Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Blame It on the Wind

One of my favorite fifth grade memories from last year:
It was an easy mission.  Or so I thought.  I sent a capable child.  Or so I thought. All he had to do was walk outside to the next building, knock on the door of Room 16, introduce himself, ask for the ball of yarn, and retrace his steps back to the classroom.  He can be a antsy kid and the change of scenery would be good for him. Expected elapsed time would be no more than 3 or 4 minutes.  Or so I thought.

He left at 1:37.  Five minutes later, still no courier.  I reasoned that he must have stopped in the boys' room on his return trip and silently prayed that the ball of yarn wasn't set on the floor while he conducted his affairs.  1:47 and concern starts to rise.  I am about to send out a few reconnaisance scouts when there's a knock at the door.  He's back.  I'm relieved.  I hate losing kids.
I notice he lingers in the doorway.  I also notice he is empty-handed.  "Do you have the yarn?"  "No."  I made what I thought was a logical assumption, "So Mrs. Ross wasn't in her room?"  He fidgets, "Yes, she was."  "But she didn't have the yarn afterall?" I questioned.  "She gave me the yarn," replies the door-lingerer.  "Great, so where's the yarn now?"  "I don't have it," murmurs the empty-handed one as he restates the obvious.  "You had it, but now you don't?  Then what happened to it?"  "It's gone."  So we have clearly established that the yarn is missing, but the mystery remains unresolved.
I dig a little deeper, "Do you know where it is?"  "Yes."  "Are you going to tell me where it is?" "Only if I have to."  "You do." "Okay, sondaroo," he slurs softly.  "It's where?" "ifrooitondaroo," he blurts out unintelligibly.   I visually survey my class to see if anyone has managed to decipher this alien language.  No such luck.  I'm on my own.
I'm good at deciphering.  For instance, I know that the phrase 'da mill key way gal luck see' translates into 'the Milky Way Galaxy".  That 'da braid heap hunch' is really 'The Brady Bunch'.  Surely I can figure out what 'ifrooitondaroo' means.  I run it through my brain and roll it over my tongue a few times, subtly changing the syllabication with each attempt.  On the fourth try, I've got it!
"You threw it on the roof?"  A sheepish nod leads into a confession, "But-it-wasn't-really-my-fault-I-was-throwing-it-up-in-the-air-while-I-was-walking-I-kept-throwing-it-higher-and-higher-and-then-the-last-time-I-threw-it-a-big-gust-of-wind-came-and-it-never-came-back-down." He pauses to catch his breath, "I think it's on the roof."
Fortunately there is a back-up ball of yarn waiting to be borrowed in Room 37.  I scan the eager volunteers and this time I choose the least athletic child in the bunch.

Engaging Reluctant Learners Linky

Uh oh...another linky party to distract me from my 'to-do' list today!  This one is from Adventures in Teaching.

The first step in engaging reluctant learners happens well before there is a lesson to be taught, a concept to be mastered.  We've all had those children who burst through our doors on the first day of school, a smile on their face, ready to devour learning.  They make our profession look easy.  Those are the children who will succeed whether we are at our best or not.  Then there are those who come in almost daring you to try to teach them.  Those are our reluctant learners. These are the children who encourage us to become the best teachers we can be.  Of course, we seldom see it that way when we are busy pulling our hair out in frustration.

 I think one of the most important steps in teaching is building a relationship with all of your students, reluctant learners or not.  Success in the classrom has as much to with establishing an environment of trust and caring as it does with presenting carefully prepared lessons.  Some teachers, buried under hours of lesson planning, making the transition to Common Core, and suffering through mandatory participation on a variety of  committees, might counter that they can't afford to plan time to actively build relationships with their students.  I would argue, that if you have even one reluctant learner on your class roster, you can't afford not to!  It doesn't take huge blocks of time to establish relationships.  But it does take an awareness of how to take advantage of any small window of opportunity to get to know your students on a more personal level.

I thought I was crossing a sacred student vs. teacher boundary once at recess when I walked over and sat down at picnic table with a group of my more challenging students.  These are the kids who avoid adults whenever possible. They were quiet for a moment, exchanging suspicious glances. One looked at me and asked, "Alright, which one of us is going to the office?" It was interesting to hear that their interactions with adults on campus usually resulted in one of them being disciplined or sent to the office.  No wonder they avoided us! They don't trust us and they don't believe we truly care about them.  It took a few minutes before genuine conversation resumed, but it did.   I learned more about those children in that 15 minutes than I had in the month they had been in my classroom.

What other opportunities are there to get to know students?  On our campus, teachers stand duty outside before and after school.  It's proven that teachers have eyes in the back of their heads and can easily multi-task, so it's entirely possible to carry on conversation with two or three of my students while I am standing duty.  I've yet to have a principal reprimand me for talking to students during duty and it certainly helps to pass the time.  When I don't have duty, I'm in my classroom.  I open my doors as soon as kids come on campus so they don't have to mill around outside.   This gives me a great chance to interact with my kids in a relaxed manner.  Recess is obviously another great opportunity.  While my grade level does have a recess duty schedule, we all go out at recess time even if it's not our turn.  I completely understand that many teachers NEED this break from their students, but in the beginning of the year, I feel it's important to be out there with my kids.  I can learn a lot about my class just by watching them at play.  Lunch presents yet another opportunity.  Inviting certain students to join me in the classroom at lunch has great rewards.  Sometimes the group is strategically planned, sometimes it is random. Would I do it every day?  Never!  I need to decompress!  But once a week works great for me.  The payoff is certainly worth it!

Reaching reluctant learners...this post seems to be more about the importance of building relationships with your students.  But then, as I mentioned in the beginning of the post, I believe that establishing that relationship of trust and caring is the very first step.  Without that, not much else matters.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Let the Shopping Begin!

Summer Shopping Linky Party!

I wrote this post before seeing the Summer Shopping Linky Party, but thought I'd jump in with it anyway.

I'll start off by admitting that I am a bit off my 'A' game when it comes to back to school shopping this year.  There have been a few delays.  I spent the first two weeks of July in Germany and then came home and had shoulder surgery.  I can't drive yet, but I'm not letting that slow me down.  I have some serious catching up to do!  So I offered my daughter (a fledgling teacher looking for a job) a free lunch with Mom.  All she had to do in return was chauffeur me around and serve as my shopping side-kick to take advantage of those silly quantity limits that stores impose on their sale items.

Remember, I'm a bit rusty . . . but here are our stats for today:

We bought four packages of Expo markers at the regular price of $5.69.  I know, doesn't seem like a deal . . . YET . . .  Afterall, that IS full price.  You're probably thinking, "Some smart shopper she is!"

But with those four packages, we got all THIS for free:

Four boxes of crayons, 4 pencil sharpeners, 4 rulers, and FOUR more boxes of Expo markers!  All FREE!  So far we've spent $22.76.

Then we bought 4 packages of Bic mechanical pens for $0.25 each.  There are 5 pencils in each pack, so that's $0.05 per pencil.  A cheap addition to my prize basket!  Total spending is now $23.76.

Next, we tossed six packages of pens (60 pens) and four packages of pencils (40 pencils) in our cart.  One of my goals this year is to see if it is possible to have more pencils and pens than I would ever dream of needing.  It seems like they disappear as fast as I put them out and the whole "I don't have a pencil" deal is not a battle I am willing to fight anymore.  So I'm stockpiling them.  If there's a global shortage, you'll know who to blame. At $0.10 per package, we shelled out another $1.00.  Total spending is now $24.76.

Finally, it was time to see what we could get for a penny apiece. I come from the tail end of the penny candy era.  Yes, there really was a time when you could get a root beer barrel or a licorice rope for a penny.  Think you can't get much for a penny these days?  Think again.

We got 2 reams of copy paper, 4 packages of paper clips (100 count each), and 40 two pocket folders.  That's a total of 46 items for a penny each. Which, let's do the tough math now, equals $0.46.

Our grand total for the day (no I didn't include the lunch I had to buy, although I did get one of our meals free with a frequent diner card) was $25.22.  In years past, I've done much better, but this isn't bad for a one-armed shopper and her trusty chauffeur!

Bring on the sales flyers!  I'm just warming up!

Things I Couldn't Live Without!

What a great linky party hosted by Teacher Idea Factory!  I could spend all day reading through everyone's list of the top 5 things they couldn't live without.  It's a good thing I don't have big plans for today!  I have a feeling that I'll be adding to my shopping list.

Teacher Idea Factory

So here's my list:

1.  My Keyspan presentation remote.  I use this ALL the time and would be lost without it.  I know there are half a zillion apps out there that would allow me to be untethered from my computer, but this is still my favorite way to roam the room!

2.  Zenergy chimes have to be second on my list.  I love them.  Love the calm sound, love the ease of use, love the way my students respond to them.  Did you know that you can 'yell' with chimes?  Of course this is NOT something that I suggest doing, but there was that ONE time when I was more than a bit irritated and got slightly aggressive with my chimes.  I'll have to admit, it got my students' attention.  One even commented, "Uh Oh, Mrs. T is yelling with the chimes!"  

3.  Mr. Sketch markers. I love making anchor charts.  Or maybe it's just that I love Mr. Sketch markers so much and anchor charts are my excuse to use them?  I saw on someone else's list that RoseArt makes scented markers.  I might have to pick some up for my students to use as my Mr. Sketch markers are off limits to little hands.

4.  I can't imagine life in the classroom without Elmo.  My bulb finally blew on the last day of school and I'm a bit worried that I won't have a new one in time for Day One of the new year.  I should have put that on my First Day Jitters blog hop post.  

5.  The last item on my list of 'must haves' is our iPad.  With much thanks to DonorsChoose, we were able to get two iPads for our classroom last year.  The kids have named them Steve and Roxy.  They are well used and well loved.  

Okay, I'm off to read what everyone else has on their lists, fully aware that this may cost me a fortune!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

While You Were Out . . .

from GraphicsFactory

Every summer, as I dust off my files for the beginning of the new year, I find some form, some procedure, some 'thing' that just begs to be revisited and revamped.  This week my missing/absent work form caught my eye. When it comes to attendance, some years are better than others. For the last two years, it seems that Room 24 has been plagued with absences.  It can be quite a challenge keeping up with missing assignments.  My past practice has been to leave the day's work on the absent student's desk.  I usually ask their neighbor to jot their names on the papers and write down assignments on a missing work form.

My current form

When the child returns the next day, the work is neatly arranged on their desk. . .waiting for them.  Or is it?  More often than not, it seems like the work 'disappears'.  Intentionally?  Magically? It doesn't matter how . . . it is simply GONE.   And so I find myself wasting precious time writing down assignments and making extra copies to replace the ones that have gone AWOL.  On the outside chance that the missing assignments are actually turned in, they are often tucked in between other assignments and can be missing in action for days.

 The less time I have to spend hunting down missing assignments and hovering over the copy machine, the more time I have for teaching.  Until now, I just haven't found a better way that works for ME.  This morning I stumbled across a great idea on Miss Klohn's View of Room 117's blog.   For absent work, she uses a filing crate with hanging file for each day of the week and one file for forms.  Extra copies of any worksheets completed during the day are simply placed in the appropriate file.  Absent students know right where to go for their missing assignments!

From View of Room 117

I love this idea, but I am going to make a few changes.  First, I am going to include an assignment binder that is placed in the front of the filing crate.  Every year I have at least a handful of natural 'office assistants' in my class.  'Office assistant' will be added as one of our classroom jobs this year.  While we don't generate a lot of worksheets in our classroom and there might not be much to file, there are certainly plenty of assignments completed during the day.  The ' office assistant' will record the day's assignments (only if there are absences that day) in the assignment binder (the forms will be the same as my current missing/absent assignment forms).  When a student returns from their absence, they will take out the binder and copy the assignment information onto their own missing/absent assignment form.  Then they will retrieve copies of the assignments (when available) from the appropriate file.  The last file in the crate will be used for completed work.   When all missing assignments are completed, they will be stapled to the assignment form and placed in the last folder.

Why did it take me so long to figure this out?  Maybe I've been too busy trying to solve the age old "I don't have a pencil" problem!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Compass Buddies

I love the many different student grouping strategies I've stumbled across over the years.  Clock buddies are a favorite mainly because they are so easy to use!  Since we'll be starting our European Exploration unit in September, I thought it might be fun to have compass buddies instead.  There are several different versions floating around out there on the internet, but I was bored this morning so I made my own.

I usually laminate our clock buddy cards and have students write on them with transparency markers so they are easily reusable and partners can be changed as often as we'd like (or need!).

                                                   Feel free to go grab one off my TPT page!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Lobsters Keep Me Teaching

This time of year brings such mixed emotions.  Part of me is ready to embrace the new school year, the new students, the new adventures waiting on the other side of the classroom door.  The other part of me, well that part loves these lazy mornings, sipping my second cup of coffee with three rambunctious dogs romping at my feet.  Sure, thoughts of an endless summer are enticing, but there's something that draws me back to the classroom year after year . . . lobsters, or at least the potential of lobsters.  Okay, that probably needs some explaining, so here's a post I wrote a few years back:

There’s a Lobster on the Ceiling

Some days are just a little off and you wonder what it might be like to have a do-over. Other days are just better torn off the calendar a few hours early so we can put them behind us.  This was one of THOSE days.   By 9:00 this morning, I was ready to move on to Friday.
My day started, shrouded in a thick fog soup.  The high-def doppler radar showed a blob of dark green stretched across the length of my commute.  The rainy commute didn’t worry me near as much as the thought of a second day of ‘rainy day’ recess.  Stuck indoors all day, no break, no coming up for air, no brief moment of sanity standing in your empty classroom while the kids are at recess.  When it comes to 10 year olds, there’s no such thing as potential energy.  They emit pure kinetic energy between the hours of 8:00 A.M. and 2:20 P.M.  Twenty-six fifth graders on a rainy day have enough energy to power half the city if only we can find a way to harness it.
Sometime between 9 and 10:  I realize that reading groups, resource groups, and the pull-out ELD groups are canceled.  Time to whip out plan B, until I realize that I already used up Plan B when these same groups were canceled earlier in the week.  Plan C?  No, even having a Plan C would mean acknowledging that Plan B might not work and you’d need a back-up.  Who ever thinks THAT far ahead?
9:50 Clean up at table 3.  Cosmic slime spill.  On the desk, on the math homework, on the carpet, on his uniform.  Everywhere but in the child’s backpack where it is supposed to be.  An ectoplasmic disaster. Not my mess, not my goo.  Logical consequences, I stay out of it.
10:40:  The texting child from the other day, Foxy1, comes up to me with phone in hand.  She’s trying an honest and direct approach this time since the ‘hide the phone in my sweatshirt in my lap’ approach failed miserably the other day.  ”Mrs. Tanner, can I reply to this text I just got?” “You JUST got a text?  In class?”  ”Yep, it’s my mom.”  I shake my head, take the phone, place it on my desk, and go back to teaching.   Foxy1 throws a fit.  A loud fit. She wants to go home…NOW!  Which apparently was the truth, because I find three text messages to her mother asking her to come pick her up NOW!  And there’s a text to Uncle Mikey as well, wanting to know if Mom is with him.  Unlike Mom, Uncle Mikey never replied.  He might have been busy, but one can hope he realized that an adult probably shouldn’t be texting a 10 year old in the middle of the school day.
12:50  I’ve enjoyed a brief reprieve.  Lunch with adults. But it’s over, both the lunch and the reprieve. Walking into the cafeteria to pick up the kids, the sense that ‘something bad has happened here’ washes over me.  There’s an uncomfortable, unnatural hush and my students are sitting with hands folded on the table. It is definitely a crime scene. The noon duty supervisor (we called them cafeteria ladies in my day), looks haggard and worn.  Not a good sign as she’s one of the most unflappable women I know.  She’s got the white slip in her hand which signals that tomorrow holds some sort of pay back.  Line walking practice it turns out.  All she can utter is “Raisin fight, whole class involved, but that wasn’t the worst of it.”  She gives me no more information.  I’m pretty sure I don’t want anymore anyway.  I’m good.  Whatever it was that happened wasn’t pretty.  All of our reward stars have been ripped off their little velcro squares.  We’re starless for the first time ever.  Words aren’t needed.
1:40 My lesson plan book can be used as evidence that I didn’t plan the stunt show that occurs in my room at 1:40.  I have no idea that Child A. will fly across the room with his individual white board grasped tightly in both hands.  Nor that this child will defy gravity with a panther-like leap in the air and bring said board crashing down on Child B’s back. I check my plan book to make sure I hadn’t accidently scheduled that between math and social studies.  Nope, I planned a seamless transition from the floor to their desks. Yet that’s not what happens.  Child A is sent to the office with a referral, Child B has suffered no obvious signs of trauma.  Child B is eventually summoned to the office to sort out the stunt man details.  Both are led back to my room by the principal who offers to watch my class while I go outside to speak with the ‘perps’ (turns out Child B was the instigator).  Both boys are bearing hand written apologies for interrupting the learning of others.  Child B immediately apologizes, hands me his note, and returns to class.  Child A.  Not so fast.  Child A informs me that he has nothing to apologize for because I mistakenly wrote on his office referral that he hit Child B on the head when, in fact, he hit him on the back.  Apparently in his mind, this tiny error renders the entire referral null and void.  It is no longer a legally binding record of misbehavior.  Thus, he has no reason to apologize because he did not commit the crime for which he has been accused.  Did I mention that Child A, at age 10, has already chosen which law school he plans on attending?  I return him to the custody of the principal and he is whisked away.  The principal’s ruling on the matter:  no apology, no entrance to the classroom.  Case closed for me.
2:15  With only 5 minutes left in the day, I’m ready to let my guard down.  But I’ve spent the last four months with these kids, so I know better.  I remain vigilant.  Still, even with my eyes peeled, I somehow miss the last big event of the day.  I’m aware that it has happened within a matter of seconds.  The eyes in the back of my head may have failed me, but I’m on to them immediately. Hushed whispers, eyes focused toward the ceiling, 10 year olds pretending that everything is normal when I look their way.  But it’s not.  They are desperately trying to figure out how to undo what’s been done before I’ve had a chance to notice.  But it’s too late.  I’ve followed their casual upward glances and I am well aware that there’s a lobster stuck to the ceiling.  I’m just not sure how it got there.  Not yet anyway.
2:20  The bell rings.  The boys, who I’m sure are somehow involved in the incident, rush out the door.  C.C. follows them but, being the compassionate one in the group, pauses just long enough to warn me.  ”Mrs. T., there’s a lobster on the ceiling above table group 5.  Be careful okay?”

Endless summer?  Not for me.  Not yet anyway. I thnk I'd miss the lobster on the ceiling far too much.  

First Day Jitters Blog Hop!

It doesn't matter that I've been doing this for years upon years, the first day of the new school year always brings the jitters! Ashley from Fierce in Fourth started this First Day Jitters blog hop and I decided to jump on in for my first 'hop'!

 Three things that I'm a bit jittery about:

 1. Will I be able to start the school year off with my class? An odd jitter, but I had shoulder surgery 2 days ago and still don't know if I'll be back to work for the first day of school. The not knowing is driving me crazy!

 2. If I'm not back to work, I am more than a bit jittery about building a community with my class when I do get back into the room. We all know how important those first few weeks of school are for establishing routines and getting to know one another. I'm hoping I can find an awesome guest teacher to fill in for me if I can't be there.

 3. This year our school will be implementing a campus-wide writing program. I know nothing about it at this point as it is currently being developed. Usually when something new is headed our way, I have the summer to read about it, dabble with it, and get it all figured out so I can hit the ground running. I have no clue what it is going to look like! Yikes!

 What first day jitters do you have?  Join the blog hop at the bottom of this page!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Lindsay, over at My Life as a Third Grade Teacher, is celebrating her 1st bloggy birthday with a $20 Target gift card give-away!  Congrats to her on a year of blogging AND a grade level switch!  Go check out her blog , My Life as a Third Grade Teacher , and wish her a happy blog birthday!