Saturday, February 26, 2011

Sometimes You Just Gotta Have Fun!!!!!

I sat through 2 meetings this week, a total of about 3 hours for planning test prep activities for our standardized testing that starts in the beginning of May (known as the BIG test to my kids). I think I may need to borrow some of my puppy's anti-anxiety medication by the time that day rolls around (totally kidding!). I am already literally having nightmares about it (the last one I was administering the test to Pre-K in an auditorium and couldn't get the parents to leave :). There is just sooooo much riding on those scores, especially this year where there will definitely be cuts. It doesn't help that I've never given the 1st Grade test before so it's hard to have any idea of even how to prepare them for it.

Well, I am quite the rebel when it comes to doing what's best for my kids. I sneak art in on a weekly basis (shocking, right?); we still sing songs and laugh regularly-not always the approved curriculum. I decided to just declare Friday 50's day in our class. My kids have no clue about time periods and history-I could have justified the learning potential if I had to. The boys and girls were allowed to dress up in poodle skirts and Danny Zucko hairstyles. I got some little hanging records at the party supply store to put in our doorway. We made root beer floats (which almost none of them had ever even heard of before) and learned dances like the Pony and the Twist. We did cover some new vocabulary-they didn't know what "records" were or a "jukebox", we talked about diners and drive-in movies-way before 3-D anything. It took up maybe an hour of our day total, but I think it was totally worth it. We had a really good time and it will something they will remember long after the standardized test scores have come and gone!

Giving It Their Own Twist

I love to challenge my the creativity of my kiddos! We often take a story and change an aspect of it-Too Many Tamales: what would change if the story took place at Easter instead of Christmas? We do a Jan Brett author study and read The Mitten, The Hat and The Umbrella-all stories about a certain category of animals-farm/rainforest and their trials and tribulations with an accessory. After we read them I challenge the kids to write their own version of the story using a different piece of clothing and a different setting (my favorite was The Underpants which took place in the desert with lizards, snakes and camels :).

We've been reading Eric Carle stories this past week. This is their version of Brown Bear, Brown Bear-they could use any kind of category they wanted for their lists-one did things in space, one did things that begin with the letter "A" and my favorite was things having to do with a volcano.

Using Poetry for Fluency

As I mentioned before, I attended a really good training on fluency last week presented by Dr. Tim Rasinsky. We implemented one of his ideas for incorporating more poetry to help the kids learn prosody. I have taught my kids strategies for fluency, talked to their parents about how it will help them immensely with comprehension if they don't! But some of them still read that way.
Now, I used to use poetry daily with my kids. Every week, we had a new poem in our pocket chart and we'd read it together in the morning whole group-but I got lazy and we don't do it nearly as often now.

 We studied Langston Hughes this past week. He has long and short, challenging and kind of silly poems, so it worked out really well for all my different ability levels. I assigned a poem to each student and their partner on Monday. They read it for me during small group instruction. During the week they read it together in workstation time and on Thursday I had them read it to me again individually. All the while we were working on some of them as a group, discussing the meaning and vocab. I think it worked out really well. It's something that we will continue doing each week for the rest of the year. Emily Dickinson is up next. :)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Perspective of an Inanimate Object

There's a Silvia Plath poem called "Mirror" which is an excellent example of perspective in writing. I only use the 1st half with the kids (the ending is a little unsettling, but it is Silvia Plath after all). It goes:

Mirror -by Silvia Plath
I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
Whatever I see, I swallow immediately.
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike
I am not cruel, only truthful –
The eye of a little god, four-cornered.
Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.
It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long
I think it is a part of my heart. But it flickers.
Faces and darkness separate us over and over.

I had the kids choose their own object to write about. We did bubble maps first from the perspective of the object itself-how would it describe itself. Then they wrote their poems. I think it's neat how they can give the objects personality.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Tribute to Langston Hughes

I attended a professional development session this week that was inspiring. Dr. Tim Rasinski was giving a session on improving reading fluency and I came away with many good ideas. This was one of them. He suggested using poetry for the kids to read to help them learn proper phrasing and expression. I adore poetry myself and use it often in the classroom, but never thought of it as a guided reading-type activity. We started reading them today and I can really see it working to help them learn what to emphasize.

This upcoming week the kids are going to read and re-read an assigned Langston Hughes poem ( I assigned them in pairs). On Friday we're going to read it in the cafeteria to give the younger kiddos some dining entertainment during their lunch. We'll celebrate the era a little bit with poodle skirts and root beer floats. Each week I want to showcase a different poet.

This poem was one that he included in his materials and something about it struck me as a I read it. It's called Mother to Son and it begins "Life, for me, ain't been no crystal stair". It's about hanging in regardless of obstacles in your path.  I read it to them and we identified some of the unknown vocabulary. Then I asked the kids to replace "crystal stair" with something that would be valuable in their eyes. I love the results. I think not only that they "got" the big idea of the poem; but also that they were very creative in their answers.

The last word is "Pledge of Allegiance"-apparently one word in his mind.

I did think it was interesting I had 2 students who thought school was the most valuable thing they could think of.

Life ain't no Justin Beiber. It starts early y'all!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Ethics and the Underground Railroad

I read the Diary of Anne Frank for a class in high school and remember consciously spending a lot of time thinking about what I would have done if I had been placed in the same situation her friends were in. Could I hide someone knowing it was against the law and the consequences if caught? I saw a Holocaust survivor speak when I was in college and her story just gave me chills. The courage that took. Well, some of my 1st Graders have that courage.

We've been studying historical figures for Black History month and have read several books about Harriet Tubman. I asked the students to write about the Underground Railroad considering the ethics of what their decision would be in the same circumstances. Would they break the law to hide escaped slaves? I was so impressed with their responses. They really had to weigh the safety of their family with what they know is right. I think they may really be getting the concept of ethics and how there are so many different sides to a situation! There was definitely some deep thinking involved anyway!

Now Presenting.... My Biography

Well, we had to try out making our books with markers to see if it worked better (it didn't by the way). So the kids kindly offered to write MY biography. It was interesting to see how they see their teacher growing up especially since most are very surprised to find out we were once babies ourselves. I will always remember the student who was shocked that I had a first name:

Student: But your name is Miss Trayers!
Me: Yes, but when I was little people didn't call me that, they called me by my first name.
Student: But your name is Miss Trayers!
Me: They didn't look into my crib and call me that as a baby.
Student: You were a baby??????

Anyway, here's what they came up with. I sure do tell them a lot of stories! :)

Can you tell we spend a lot of time at that kidney table? At least it's clean-not a real-life depiction. :)

I love it- "Pencil" Vania!

Ok-it's supposed to be llama and she really did. We were at the game preserve and my sister was under 2 years old-she fell asleep on one, we have pictures.

These are Texas babies, they are infatuated with anything snow.

No she didn't. Serious case of stage fright at the first recital. Parents don't like me telling that story to kids when they are nervous to perform-Miss Trayers didn't even have to go on stage...

Huge gymnastics career foiled by a wonky back handspring in 1st Grade.

No they didn't! The bubbles say "you are a boy". I often use this experience to help them deal with their own issues with other kids instead of tattling so much. When a girl comes up and says "he called me a boy" I tell them if they respond with an agreement it gives them nowhere to go with it. Fine, I'm a boy. Their goal is to make you mad, so don't get mad. It used to drive my sister crazy.

Ahem, that would be the '90's --- I'm not THAT old!!! :) (Apparently in a cooking class though-don't know why I have a big cooking mitt on my hand).

I just love that they did a GT frame in the middle!!!!

Yes she does!!!!!

Apparently taught them everything but when to use a "k" instead of a "c".

We did have some good times!

Yes she does!!!

They are working on their autobiographies now. I am very impressed so far-lots of different titles and authentic stories. We still have a lot of work to do, but I'll post them when finished.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Unanswered Questions

I drink a lot of tea. I started saving the boxes the tea bags come in hoping to figure out a use for them. My kids made a reading response project for the book The Cricket in Times Square. We painted the outside to look like New York City (of course, they have just seen pictures but are just infatuated with anything New York). And they illustrated the setting and characters inside.

I also had them use their unanswered questions icon to write about some things they still wonder about the characters and the plot-thinking about what the author didn't tell us.