tweaking Math Workshop in my classroom.  I want to incorporate more learning with my SMART Board.  I'm thinking about making that a separate rotation on its own.  My students enjoy interacting with the    SMART Board and are totally engaged when using it.

What does math look like in your classroom?  What role does technology play in your math instruction?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Mind, Body, and Spirit (SOLS)

Now that summer is here I can finally stop making excuses and get to the business of catching up with my life.  I don't know about yours, but the school year for me is always very busy.  There is an endless list of things to do both inside and outside of the classroom.  My classroom responsibilities often take on a life of their own.  I often use weekends to squeeze in everything else that needs to be done in my life.

So here I am, trying to catch up with my life.  I have a list of things on my summer "To Do" list.  Do you get the feeling that I like lists?  I do!  They seem to keep me on track.  What I like even more is checking things off my list once they are accomplished.  Here is a sample of the things on my summer list:

  • Workout
  • Walk/run the trail
  • Prepare healthier meals
  • Spend time with family
  • Read
  • Organize Everything
  • Write
  • Prepare for next school year
  • Travel
  • Relax
  • Think
Don't laugh at the last one.  Sometimes I just want a little extra time to think.  I'm not at a lost for things to think about either.  A lot of this thinking has to do with planning.  Planning for next school year, planning with my daughter (who will be a senior next year), planning outings with friends and family, planning, planning, planning.  One of the best places to think and plan, is on my favorite walking/running trail.  In my town, we have some of the most beautiful trails.  My favorite is The Paint Creek Trail.  It's five minutes from my home and it's breathtaking.  Sometimes I walk or run and listen to music on my iPhone.  Sometimes I walk and think, and often times, I stop and enjoy the view along the way.  Today I spotted this huge mushroom growing beside a tree.  

It's so important to Stop, in the midst of all the business, and smell the roses (or mushrooms)! It's good for the mind, body, and spirit.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Book Stack

The Book Stack

Recently, I've been thinking about ways to encourage my first graders to read, write, and blog over the summer.  Having kids blog is a great way to support summer learning.  Educators know, all too well, the reality of the "Summer Slide".  However, there's plenty of time for learning AND all the other activities kids will participate in this summer.

I was thinking about how I'd love to have discussions with my students about what they're doing and reading this summer.  We could talk about books, recommend books to each other, and share our reading lives.  I thought it would be best to identify a day each week where my students could check-in on the blog and share what they are doing and reading.  Additionally, it might be more fun if I suggested a few book titles of my own.  Richard Allington, education researcher, calls this "Blessing Books".  Students love to reread the books that the teacher is reading aloud in class and books that their teachers recommend.  With all of these ideas floating around in my head, I came up with, Keep In Touch Tuesdays.  Each Tuesday, I asked my students to check in on our classroom blog.  Once they get there, they can read my book review post, and share their thoughts and questions about the book in the comments section.  They can read the book along with me, or they can read my book review.  Either way, I'm hoping this will encourage them to read some of the books, leave some comments/questions, and share what they are doing to stay busy this summer.  Maybe they're reading a book that's not in my stack, they could share that too.  The main thing is to read and share!

I also had the deli ma of deciding on the best place to do this.  Should we us our classroom blog or their individual student blogs?  By using the class blog, we'll have a central place where everyone can meet up and comment.  I love our classroom community, and our classroom blog seems to be the best place to share our reading lives.  Students could certainly continue to post things on Kid blog (individual student blogs) all summer.

During the last week of school I sent home a letter explaining, Keep In Touch Tuesdays.  I shared the letter with my students and explained how it would work.  Everyone was very excited about the idea of blogging over the summer and sharing books and what they are doing.  I can't wait to see what's going to happen and who will participate.  One of my students currently writes a blog post almost every weekend.  I made a big deal about how much I enjoy seeing her use her Kid blog on her off days and reading her posts.  Perhaps my other kiddos got my not very subtle hint.  Nonetheless, I'm very excited about the prospect of staying in contact with my students all summer long and reading and sharing books, which is one of my favorite things to do.  You can visit my classroom blog to read my introductory post which outlines the books titles and dates.  Also, stop by on Tuesdays and share and/or comment.  We would love the company.

What's in you book stack?  How are you encouraging summer reading and writing with your students?  Are your students blogging over the summer months and during holiday breaks?  I would love to hear from you.

Friday, June 15, 2012


Today was the last day of school.  My students attended school for only half of the day, however, teachers were  required to work a full day.  After my students gathered their things and said their goodbyes, I scanned the classroom, noticing all of the things that needed to be done.  This year, I decided to take a few pictures of some of the key structures in my classroom.  In the fall, when school resumes, I can refer back to my pictures when I'm ready to recreate or modify them.  One of the most important areas is my CAFE board.  It's important to have a place or anchor in the classroom where you can post the reading strategies that you teach/model with your students.

I've seen different arrangements for setting up a CAFE board.  The CAFE goals are usually at the top of the board/space.  Below each goal, there is room for placing the students' names under the goal that they are working on.  The individual strategies are then placed below that.  Since I teach first grade, I usually leave room at the bottom of the board for names (instead of at the top) because my students would have a hard time looking up at the top of the board to find their names.  Now, I have an even better solution to the name placement.  I take pictures of my students at the beginning of the school year, cut them out, and place their picture next to the strategy they are working on.  This works perfectly and my students respond much more enthusiastically to seeing their picture next to the strategy rather than just seeing their name.

My CAFE board is a major focal point in my classroom and contributes to a successful launching and implementation of the Daily 5/CAFE in my classroom.  It's not a board, like so many others, that goes unnoticed once it's introduced.  It's a board that is a continual work in progress in my classroom.  I refer to the CAFE board daily and sometimes several times in the day.  My students refer to the CAFE board, they use it as a reference, and as a tool.  When I introduce a new strategy, it's placed on the CAFE board.  When I refer to a previously introduced strategy, I point/touch the CAFE board.  When students are working on a new goal, they move their picture to the appropriate place on the CAFE board.  The majority of our literacy discussions take place under the backdrop of our CAFE board.

Take a look at my CAFE board below.  You won't see pictures of students because they were taken off the board and given to them as a year-end memento.  However, the remainder of the board is just as we left it.    Do you use a CAFE board for your Daily 5/CAFE instruction?  Is there anything unique or different about your board?  Please share what's different or unique with us in the comments section.  Perhaps you have a setup that works better for older students.  I would love to hear from you.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Spring Fever (SOLS)

At this time of the year my first graders have Spring Fever.  The weather is warmer, and the sun shines brightly.   Images of Summer fun have already started to take hold.  I'm usually ready for a break by this time of the year, but also overwhelmed with things left to do.  I'm busy completing assessments and finishing lingering units of study.  Planning end of year parties, creating volunteer gifts, and preparing student mementos are also on the agenda.

Each year, I promise myself the time to Stop and Savor the memories.  Savor the days of listening to long stories and funny episodes.  Savor the proud displays of new shoes, outfits, and haircuts.  Savor important events like loosing a tooth.  Savor the many, many personal connections to the stories we've read and shared.

What I most want to savor are the achievements; the reading growth, the writing progress, and the increased confidence in math skills.  Mostly, I want to savor the memories...of a wonderful, curious, enthusiastic, and spirited group of kids...a classroom family that I will miss saying, "Good Morning" to each day.

Poetry: A Shared Writing Experience

My first graders have been busy reading, listening, noticing, and creating poetry.  I'm already considering different ways to tweak and improve this unit.  In my district we use Lucy Calkins' Units of Study for Primary Writing.  I also use other resources, such as Kid's Poems by Reggie Routman.

Some of the key understandings that I want students to take away from this unit are: 
  • Write about things you REALLY care about
  • Consider word choice
  • Use only the words you need for your message
  • Poems can be short
  • Poems utilize line breaks, white space, and repetition
  • Endings are important-Poems need a sense of closure
Some important considerations for me are:
  • Start with lots of examples-exposure to poetry is important
  • Choice is important-allow students to choose what they'll write about and which poem they'll publish 
  • Give students the opportunity to share their work daily

As we finish up our poetry unit, my students are been busy polishing their own poems.  A few days ago we created a class poem about pizza.  This poem was inspired by Kid's Poems by Reggie Routman.  We brainstormed words first, like hot, red peppers, peperoni, cheese crust, Hawaiian, black olives, mushrooms, and pineapple pizza. This is what our working copy looked like.

This is our final product:

I Love Pizza
by Mrs. Ruckes' Class

Pizza, pizza
People like
different kinds of pizza.
Pizza, pizza
People like
different kinds of toppings.
Pepperoni and
Pizza, pizza
Everyone loves pizza!

The kids were so excited about our class poem, and couldn't wait to publish it.  So we did.  Now, who should illustrate it?  Perhaps I will... I think they'll like that.

Next Steps?  Creating our Poetry Anthology.  These will make great gifts for the end of the school year.

When writing a class poem, do you guide your students to write the poem a certain way?
Do you just let the magic happen?

I would love to hear your thoughts.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Maybe It Was The Shoes (SOLS)

What a day.  This morning as I was dressing for work, I had the sense that my day was going to be a rocky one.  My first indication was the brown spot that appeared on my white pants as I was ironing them.  I don't know about you, but I never iron anything ahead of time.  I wait until I'm ready to wear it, and then I iron it.  Fortunately, I managed to get the spot off my pants, and I was still able to wear them.  As I began to slip on my jacket, I noticed a button was missing.  So, I spent a few extra minutes sewing on another button.  As I drove to work I started thinking that my day would not go smoothly since my morning had not.

However, I decided I would not allow my day to go awry.  I made the decision to take control of my day.  I began to confess to myself that today was going to be a Great day.

This is what may day was like:
Drove to work
Prepared some things for my student teacher (who officially starts in the fall)
Spent the morning teaching
Went out and picked up lunch
Spent the afternoon teaching
Tidied up the classroom and prepared a few things for the next day
Drove across town to a workshop
Spent and hour at the workshop
Drove home
Picked up my daughter
Went to the craft store
Went shopping at a department store (and bought three pairs of shoes)
Stopped by the coffee shop
Went to the drug store
Was chauffeured home by my daughter (she needs to get those hours in)
Settled in for bit but then remembered...IT'S TUESDAY!  I HAVE TO WRITE MY SLICE.

So there you have it.  What a day!  A Great Day!

Or...Maybe it was the shoes.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

How Can You Change Seem Into Heal? (SOLS)

As I was reading Debbie Diller's post, Poetry Friday: A doublet, I was inspired to try one of my own.  I was not familiar with doublets, and became intrigued by the one she created.  According to Debbie, "In a doublet, a word is changed, one letter at a time, into another word and arranged vertically into a poem." 

What may seem to take forever,

are the important things we seek,

the things desired by a meek heart.

Inspiration from the muses we meet,

are as vibrant as the color of a beet.

The thought makes my heart skip a beat.

I sense the heat of it

as my thoughts begin to heal.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Little Poets

Today I launched our poetry unit in my first grade classroom.  Using an idea from the Two Writing Teachers, I decided to have my students write a poem prior to teaching the unit to determine what my students already knew about poetry.  I read Zoe Ryder White's poem, The Pencil Sharpener, and we talked about looking at ordinary objects with poets' eyes.  I also had my students close their eyes while they listened to me sharpen a pencil in our electric pencil sharpener.  Immediately, I heard words like bees, point, stinger, sharpen, and buzzing.  Excitement filled the room as the light bulbs began to turn on in their heads.  It was truly an "aha moment".  My first graders are beginning to understand what it means to look at ordinary things with poets' eyes.

I created new poetry folders for the unit.  Inside the folder I placed ten sheets of paper with a box at the top for a picture and lines below.  I asked my students to try their hands at writing a poem.  It could be a poem about anything at all.  "Can I write a poem about a poem?" asked Emily.  "You sure can!" I responded with a bit too much enthusiasm.  "Can I write a poem about a clock?" Aidan asked.  "Yes." I responded.  "You can write a poem about anything at all."  Everyone was sent off to write.  I started the music for Quiet Ten.  (Ten minutes of absolute quiet writing time by everyone, including me.)  Today however, it was more like Quiet 20.  I wanted to give my poets enough time to illustrate and write a poem.

Everyone wrote a poem, including me.  There was another pencil sharpener poem written.  Several kids wrote poems about clocks.  I was surprised and amazed at what my new little poets were able to do.  Below is the poem I wrote during Quiet 20, and another poem written by one of my first graders.

(My district uses Units of Study for Primary Writing:  A Yearlong Curriculum, Poetry: Powerful Thoughts in Tiny Packages by Lucy Calkins as a resource for teaching writing.)

First Grade Poets
by Valerie Ruckes

Pencils at the ready
eagerly preparing to write
a poem, a thought, a memory.

Heads bent in concentration
eyes focused on the paper
some drawing
some looking up and into thought
imagining the possibilities
of creating
something special.

by Rachel

Firework Flame
Firework Flame
They dance awake
like a game.
Fireworks, Fireworks, Fireworks
Oh how beautiful
fireworks are!
I love Fireworks

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Never Give Up! (SOLS)

This week I started playing my flute again.  I played the flute throughout middles school and high school.  After that, I grew tired of it and didn't pick it up again.  A few years ago, I encouraged my daughter to take band, hoping that she would play the flute and learn to love it as I had.  Unfortunately, that didn't happen.  I was constantly reminding her to practice, I paid for extra lessons over the summer, and was present at every school performance.  Still, she didn't show much interest in learning to play the flute, and I finally gave up.  That was a couple of years ago.  I remember reassuring my husband that this flute purchase was not in vein.  That I would take the flute and learn to play it again.  That it would become MY flute.

I dug out my old flute music, along with the music books I had purchased for my daughter, and I began to practice again.  I started reviewing the notes and a lot of what I knew started to come back to me.  I'm still in the beginning stages of playing the flute, and I'm nowhere near as good as I used to be.  However, I know that little by little, I'll get better.  The more I pick up that flute and actually practice, the better I'll become.

All of this reminds me of my first grade readers.  At the start of the school year, many of them were excited but apprehensive about reading.  Could they do it?  Would reading be difficult?  How much reading would they be required to do?  I'm sure those are some of the questions that went through there heads as they embarked on their reading journeys.   Those are the same questions that are going through my head as I embark on this flute playing journey.  Months have gone by and most of my first graders are very good readers, and all of them, every single one, has shown a tremendous amount of reading growth.  Some have had to work extra hard to make the progress they have shown, but they stuck it out.  Reading success is an important achievement for first graders.  It's the grade where students show the biggest reading growth.

If my first graders can work so hard at reading, I can certainly work as hard to learn to play this flute again.  Like them, I must demonstrate determination, desire, enthusiasm, and a positive attitude toward learning.  Most of all, I can't give up.  Thank you first graders for teaching me another important lesson.  Never give up!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Waiting Is My Friend (SOLS)

This poem was inspired by a post I wrote this morning called, Waiting.  You can take a look at it here.

In line
At the grocery store.
Sign says,
Express Lane.
I'm not moving
At express speed!
Still holding
My few items.

Sitting here,
Sitting there.
Lost in
My book.
Of the time,
Still waiting
My turn.

At my computer.
Click, click.
Too many
Pages load.
Green bar appears.
Come On!
End Task?
Still trying,
Still waiting.

To Calm down.
Did I read
That correctly?
Did I hear
That right?
Processing my thoughts.
Not now,
It's too soon to respond.
I'm waiting,
To clear my head.
To make sense of it all.
Waiting is my friend.


Do you ever get tired of waiting?  It is a part of life.  We wait in line at the grocery store.  We wait in line at our favorite department stores.  We wait in line to buy fast food.  We wait for appointments at the doctor and dentist office.  We wait for services at the hair and nail salon.  We wait for the computer to accomplish various tasks.  Even with high speed Internet connections, it still seems that we have to wait longer than we should.  Or perhaps, I'm just extremely impatient where computer tasks are concerned. 

Our mentality is that we want everything done fast.  Sometimes, we wait through telephone prompts, just trying to talk to service representatives.  Often we, or maybe it's just me, hang up because we get tired of all the waiting.

Is having to wait necessarily a negative thing?  Most of the time, it sure feels like it.  However, there are circumstances where waiting can be a positive thing.  I'm sure part of it has to do with what we're waiting for.  We wait when we are trying to learn new things.  After all, learning something new doesn't usually happen over night.  Teachers give students "wait time" when answering questions.  This allows students time to process information prior to responding, giving them more time to think before someone is chosen to answer the question.  Additionally, we wait for the right time to meet someone, to marry, to have children, to change careers, to begin new business ventures and adventures as well.  In all these instances, waiting is a positive thing.

What does all this waiting mean?  Waiting can mean an awful lot, when it comes to how one responds to a given situation.  In all the ways that waiting occurs, this is one of the most important.  I know you've had this experience too.  The one where you responded too quickly, and it just didn't come out the right way.  What came out of your mouth wasn't what you really wanted to say or intended to say.  It has happened to all of us.  It's still happening to some of us. 

What's the solution? ...WAITING!  When we have to respond to a comment or remark (usually negative in nature) we should wait, before sharing our response.  It can make all the difference in the world.  Our knee jerk reactions never seem to be the best response.  When we wait, take the time to think and process, our response comes out a lot better.  By waiting, we allow ourselves time to calm down, think about what was said and determine how we should respond.  Waiting can make a huge difference.  It can mean the difference between coming to an understanding or creating an even bigger problem.  Waiting gives us time to clear our heads.  Waiting, can be our friend.
What do you think?

Saturday, March 31, 2012

You Are A Writer! (SOLS 31)

Today is the last day of #slice2012.  This morning, @ruthayers posted her final slice for this month.  I read her words, "Take the time to celebrate and relish the fact that YOU are a writer."  I thought to myself, yes, I Am A Writer.  Thanks Ruth, for that affirmation, and for encouraging us to continue our "writing habits".

Writing habits.  Those 2 words resonated with me.  I started thinking about habits and how they are done often and automatically.   According to Wikipedia, habits are routines of behavior that are repeated regularly and tend to occur subconsciously.  Writing daily HAS become routine for me, thanks to this challenge. 

I know that I have become more aware of the stories in my life, "the slices".  Stories that once seemed hidden from me, are up close and personal.  They're in the people I meet, the places I go, the things I see and hear, the experiences I have, the thoughts that enter my mind but used to silently slip away.  They are here, they are there, they are everywhere!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Closed Eyes (SOLS 30)

As my daughter was leaving for the school bus this morning, I reached for her coat to button it.  She looked at me and said, "Mom, you're doing that because you wish I was still little, don't you?"  "Yes, I do."  I admitted.  Then Rachel said, "Remember when I was little, and you read stories to me at bedtime?  I would close my eyes, and tell you to keep reading because even though my eyes were closed I could still hear you."  "Yes, Rachel.  I do remember that."  I said. 

I started thinking about other times when it's appropriate to close our eyes.  Here's my list of those times:
We close our eyes...
  • when we are sleeping.
  • when we are kissing someone.
  • when we are being surprised-someone tells us to close them or someone covers them for us.
  • when we are playing games-my students love playing 7 Up.  Everyone closes their eyes except the 7 that are standing up.
  • when we are watching a scary movie-not through the entire movie, just the scariest scenes.
  • when we are riding a Roller Coaster-especially when going down the really high parts.
  • when we are visualizing something or someone we read about in a book.
  • when we are praying.
Perhaps there are other times when closing our eyes is an appropriate response.  Can you think of any that are not on this list?  Please share.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The End of the Story (SOLS 29)

Reading is one of my favorite pastimes.  I love getting cozy with a good book.  I aways feel a bit of sadness when I finish a really good book.  Sadness, because I love connecting with the characters, and predicting what they will do next. 
There are times when I feel like the end of the book is not the end of the story.  Eventually, I get a new book and the excitement starts all over again.

This year, 13 people are retiring in my building.  They are colleagues, they are friends, they are people I've seen everyday for the past 12 years.  It feels like these colleagues are ending a very important book.  Many have tearfully submitted the necessary paperwork that ensures that this book will come to a close. 

I anticipate that these friends will start new books.  Books that will be just as engaging as the last.  After all, teaching is all about engagement.  They will pursue other interests; travel, reconnect with family in more meaningful ways, become support systems for grandchildren, explore hobbies, start businesses, and begin new careers.  The possibilities are as big as whatever they dare to dream.  The end of this book... is not... the end of the story.  

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

I Struggle (SOLS 28)

I struggle with going to bed at a decent hour.
By decent I mean by 10:00 p.m.

I struggle with getting up at 5:00 a.m. for my morning workout.
Who can function on 5 hours of sleep?
Getting to bed at a decent hour would help tremendously.

I struggle with writing this post.
Too tired to think of something interesting.
Too spent after a day of teaching little ones.

I struggle with the demands of the workday.
So many things to do; self-evaluations, reports, and planning meetings.
All of that in addition to teaching, engaging, planning, assessing, remediating, enriching, differentiating, collaborating, and connecting with parents.

I struggle with getting through this week.
Two more days before I can revel in a much needed spring break.
Three more days of slicing to complete this challenge.

Tomorrow is new day.
A new outlook.
A new plan.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Things First Graders Like To Say or Ask... (SOLS 27)

  • Is it time to go home yet?
  • My mom's ____ years old.
  • Next month is my birthday!
  • The end of the month is my birthday!
  • Next week is my birthday!
  • In two days it's my birthday!
  • Can I have another one?
  • Hey, mom!  I mean Mrs._____ .
  • Can I have a band aid?
  • My fingers hurt from writing so much.
  • Can we have extra recess?
  • Can I turn off the lights?
  • Can I turn on the lights?
  • Can I turn off the lights tomorrow?
  • You're the best teacher I've ever had! (They've only had two and I'm one of them.)
Today's Funny Story:  Today at their music special, they sang a song and the lyrics went, "How do you spell far? F-A-R" and the kids told me they thought the music teacher was saying, "How do you smell fart? F-A-R...oops far not fart." 
They couldn't wait to share that story with me.  You gotta love it.

First grade is a magical year!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Majestic Sun, Mysterious Clouds (SOLS 26)

I photographed this on my drive into work.  I was mesmerized by the beauty that was unfolding before my eyes.

Majestic sun
   Mysterious clouds

Warming the earth as you suspend overhead
   Changing shape as you glide across the morning sky

Majestic sun
   Mysterious clouds

Bright and bold, you command our attention
   White and feathery, you sooth our senses

Majestic sun
   Mysterious clouds

I am mesmerized by your beauty
  I am captivated by your activity

Majestic sun
   Mysterious clouds

I am blessed by
   Your presence.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Forsythia in Bloom (SOLS 25)

Forsythia, Forsythia, Forsythia...

I've been admiring the Forsythia for about a week now.  They were just starting to peek through the leaves on their glorious branches, and today they're in full bloom.  On Friday, I dropped my students off at their art special and to my amazement, the art teacher had a sample of a Forsythia project she was going to make with them.  They we going to make Forsythia out of yellow tissue paper, and glue them to branches in a vase.  I spent the whole week noticing Forsythia everywhere, and my students would be creating that very thing in art.

I started thinking about why I get so excited when the Forsythia start to bloom.  The typical reason is because it's one of the first signs of spring.  When the Forsythia start to bloom, I know spring is around the corner.  Then it occurred to me that it reminds me of my childhood.  When I was little, we had Forsythia bushes in our yard.  I always thought the flowers were bright and beautiful.  I remember spending many spring days making mud pies.  I would use the pans that came with my Easy Bake Oven as a mold.  I would put dirt and water in one of the pans and stir the mixture with a stick as if it were cake batter.  I would turn the concoction upside down onto a surface like our picnic table, and lift the pan away, leaving a perfectly round mud pie.  I would then collect a few Forsythia branches from a nearby bush, and use the delicate flowers to decorate my pies.  The end result would be a masterpiece.  So, when I see the Forsythia in bloom, I think of spring and great childhood memories.  Do kids still do that?  Make mud pies? 

I hope so.

Saturday, March 24, 2012


I just spoke to my sister, Kathy.  She just informed me that my 11 month old niece is now walking and talking.  Yes, little Gracie (Grace) is walking and talking.  Grace is my great niece and my sister's first granddaughter.  Last night, Grace was no longer content with holding her Granddad's hand.  Instead, she was anxious to let it go, to take off, and to run!  Not walk, run!  Soon Grace will experience the pain of falling down.  She'll eventually obtain her first boo boo.   When I reminded my sister of that, she became immediately sad and protective.  "Oh no, Grace will have to fall soon." she repeated.

That's when the thought struck me.  Yes, we all have to fall down now and then.  That's how we learn.  We fall down in many different ways, not just physically, but emotionally, socially, professionally, and when we are learning something new.  It's a part of life.  I remember when I was a teenager, I was learning to roller skate backwards.  I could skate forwards, but desperately wanted to skate backwards.  I fell many times, and a lot of those times I fell hard.  People who were watching told me I was going to get hurt.  Of course, I didn't listen.  I'm the kind of person that becomes more determined to do something when people tell me I CAN'T do it.  So, I fell down, but I got back up.  Each time I fell, I got up and kept trying.  Eventually, I learned to skate backwards, and I was pretty good at it.  Ask my sister, Kathy.  She was there, and she'll back me up.

Falling down is not fun.  It's not something we even want to do, but it happens.  What's important is that we get back up.  When my students are learning to read, they have to be willing to take risks.  Sometimes they are more successful using one strategy over another.  They don't stop reading when they make their first attempts or an unsuccessful attempt at applying a strategy.  They may fall down several times in the process.  However, what's important is they get back up, they keep reading and trying.  When my students are problem solving during math exchanges, they make mistakes.  They fall down.  They try solving the problem one way, and when that way doesn't work, they try another way.  So, they get back up.

My sister knows that Gracie is going to fall at some point.  She also knows that Gracie will get back up.  The falling will make her stronger, smarter, and more confident because Gracie will learn how to get back up.  It's okay to fall now and then.  Just make sure you get back up, dust yourself off, and keep trying.  DON'T GIVE UP!

By the way, today (March 24th) is Kathy's birthday.   Happy Birthday, Kathy!