Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Click on the image for the link.

I am going to let you in on a little known teacher secret. It will most likely knock your socks off. You will not be able to believe your eyes and you will have to go back and reread to check your comprehension. It is truly a make your eyes pop out of your head kind of a secret. The media might have to be alerted because it is going to blow your mind. Are you ready? Well, here it is.

Teachers have bad days, too.

Did you fall off your seat? Did your jaw drop? I know, I know, it is shocking. But, I have to be honest, there are some school days when the best thing about them is when the clock says 3:02.

Today was one of those days. Nothing momentous happened. In fact, I had 2 preps today so only did hands on teaching for 3 hours. The odds for a good day should be in my favour on Tuesdays, doncha think? Well, apparently someone forgot to wake up the school fairy because those 3 hours were painful. Veeeeeerrrrryyy painful. I felt like I was stuck in one of Judith Viorst's Alexander books. This one in particular.

Click on the image for the link

The class had a clear cut case of chatteritis which, I hate to say, does not have a magic pill I can give for a cure. Just think of all the money I could make if I could invent something like that! Teachers everywhere (not to mention some parents!) would be clambering to buy the pills. The magic elixir that makes students stop, look at their teacher and direct all of their attention on the lesson at hand. Ah, well, it is free to dream.

There are a couple of girls that I swear have not stopped talking since last September. I kid you not. They know that they need to be listening but they just can't seem to help themselves. And they are only 2 of the chatty monkeys. There are more. Far too many more. As in I have to use both hands and all of my fingers more. Is it any wonder that by 11:30, my patience metre was running on empty? I felt like a grumpy old bear snipping and snapping away all day. Not a good feeling. That bears repeating (no pun intended!) Not. A. Good. Feeling. In fact, it is a very, very bad feeling.

I gave reminders. I praised the kids who were behaving (which I am happy to say there were some). I gave time outs to the constant distractors. No deal. Nothing changed. Do not pass GO. Do not collect $200. Every behaviour strategy I pulled out of my bag of tricks fell flat. I was ready to tear my hair out, stomp up and down and have me a full blown hissy fit right there in class.

 And then, out of left field, the child who never completes anything independently not only finishes the Science work himself BUT is the first one done! And it is all correct! YES!!!! (insert fist pump here) And another student flashes me a smile and says, "I am so glad that I am in your class, Ms. Hughes" before bouncing away to wash her hands. Ah, just like the Grinch, my heart grew a little bigger with that one. Then two more girls give me lovely little packages tied up with string (they really were! Cue Julie Andrews to come in from stage left singing her heart out) filled with small pages of math equations they did at home and wanted to show me. They were vibrating with impatience waiting to show off their learning to me.

I take a deep breath (or 10, or 20) and reminded myself that this too shall pass. Say it slowly now. This. To. Shall. Pass. Breathe it in. Breathe it out. Chant it to myself over and over. Remind myself tomorrow is a chance to start fresh not only for the kids but for me, too. And that some days are just not as good as the others.

Even in Australia.

Monday, May 28, 2012

We finished off our 3 Little Pigs study today with a glyph about all the stories we read. Amazingly enough we got this completed in 45 minutes. Last time we did a glyph it took almost an hour and a half!!!! It wouldn't take us 45 minutes either if the class would listen half as much as they talk!

Each part of the pig tells information about the creator. Eyes, type of ears, colour of pig, each thing means something. Didn't they turn out cute? One of my favourite things about directed activities like glyphs is that each student hears the same instructions and, yet, each creation turns out to be as unique as their creator.

Last week we did a character analysis of the wolf. We wrote down all of the character traits we could think of to describe the wolf as he is in the stories we have read. Then I read The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs to them and we wrote down all of the characteristics that described the wolf now that we had heard his side of the story. I found this activity at TeachersPayTeachers. Haven't heard of it? Well, click that there link and head on over. You will be amazed!

We are done with the in depth book studies. We did Cinderella, Goldilocks and The Three Bears and The Three Little Pigs. With only 3 main stories, we managed to read over 20 versions!  I plan to read a few other fairy tales like The Emperor's New Clothes, Rapunzel and The Princess and the Pea. I am toying with the idea of having the students write their own fairy tales but am not sure yet. Not all of the students could do it independently and I have to think about how to support those students who won't be able to write it on their own.

 In Science these days we are working on plants. We have started a lap book on plants. It looks like this.

Isn't this one great? The student turned all the letters into little people holding gardening tools. So creative! Inside we are putting all of our work. Like this,

So far we have done the parts of a bean and a few pages in the Lima Bean book. Last Thursday, we put lima beans into makeshift greenhouses using plastic bags and wet paper towels.

Then we did a scientific observation. We will do these every couple of days. Today was day 5 and not much has happened yet. A couple of the kids have beans beginning to sprout but the rest are taking it very slowly. Hopefully, everyone will have at least one bean sprout.
On Friday we planted grass seeds. Eventually we will have some very hairy grassy friends! We will be measuring the grass as it grows and using a graph in our Plant Study lapbook to record the data. Nothing had started to grow today. Check out the little grass guy on the left below. He is wearing a jet pack! And, yes, they do all have jingle bell noses. I am determined to use up as much of my stuff as possible before the end of June so that I don't have to pack it when we move into our new school in the fall. The noses are a little silly but the kids liked them. Hopefully, we will see some hair growing soon!

 Today we started the life cycle of a plant booklet. Tomorrow we will be cutting out the pages, sequencing them and then adding the book to our lapbooks.

It is starting to feel like there is not enough time in the day to get everything done that still needs doing. Yikes! Only 5 weeks left of school. I am starting to think about report cards and class placement for next year. June is such a crazy, busy month and I just want to slow down and savour these last few weeks with my class in this classroom, in my Turtlepond. I will get a few weeks in the classroom in the Fall before we move into the new building but this is the last June I will have there. And, the last year for Turtlepond. I won't be working in my own classroom the same way next year and can't expect my colleagues to like having a gazillion turtles around all of the time. Plus, I am ready to move on. The turtles have been with me for over 10 years and I am ready for a fresh start.

It is crazy to think that by this time next year, the building will be gone and a parking lot and playground area will have taken its place. Change is inevitable and I am super excited about the new building but, must admit, I will miss the brick facade of our current building. It represents a bygone era. But I think it is important to remember... 
Teacher Posters-Teacher Posters - Inspirational Poster - If we teach today's students as we taught yesterday's, we rob them of tomorrow

and our new school will reflect this. We will no longer have to try to make a space work for how we teach. Instead, the space will have been built with how we teach in mind and we can put our creativity and energy into the teaching and not into trying to force a space to work in ways it was never intened to work. And the building will be earthquake safe. It is a win-win as far as I am concerned!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Worth a second (or third...or fourth...) look

I have watched this video many times and it still energizes me and makes me want to read. Enjoy!

Monday, May 21, 2012

A Little About Assessing Students

I believe that what I am teaching and why I am teaching it should be as transparent as possible to both students and parents. I hold students accountable for the work they produce and the effort that goes into it. I tell them clearly what is expected of them and then mark accordingly. For my fairytale unit this year, I included a basic rubric for general expectations and a marking sheet in each student's folder. I am able to mark as we go, giving a comment when needed and the students can easily see where they are at and how their work holds up against the expectations.  

In our district we grade on a 4 point scale that looks like this:

N - Not meeting expectations
A - Approaching expectations
M - Meeting expectations
E - Exceeds expectations

Students aim to be at the M level on the scale. This scale works well for report cards as it clearly lets parents know where their child is in terms of learning outcomes and expectations. That said, the Meeting expectations can be a bit tricky as a student can be just meeting or fully meeting and still have the same mark on their report card.

Students rarely get Exceeds expectations overall for a subject as it means that a student is working well above the Meeting expectations level. A full year or more above. Probably the most common place to find an E in early primary is in reading. There are often a few students who have taken to reading like ducks to water and are reading well above grade level in grade 1 or 2. These students are given an E in reading for grade 1 or 2 but have that same mark drop down to an M by grade 2 or 3 when the other students have caught up. This can be confusing to some parents who expect an E to stay an E and end up in the next year's teacher's class asking why their child is no longer Exceeding. An E on a report card does not mean that a child will always be an E. It means that the child is exceeding expectations at that time.

If you stop and think about all the people you know in your life, probably most of them would not be exceeding expectations in all areas of their lives or for all of the time. Most of us go along in life meeting expectations for our jobs, families, co-workers etc. Meeting expectations is good. It is where you want to be. It means you are doing your job. Doing what is expected of you in an efficient and timely manner. Getting the job done. You can be counted on to do what you say you will do. This is good. This is a productive member of society. There will be times when one is moved to go above and beyond expectations and that is great. And society needs people to have passions, to have areas in their lives that they try to do more, be more. But chances are that those people who exceed expectations are not doing it in every single area of their lives all of the time.

When I stop to think about my daughter and her school years thus far, I realize how little many of the grades mean. Will it really matter if she got an A or a C in Math 8? No. What I have always looked at and counted as more important than the grade are her marks for work habits and effort. Does she try her best? Does she keep going when it is hard? Can she work independently asking for help when needed? These are the attributes that are going to make her a successful and productive member of our society. Not her marks in Math (which are consistently on the lower end of the scale and which is a subject she hates) or her marks in Social Studies (which are consistently on the high end of the scale because, wonder of wonders, she actually likes social studies!)

And, yes, I know what some of you are thinking.They need to have good grades to get into university. This is true. However, there are plenty of highly successful people who went to community college first and then transferred into a university or, for that matter, who went to different types of learning institutions altogether like technical colleges or trade school. Society needs a lot of different kinds of people with a lot of different kinds of skills to be successful. Many of the jobs that will be available when my daughter finishes her post-secondary education haven't even been invented yet! I believe that in the years to come, it won't matter so much what schooling anyone has so much as whether they are problem solvers, independent thinkers and capable of getting along with others.
In my blog hopping this morning I came across a teacher who has the students self assess after a lesson so that she can get a quick idea of where they are at and who will need immediate support to complete the lesson. And I thought, "What a great idea!" Her name is Alison Eber and her blog is called Eberopolis . In her district they grade students on a scale of 1-4. This corresponds nicely to our 4 point grading system in primary.

The scale in her district looks like this (picture taken from her website) :

with Novice being a 1 all the way to Expert being a 4. Expectations are that students are striving to be a Practitioner or a 3.

I am going to tumble this idea around in my head for a little and let it percolate. I know that it would be a great visual and really easy ways for students to quickly self assess and for me to get a quick count of students requiring immediate support after a lesson. It also really shows how learning is a continuum. Saying that someone is not meeting expectations does not necessarily send the message to that person that they will eventually meet the expectations with continued effort. If you think about any of the trades like woodworking, plumbing etc., where one starts as a novice and through effort, practice and hard work becomes an apprentice and then eventually a practitioner and (perhaps if one has a particular talent for that trade) an expert one day, you can see how through time and effort one can work through the levels to be at the meeting expectations level and how the language supports this transition from stage to stage.

Maybe I will try using this vocab with the plant unit we are just beginning and see how it works out. I mean, it makes total sense to me but will it make sense to a 7 year old? I think it is worth a test run. Will keep you posted on how it goes!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Where am I supposed to put all of this?

We are heading into the time of year when bags and bags full of children's work gets sent home and, as a parent, I know that it is impossible to keep it all. As much as we all want to. As proud of our kids as we are for their progress, it is just not feasible to end up with 13 years of saved school work (and that is not even accounting for preschool).

When my daughter was young, it was simple enough to choose 4 or 5 pieces of writing, math etc to put into her scrapbook ,which I must admit kind of stalled out at about grade 3 (she is now in grade 10) as scrapbooking is not my forte. As an artist myself, I was always most interested in her art work. So many wonderful images, such creativity, such growth. I have always felt that it is through a child's art that we really see who they are now and who they are becoming.

Over the years I have framed a few pieces like this one that she did in grade 2. It is a print made from a styrofoam plate carved with the design. She did it while attending the (then new) arts school for elementary students. I like the balance of it, the colour choices and her simple, yet effective, drawings. It makes me happy.

But, lets face it, there is not enough wall space in our house to accomodate all the fabulous things she has done over the years and still leave room for anything else (like the artwork we collect or my own pieces). And, while having it filed away neatly in a storage box, is one way to hold on to momentos it will not allow you to enjoy the creativity your child showed at each age. Plus, we run into the space issue again. We live in 750 square feet. Where to put her school stuff?

This morning I found this neat idea (on Pinterest of course!) and wanted to share it. There is an artist named Jan Eleni (images to the right from her website) who will take your child's artwork, scan it, shrink it, and then frame it (archival quality) in a fabulous grid. Very crisp. Very clean. And one frame can show a year or a number of years worth of work. Now why didn't I think of that? Sometimes it just takes one person to think outside the box (or, in this case, outside the size of the original artwork).

Seems to me that this idea could be achieved at home as a diy. I know that some of the pieces I have saved are too big for my scanner but I bet I could have them scanned and put on a flash drive for not too much money at somewhere like Kinko's. So, I am adding this idea to the 1,113 other decorating ideas I have on my decorating board on Pinterest. I kid you not. I have 1, 113 other ideas on that one board. On one board. I know that I will probably never see most of those ideas to fruition but, like dreaming about winning the lottery, it is fun to find cool ideas, pin them and think to myself "one day..."


Saturday, May 19, 2012

STOP for a TED talk

If you have 21 or so minutes to spend (or, for that matter, even if you don't) stop and watch a TED talk. Any TED talk will do. You will learn something. I promise. 

Here are a few of my favourites. This one by Sir Ken Robinson. I was fortunate enough to get to hear him in person last year. He is charming, personable and speaks with conviction about his beliefs on creativity and education. His words resonate with me.

This one by Simon Sinek about leadership.

And this talk featuring Sugata Mitra about his Hole in the Wall project on self teaching.

And the amazing Sarah Kay, spoken word poet extraordinaire. Who says "I use poetry to help me work through what I don’t understand, but I show up to each new poem with a backpack full of everywhere else that I’ve been.”

And one of my all time favourites (and only 3 minutes long so you have no real excuse not to watch it!) by Talor Mali called What Teachers Make.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Mother's Day!

I hope that all of you had a wonderful, relaxing, love filled day! I spent the day driving to Bellingham to look for a prom dress for my daughter. It was a fun time AND we found a dress. 5 malls, 30 stores and about 50 dresses before finding THE one. I bet you could hear my sigh of relief all the way from Bellis Fair!!!!

Plus, there were some fab sales on so I got a few things. I can hardly wait to wear them tomorrow. Especially my new shoes (which I actually got on Saturday during round 4 of the shopping drama that was looking for a prom dress!) from Toms. Love, love, love my new Toms!!!!

Ivory Grosgrain Women's Wedges 
picture from their website. Click the link above to go there!

I have to send out a huge, gigantic thank you to the scrapbooking mama from our class (you know who you are!!!) who came to help the kids make cards for their moms. And who personally made 23 boxes and the beautiful flowers to attach to them. Gift wrapping has never been so easy! I have been spoiled having this mom in my class this year. Thank you!

I hope that all of you Moms out there enjoyed your present the kids made in class. It took a very long time for some of them to accomplish the weaving. We are talking hours in some cases. We started 3 weeks early since I knew it was going to be a major fine motor skills work out for some of the students. Hopefully, you found a moment to sit back, brew the tea and rest it on your new coaster.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Grade 1's on the Map

The grade 1's recently completed a Social Studies unit with Ms. O. They learned about their place in the world. They did this really cool project that came from pinterest (where else?) I told Ms. O. about pinterest about a month or so ago and am happy to say that another obsessed pinterest junkie has been born!

So, here is the inspiration:
Pinned Image

And here are a few of the amazing projects done by the grade 1's in my class...

And some close ups...

Aren't they awesome? They did such a good job! I especially love the skyscrapers with all the windows lit up on a moonlit night. And the one that put the mountains behind the city.

So, Social Studies is done for this school year. This was their last unit of study (for both grade 1's and 2's). For the rest of the year, we will be doing Science focusing on plants and insects. I, of course, have been scouring my files and pinterest for new ideas and inspirations. I found this cool idea for using file folders on Sunny Days in Second Grade to hold all the students' work. This one is for a project about rocks but you get the idea.

Pinned Image

They are called lapbooks and are a fun way to keep all of the students scientific studies in one place AND reuse some of my file folders (that way I won't have to pack them to move to the new school! Aren't I devious?) I have been planning out one for plants and will do a second one (maybe) for insects. Haven't gotten that far yet...The file folders I have been using for Fairy Tales have worked really well, too, so I may do something more like that for insects. I like that they have a pocket to keep the incomplete work. Maybe I could glue an envelope on the back of the file folder to hold unfinished work. This will require more brainpower than I have at 10:34 on a Sunday evening. So, hi ho, hi ho, it's off to bed I go!!!! 

Hitting the Jackpot!!!!

Today there were 150 bloggers giving away free units from their Teachers Pay Teachers stores. April over at A Modern Teacher hosted the Pre-K to Grade 2 sites that were doing giveaways. There were 86 of them! WOWZER!!!!

I found so many cool ideas and, even better, I found some new to me, amazing blogs that I will go back to later for a closer look. I must have pinned about 50 new blogs to my all things school blogs pinboard on Pinterest. So much fun!

I do like me a good linky party and this one was wonderful! It is too late to get any of the freebies but I would highly recommend heading over to A Modern Teacher and checking out this post so that you can link up to all the other wonderful blogs participating and get your creative juices going!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Hey all! I am linking up with Oh' Boy Fourth Grade to do a currently page. I've been loving these ever since I started seeing them pop up here there and everywhere. Finally figured out how to do it. Yippee! Here is mine. Hop on over and join the Linky Party!