Saturday, March 29, 2014

Testing Motivation

Our state uses the STAAR test and it's coming up for our 4th and 5th Graders next week. Our principal had a great idea for the younger grades to "adopt" an upper grade classroom and the kids would try to motivate their peers for testing season. Every week we've been writing a different song (which by the way helps them practice their reading fluency, syllables, rhyming words....). They also make them little cards and treats. I wish I had taken some pics of their cards this week-because they were very touching. Some of them are trying out wordplay and writing things like "you are a super-STAAR". Some just write messages like "I believe in you so you should believe in yourself" or "you don't need luck you have love". I'm telling you this group is very "heart-full"

This is our latest song that they wrote. It was the first day they were practicing it, so they are still reading the words, but I think it just came out too cute! (I had to cut it a little bit short so it would be a small enough file to upload-but I'm sure you get the idea :).

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Dragon Arguments

When we use the concept of Ethics from Kaplan's Depth and Complexity, I like to tie it into how to make a good argument. The little ones do not naturally have this skill as you can observe very easily waiting in the check-out line at Target. They will just keep saying "I want that" (sometimes more and more emphatically) instead of maybe making an argument for their case. My kiddos know that if they want to convince me of something-like that they should be allowed to go out for recess, then they need to make a good argument for that. We've been doing it pretty regularly for a while now and I think they do understand the concept much better now. I overhear them talking to each other sometimes. The other day something fell and one of the kids said we must have a ghost. Right away his friend said "it can't be a ghost-they only come out at night". We might have a bunch of future lawyers on our hands! :)

So I was at a bit of a loss what theme to do the week back. It's too early for eggs and it's felt like Spring here for a while now. So I decided to do dragons! Who knew there were so many books with dragons as characters! I've always been fascinated with dragons. So my question to the kids was: were dragons real? And regardless of their answer I wanted to see a reason why:

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Showing Up

I learned a very valuable lesson yesterday. You can't win if you don't show up!

I have talked before about the student book clubs I facilitate for. It is an idea that comes from my district-all the schools implement it in different ways but there are close to 100 schools who participate. They give us a list of books that we read throughout the year and then they hold a contest in the spring where the kids have to identify books by quotes given from them. It's extremely difficult to remember so many details-they are reading over 35 books and the question can be as simple as "then the crowd laughed" and they have to write down the title of the book. The competition was always secondary to my main goal of having book clubs on my campus-which is hopefully helping to instill a passion for reading to the kiddos. I love hearing them share opinions of stories and characters. They will even find other books to read on their own by authors they like-"did you know she wrote other books?!".

Yesterday we had our district competition and going into it I knew the kids hadn't studied as much as they should have. They weren't too successful in our practices and honestly I considered not participating after all. But.... I thought the competition would be a good experience for them regardless-so we went. We were supposed to compete in one of the preliminary rounds against 8 other schools. A revised schedule was sent that it was down to 4. Today we were the only ones to show up. Winning by default feels a little like a hollow victory, but it was exciting to be going to the finals! A definite first for our campus. I smiled on the whole drive back to campus-just couldn't believe it! Sometimes just having the courage to show up is a win in itself!

I always try to prepare them for any outcome-I know sometimes students have gotten upset that we didn't win. I mean we never win. We are up against schools who take the competition part much more seriously than we do. So I was telling them that in our last practice-"I just want you to be ok if we don't win, I mean we probably won't win". One of my students said "we need to think positive-you never know what could happen". 

And she was absolutely right!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Ladybug Spots

We are trying to ease back into things coming back after Spring Break.

I know this video has been making the rounds-I even saw it on my news program. But we've been starting the mornings with it and what a way to begin with an upbeat message in our heads!

For their first writing assignment after coming back,  I asked them to write a creative reason to answer the question: why do ladybugs have spots? I like to do exercises in creativity like this every once in a while for two reasons. 1) I think it's a good way to get them to practice thinking outside the box and 2) I selfishly like to read all the different answers they can come with! :)


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Being a Risk-Taker

One of the first conversations I have with a new class is about taking risks. Not like jumping off a roof on a skateboard kind of risk, but a raising your hand even if you aren't sure you have a good answer kind of risk. We make connections to this when we learn about historical figures or read stories where characters really took a risk to be who they truly are.

 We read several books throughout the year to drive that point home-some of my favorites:

As important as I think it is to encourage kids to be risk-takers in the classroom, I also think teachers need to model that themselves in their teaching. My OLW-(One Little Word) for this year is "bold" and I have referred back to that often in making a decision whether or not to try something new. It has definitely made me more of a risk-taker this year and I LOVE it! A few examples: I am doing celebrations to incorporate vocabulary instruction, my kids are making digital stories, I joined Instagram (Twitter is next :), next month I am trying student-led conferences, I started a club for enrichment-art and chess, a journalism club for a school newsletter, I am completely avoiding negative people. 

Did all of those things work out perfectly?-- no-but I believe we can always grow as teachers and trying new ideas is part of that, learning from our mistakes, retooling ideas to work better next time.

What risks have you taken this year or encouraged your kiddos to take?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Fairly Unproductive Spring Break

Halfway through Spring Break and still a lot on my to-do list! Still have to put my car in to get my window fixed-then I can actually do drive-through banking again! :) And things I have been putting off way to long like getting my haircut.

We did celebrate my Ruby's birthday-she got a new squeaky toy (she loves when she can make noise) and a bone with stuffing inside like she likes:

She's 5 years old now. She was a rescue so her birthday is estimated-but she doesn't know that. This was her at 3 months when she was adopted (otherwise known as the day she suckered me in with that face!):

I have had some time to read. I don't read very fast, so I still have a growing stack of books calling to me. But I really enjoyed this one:

I like to read the reviews after I've read a book and they are really split. It does meander from the original premise into lives of various people who turn out to be intertwined--but the storytelling is exceptional. Every once in a while there will be a line where I'll have to go back and read it again-very well-written (in my humble opinion).

I'm going to start this one next:

I know some people had their break already and some still have it coming up-I hope in any case that it's enjoyable. And maybe you will get more accomplished than I have! :)

Monday, March 17, 2014

Chapter Read-Alouds With ELL Protagonists

I believe our students should be able to see themselves in the characters of stories that I share with them. It's not as easy as you would think it would be to find books with multicultural characters. These are books that I have used as chapter read-alouds with various classes. They are all about a student who is having to learn not only the English language but also adjust to a whole new school culture.

A refugee from Kosovo adjusting to life in America. Great story about friendship.

                                            Also a refugee adjusting to American culture. There were a couple of more
                                            violent details about the war he survived that I skipped over in my read-aloud, 
                                           but it would be fine for older kids. He is impressed his classroom has a desk and accidently puts the dishes in the washing machine!

A family escapes from Vietnam and has to get used to a whole new culture. For example, they don't understand why people are dressed up for Halloween.

Loved this book! Sorano is a girl struggling to understand her Japanese heritage when her grandfather, aunt, uncle and cousins come to America so the grandfather can have medical treatment. She tries to help her cousin adjust, teaching him how to be "cool".

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Visualizing Music

I found this video from an Eric Carle story that I hadn't heard of before and thought it would be something fun we could do for a Friday.

I reminded the kids to think about how we talk about visualizing for comprehension in reading. I asked them to close their eyes and listen to a kind of music I would play and then draw/write a few words about what they see in their mind. I played classical music, 80's music, rock and then one from a musical. The only thing I took exception to was the reference as 80's music as "old school" music...excuse me! :) It was a quick little fun activity that I hope gave them a different way to apply visualization.