Sunday, August 27, 2017

Best Laid Plans

Teachers in our district return 2 weeks before the students. We have pre-service activities almost every day. We talk about planning and curriculum, campus-wide programs for behavior, things like IAT and RTI, we go over the school handbook, etc. I actually went back a week before we were required to this year to set up my classroom. I am in a new room at a new school and wanted to really take the time to go through my cabinets and see what I had before I determined what I needed to bring from my garage.

So we worked hard planning and decorating all in anticipation of the first day of school. Well, then Hurricane Harvey decided to come in and gum up the works! On Friday, our teacher prep day in our rooms, the district decided to dismiss us at 11:00. The rain began that evening and as of Sunday afternoon, is still going. Our city floods like crazy, but my area usually doesn't-I'm not near any of the bayous or water sources that tend to overflow. With this storm however, my street and front lawn were definitely flooded. I'm also worried about my car because the water came all the way up my driveway for a while. We need a break in the rain so everything can drain out.

This is the rainfall expected:

This is down the street from my house:

So we are going to start our school year a whole week late this year. That is a first for us. We missed over a week for Hurricane Ike, but that was toward the end of September. I think the good part about is I'm an adult and I'm already bored of having to be stuck in the house-imagine how excited the kids are going to be to get out of their homes and go to school the first day! Luckily, I brought a bunch of work home with me-like cutting out laminated workstations and curriculum to plan my lessons.

In teaching we have to always be flexible-that is definitely going to be the case here! :) 

Saturday, August 19, 2017

You Be You

One of the hardest parts of being part of a new team is finding a groove between what I believe is the most effective way to keep things student-centered and the traditions of the team. There is a lot of "well, this is the way we've always done it". And it's hard for me because I have always done it another way, a way I believe is more meaningful.

Part of our training involved the text Stellaluna. We read it and then used it for our activities. We were asked what the message of the story was--if you are not familiar with the story here is a quick synopsis. A mama bat accidentally drops her baby when they are attacked by an owl. The baby bat ends up in a bird's nest and is taken care of by the mama bird who can't hide her frustration at the bat's eccentricities compared to her offspring. In the end he finds his mama and is still friends with the birds. Someone at my table said the moral of the story was "you be you". Don't let the world and circumstances change who you are. I LOVE that!! And it struck me-that's what I have to remember as well as I set up my room. I'm surrounded by rooms that have matching chevron prints everywhere and colorful tissue paper flowers.

Don't get me wrong-they are beautiful rooms. Mine in comparison is very plain:

However, I like it that way (and that's not my Pee-Wee Herman response of I meant to do that). I want to fill it with student work, with things that will be meaningful to my kiddos. I want to meet my kiddos before I make decisions of what to emphasize in our layout. 

We use Conscious Discipline at this school and most teachers have  Kindness Tree where students can put leaves throughout the year showing ways they were kind to others. This is my tree:

It doesn't look like the other teachers' because I had the students each draw a branch at our Meet-and-Greet. I wanted them to have ownership of it. For it to be meaningful to them not just something I created.

So whether you are at a new campus like me, or working with colleagues you have known for a while--remember to BE YOU. Even if you feel badly not going along with the team, you need to do what is best for your students. They are counting on you to be you!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Being Kind

So apparently I wrote this post back in May but never posted it. So I'll share it now. :) 

I had my students do lots of reflection this last week of school. It's amazing to me how short-term their memories are. :) When I would ask them for examples of their favorite memory it was something that happened that day or that week. They don't really go to the field trips or events we did at the beginning of the year.

Anyway, in addition to our curriculum and the myriad of goals I have for my students in the short time I have with them, one of my goals is to teach them how to be kind. Now you would think this would be a skill that doesn't need to be taught-you would be wrong. My students come to me with lots of different experiences and backgrounds but the one thing they have in common is many do not innately put the needs of others before themselves. The world pretty much revolves around them. 

So we teach them how to be kind. How do we do that? I model for them with my interactions and my tone of voice. When a student hands another their lunchbox and they snatch and say "don't touch my lunchbox". I will say "thank you Sally, for thinking of me but I'd rather get my own lunchbox". When someone says "can I have my spot back in line" and the student responds NO! I say "Johnny, maybe ask Madeline if you can get in front of her, she is usually kind". I was eating lunch with a group of students one day and the boy said "my mom didn't pack me a drink". Another student said "I'm not going to drink my milk-you can have it." The response from the boy was "I hate milk!". In that situation I just say "thank you Johnny for offering, that was very nice of you".

The other thing I tried this year is Compliment Circles. Probably once a week we would sit in a circle and the students would say something nice about the student next to them. Now again this seems like an easy task, but for them it took some practice. They would say something that they felt was a compliment-"he can burp the alphabet" for example and I would have to redirect and give them some sentence stems: I really like how he ____________, he always remembers to _________, etc. They would also tend to say the same things every time "she is a good listener"-true, but what specifically does she do that you like? Sometimes they were sitting next to their nemesis at the time and it was hard to think of something nice to say at all. The students would beg to do this activity all the time, I think it was effective.

The other way is with read-alouds, of course. My kiddos would refer back to stories about other students all the time. Here are some of my favorites:

We make ripples with our kindness every day-or lack of kindness-that makes ripples for people too. We discuss why the students shunned this new student and what we could do differently.

So many studies of teens who are violent toward their peers show that they are the loners-the ones that eat alone, sit alone. I think it's good to teach kids early to look out for those kiddos and include them so they don't feel invisible.

Nutmeg is a bit of a selfish friend until Barley gets sick and then she takes care of him like a pro. A great example of how we can look our for the ones we care about.

Poor Fang-since he's a shark everyone is scared of him-except for Nugget. He sees past Fang's ethnicity and they still strike up a friendship.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Books About Names

Let's face it--names are a big deal! Parents spend hours with baby name books trying to choose just the right name. It's part of our identity, who we are.

My first name is Joelle. My mother had a friend growing up with that name and she really liked it. It's a unique name-I've only ever met one other Joelle in real life. When my father (a notoriously spelling-challenged person) wrote the name down on the paperwork for my birth certificate, he spelled it Joel. So of course, my whole life I dreaded the first day of school because every teacher reading their roster would pronounce it Joel (as in a boy's name) instead of Jo-elle. I would be listed in the boy's gym class, etc.So in high school I started spelling it Joelle on everything-I even filled out my driver's license paperwork spelling it that way and no one ever caught it. My school thought the transcripts should match the college applications so we opted to get it legally changed my senior year of high school. I very nervously stood before a judge as he proceeded to ask me a list of questions including are you changing your name to escape from the law. Now people rarely mispronounce my name.

Sometimes my students will innocently laugh at someone's name. We had an administrator-a big, tall, strong man named Mr. Flowers. My students thought that was funny but I explicitly explain to them that we don't choose our names. And I really think they take that lesson to heart.

I think it's very important that we call anyone, but for us teachers particularly our students what they want us to call them. I will specifically ask them-even the little ones. For example I had a student whose name was "Isabella-Grace"-her friends called her Bella-I will ask her directly-what would you like me to call you? One of my first assignments for my students is to ask how their parents decided on their names.

In that vein, I thought I'd make a list of books that we could use to start our year-books that emphasize the importance of valuing people's names.

Maple grows up with her namesake tree. It talks about how her parents thought of the name and then they have to come up with a name for her little sister. 

My students LOVE the patterns in this book. It speaks of the ancient Chinese tradition of naming elder children with looonngggg names. That becomes troublesome when the other sibling has to say the name to report their brother is in trouble. This is read-aloud on Discovery Education if you have access to that site.

A little long for the younger ones, but I certainly have students that can relate. The protagonist doesn't think her name sounds "American" enough. So her classmates suggest new names for her. In the end she learns the importance of keeping family traditions like names alive.

Not exactly about names-but Isabella has dreams to be many different people from day to day. Her heroes like Sally Ride. A cute story-they even have a boy version with Alexander.

Another book about names being part of your traditions. Yoon has to learn how to write her name using English characters instead of Korean and she has a hard time with that. Is it still her name?

Classic-I know! But no list about names would be complete without Miss Chrysanthemum-who like I think many students, loved her name until she went to school.

Neville isn't exactly about names-but he uses his name in a very, very unique way--to make friends. My students love this book because I have yet to have one class that has figured out the twist of an ending-it's the M. Night Shyamalan of books.

I love getting my roster and looking at all the names of my students. There are many names I have year after year and many students who I can honestly say "I've never taught anyone with that name before". My students love when I find songs with their names in it-my student Cecilia had me singing the James Taylor song, Daisy-a Bicycle Built for Two. They are amazed when they hear someone else has the same name--they have a Carlos in their class too Miss Trayers!!! Our names will always be part of who we are.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Getting Ready!

It's hard for me to find things to blog about over the summer, since most of what I share is what we are doing in our class! I have had a very productive summer-I cleaned out closets and my pantry. I read about 12 books. Recorded stories for my listening stations and stapled leveled readers. I feel like I got a lot done this summer.

If you follow me at all, you know my journey is going to continue at a new school this year. I had been teaching at my former school for 13 years so this was a big leap of faith for me! I was lucky enough to be able to get in and see my new class this past week and see what I'd have to work with.

The school is an environmental science magnet school and I am excited about incorporating that concept into our daily lessons. My principal has already approved my student book clubs, Student Council and a new club I'm going to implement this year for graphic novels. I have worked with him before and know that he is supportive and always puts students first-part of why I chose to go there.

It still feels surreal-doesn't quite feel like my school, my class-but I know I will get there. Nervous to meet my new teammates and colleagues, but excited to get in and get started on our year!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Higher Level Questions for Back-to-School Read Alouds

So I was at a training last year and the presenter was talking about using higher-level questioning for read-alouds and the teachers at my table rolled their eyes. Ï'm so tired of hearing the word rigor! What-we're supposed to ask high level questions about Chicka Chicka Boom Boom?" My answer to that question is yes! Of course, I believe there should be a balance-you are modeling comprehension strategies so there should be questions about recalling details but I also believe you can stretch their thinking by asking more thoughtful, challenging questions.

I know these are read-alouds commonly used the first week of school-why not set that bar high early on:

1) Why do you think Victoria made fun of Chrysanthemum's name?
2) How did the parents make her feel better? What do your parents do for you when you are sad?
3) How would you handle it if someone was making fun of your name?
4) How do you think parents decide what to name their child?
5) Was Chrysanthemum right in the way she responded to Victoria?
6) What would you do if you heard someone making fun of another kid's name?
7) Create a new ending for the story.
8) If the main character's name was "Jane", how would the details of the story have changed?
9) Were there any patterns in the story?
10) How did Chrysanthemum change over the course of the story? Will she still like her name as she grows up? What do you think she'll name her child?

1. Do you think all teachers prepare for their students the same way? How might they differ?
2. How is Miss Bindergarten's class similar/different from our class?
3. Why do you think the author chose to put the students name in the order of the alphabet? Does that add to the story?
4. Was there a pattern in the story? Can that help you figure out what happened next?
5. Do you think the teacher will prepare for her students the same way next year?
6. How do teachers, parents and students view a classroom differently?

1. Why do you think Chester did not want to attend school?
2. If you were a parent, what would you do if your child got upset about starting school?
3. Did Chester's mom do the right thing?
4. What do you think will happen next year when back-to-school time comes?
5.  If the author had chosen another creature for the characters, how would the story change?
6. Do you think Chester's mom could use this technique for other problems Chester might have, like what?
7. Would Chester's Dad or siblings use another technique to calm Chester down?

1) What would Miss Nelson have done if she didn't have a sister to help her?
2) How would you react if your teacher was Viola Swamp?
3) Was it right that Miss Nelson tricked her students? Why?
4) What details would have changed if Viola Swamp had been nice?
5) Why do you think the students wouldn't listen to Miss Nelson in the first place?
6) How would you feel if you were Viola Swamp?
7) How would the story have been different if Miss Nelson was a mean teacher?