Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What a Difference a Day Makes!

On Monday and Tuesday of this week, I was lucky enough to be selected as one of two people from my school to go to a state reading conference.   It was a wonderful experience, allowing me to learn ways to better improve my reading instruction through the use of explicit instruction and active engagement strategies.  I’m excited to try out some of the tips and tricks that I learned during those two days in my own classroom!
After having a four day weekend plus an extra two days away from school due to the conference, I was ready to get back to see the kiddos.  Having a sub tends to throw me off – it’s always a surprise to see what was accomplished, how well the students understood the things that were taught, etc.  For those two reasons, I was anxious to get back!  This morning I got up extra early so I could go into school, see how the past two days went, and prepare for the day ahead of me.  Hearing the wind and the snow tapping against my window, I opened my blinds and was in utter disbelief at what I saw – it had snowed a foot overnight (it was only supposed to snow 4 inches)!!!!    I quickly turned on the news and pulled up our district webpage – in bold red letters, across the top of the screen, flashed “Schools will be closed due to severe weather conditions and power outages in the area.”  And you know what that meant… SNOW DAY!!!!!!!  Only in Colorado!  J 
Here are a few pictures for you…
I took these on Friday – it was a beautiful weekend.  Between 70-80 degrees everyday!

I took these today – quite a change from the previous week.  A chilly 32 degrees!


I didn’t take this one (I wish I knew who did to give him/her proper credit), but it illustrates the weather conditions perfectly…  What a difference a day makes!!!!

Happy snowy day, everyone!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Ready, Break!

After what seemed to be a really long week (even though it was only 3 days long), I’m happy to say it’s break time!  J  I have a nice four day weekend filled with lots of rest and relaxation – and let me tell you, it is much needed!  Life has been a little crazy lately (all testing had to be completed and entered, report cards were due, lots of professional development/trainings, students anxious for the long weekend, technology issues, and two days worth of sub plans to be written from scratch (more details on that later)).  Needless to say, I’ve spent a lot of time at school recently.  I’ve even set new records for the earliest I’ve arrived and the latest I’ve stayed so far this year (and even went in on one of my days off)!  I was asked by a student if I lived at the school – I can’t help but feel that way at times!  Haha. 

Even with all the extra stress and added chaos this week, I’m still in love with my job!  Every day is a new day that brings new challenges and opportunities for growth.  On my way to work this week, there was a sign posted on a church building that read, “Is there a difficulty in every opportunity or an opportunity in every difficulty?”  I couldn’t help but think about this statement…  There is always an opportunity in every difficulty you face – you just have to look at the bright side of things!  As a first year teacher, I’ve faced many challenges, but in every single one of them, I’ve found an opportunity to improve and overcome those difficulties.  I am always learning and growing, trying to become the best teacher that I can be.  If I keep discovering those opportunities, I can’t help but improve my practices.  It’s all about reflection and moving forward (all while keeping a positive attitude, of course)!  J

Here’s a little re-cap of my week:
4th grade
My 4th grade group has been working with a program called Read Naturally to help improve their fluency and comprehension.  I’ve gone to the ends of the earth and back to try to organize and implement this program so that every student is being challenged at their level and meeting with success (this has made up many of my late nights at school - I’ll tell you more about this in a later post).  We’ve been working with this program for a couple weeks now and I’m seeing some great improvement in my students’ accuracy and rate.  However, I’m noticing that quite a few of my students are too heavily focused on trying to increase their words read per minute and completely forget how they sound when they read.  So, this week, I decided to take a break from Read Naturally and take things on a different route.  We were going to be doing Reader’s Theatre! 
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Reader’s Theatre, you find a script that is at your students’ independent reading level, read through it and discuss it as a class, assign parts, practice, and perform.  The main focus is on reading with expression (or “making your words lively” as one of my students put it – love it!).  I came across this wonderful script titled “The Paper Bag Princess” by Robert Munsch (the words were taken from his book and made into a play).  I wasn’t sure what my kids would think of it, but they absolutely positively LOVED it!  J 

This week I introduced the script, we then read it as a class discussing unknown vocabulary words, figured out the meaning, and formed groups and picked parts (just a warning – the dragon and the narrator were the most sought after parts, as anyone who chose the prince or princess were thought to be “in love” – haha.  Only in 4th grade!  Lol).   I went over the rules and expectations with them on what it should look like and sound like to practice and work together in a group (they will be doing this when the sub is there on Monday and Tuesday – I get to go to a reading conference for those two days!!!).  They will be performing their plays on Wednesday when I get back.  I will be sure to let you know how they turn out!

1st grade
My 1st graders have been working so hard to earn their class goal of 20 points (part of my behavior management system).  They earn points by coming into the classroom quietly, being on-task and engaged in the lesson, working hard, transitioning quickly, lining up quickly and quietly, etc.  Once they reach their goal of 20 points, they get to have some sort of celebration (I give them choices and they vote and pick the best choice).  The class was really struggling to earn their last and final point (the last point is always the hardest!!!!).  Mr. Fly decided to come in and leave a note for some much needed inspiration.  Here’s what he wrote:

The kids were so excited that Mr. Fly had decided to drop by.  They pulled it together and worked really hard, earning their final point.  Once I picked up the marker to give them their last point, all you could hear were screams and cheers – I bet the whole school could hear us at that moment!  I’m so proud of my kids for working together as a team!  Voting time came… and it was decided that we were going to have an ice cream party!  Hooray (and it went perfectly with the story we were reading in our anthology – how cool is that?!?)!  What a fun-filled day!

2nd grade
In my 2nd grade group, we’ve been working on a small poetry unit.  We’ve been reading a variety of poems, analyzing the author’s word choice, and trying to figure out their meanings.  Many of these poems contain similes, which has been our main focus.  One of the first poems we read was titled “Delilah.” 

We read this poem, focusing on the author’s use of similes.  Even though the author never stated what she was describing, we were able to figure out that Delilah was some sort of animal like a cat or dog (or a cow – which is what one of my students thought, but supported his claim really well!  Proud teacher moment!  J).  We then worked on drawing conclusions and supporting our conclusions with details/evidence from the text.  Using Bloom’s Taxonomy, we answered other questions about the text, then applied what we learned by writing our own poems about an animal that we love (focusing on the use of similes). 
My class knows me all too well… they predicted that I would write a poem about my childhood dog, Brandy.  Since my class all knew about Brandy from the stories I’ve shared and the pictures they’ve seen of her, I decided that this would be a great opportunity for some guided practice.  I started by brainstorming a list of Brandy’s traits that I wanted to describe (much like in the poem “Delilah” that we had read).  I wrote adjectives to describe each of her listed traits (eg. nose = cold and wet, eyes = beautiful and brown, tail = white-tip, ears = floppy, bark = happy, etc.).  Then, we re-visited “Delilah” to look at the author’s use of similes.  At this moment, I could see the light bulbs turning on! 
We went through the list of Brandy’s traits and adjectives that I had brainstormed and turned them into similes.  I had the students think/pair/share with others at their table group to come up with similes.  The class did an amazing job with this task!  This was our final product:

I wanted the students to have a chance to apply this skill to their own writing, which is exactly what they did.  I was so proud of the poems that they had written!  Here are a few examples:

We are going to turn our poems into a class book for everyone to read!  Hooray!

Reflecting back on my “rough” week, I’ve found so many things to be proud of and thankful for!  Each of these scenarios illustrates the exact reasons why I teach and keeps my inspiration flowing!  Teaching is the most rewarding profession there is!  Seeing that spark ignite and what that spark turns into is amazing beyond belief!  Even though there are many challenges that we face, there is always an opportunity in every difficulty and a way to make a difference!


Saturday, October 8, 2011

Bring in the Sunshine!

I woke up to a cold, rainy morning – a perfect day to stay inside and relax.  Exactly what I needed!  Looking out the window this afternoon – the rain turned to snow!!!  Cah-ray-zee!!!  I wore capris everyday this week because it was in the 80s and to wake up to this – you can imagine the shock I’m feeling!  Time to break out the pants and long-sleeved shirts and sweaters! 
The weather is the perfect analogy to my week – mostly sunny and warm everyday with a few bouts of clouds and rain.  Whenever clouds try to make their way in, it’s always the kiddos that bring back the sunshine… Here’s what I mean:
Exhibit A:  They Say Exactly What Is On Their Mind!
Student: “I really like the button on your pants!” 
Me: “Well thank you!” 
Student: “It’s sparkly and looks like it has a diamond in it.  But I bet the diamond is fake.”
Me: “Ya, it is.”  At this point, I turn around to write something on the whiteboard.
Student: “Hey, look!!!  There’s more buttons that have fake diamonds in them!”
I turn around and the entire class is staring at my backside.  Haha!

Exhibit B: They Pay Attention to Detail (and have Endless Imaginations!)
Even though the above example would fit under this category as well, I feel like this is a story that deserves its own category… 
The Curious Adventures of Mr. Fly:
In our anthologies this week, we read a science article about insects.  During the time we were discussing the 3 parts of an insect (head, thorax, and abdomen) a fly conveniently flew into our room.  One of the kiddos shouted, “Look, an insect!!!!” and got the entire class up in arms trying to identify the three body parts, its wings, and its six legs.  I must say, even though this was a moment of pure distraction, I was pretty proud that my kiddos were applying what they were reading to the “real-world.” 

In an effort to try to regain focus, I told the class that the insect that they were trying to capture and identify was in fact a good friend of mine… He goes by the name of Mr. Fly!  Mr. Fly flies around the school in an effort to watch kids become better readers and learners.  Even though you may not see him flying around all the time, he hangs out on walls and watches everyone.  At this point, about half of the class was able to regain focus so they could impress Mr. Fly. 
Still trying to regain full focus, I told the class that Mr. Fly will give me reports on students he sees doing a good job.  The plan didn’t go quite as well as I hoped – by telling students this, they were all curious how Mr. Fly and I communicated with each other – Could Mr. Fly talk?  Do I speak fly?  When do I talk to Mr. Fly? Etc.  Such imaginative questions!  I quickly reached for my first grade thinking cap and came up with this answer: “Mr. Fly writes me messages that I can read.”  This prompted even more questions… How does Mr. Fly write when he is so small?  Does he write with pencil, pen, marker, or crayon?  Does he leave messages in the Chatter Box?  Etc.  My response: “I guess you will just have to wait and see.  Mr. Fly only likes to leave messages when he sees students doing a good job.”  I guess I should’ve said those magic words from the very beginning because my little firsties were back on track in seconds. 
When it was time to line up to go to recess, quite a few of the kiddos were asking questions about Mr. Fly and other insects.  I told them to go to recess and see if they could find any insects.  If they found an insect, they could report back to the class, but they would have to tell us why they thought it was (or wasn’t) an insect.  They were so excited to go out to recess to look for bugs!  When they came back in, most of them were beaming from ear to ear and could hardly contain themselves because they had new findings in their bug research that they had to share with the class!  I allowed for some share time, and sure enough, the kiddos were excellent scientists – collecting data, analyzing their data, and reporting their findings.  They all had an in-depth understanding of what an insect was thanks to my good friend, Mr. Fly!  J
Still curious about Mr. Fly, many of the kiddos asked me if I had received any new notes in my Chatter Box.  Unfortunately, the can was empty, so it must mean that he was busy watching other students learn.  Maybe tomorrow…
I had a pretty chaotic afternoon trying to accomplish and check off things on my to-do list (I set a new record for how late I stayed at school – 9pm!).  Completely forgetting about our encounter with Mr. Fly the following day, I went to pick up the kids… every single one of them were curious if Mr. Fly had left us a note and were sad to find out that he had not as they had worked really hard (oops!).  Once the kiddos got settled, I told them that Mr. Fly was a busy guy and had lots of places that he needed to be.  Even though Mr. Fly didn’t leave us a note, I knew that he wanted us to do our best on our unit test.  Within seconds of me saying those words and passing out the tests, guess who decided to make an appearance?!?  Mr. Fly!!!!  I must say, he has impeccable timing!  J 
After enduring a full 1 hour and 20 minutes of testing (the tests are district mandated), my kiddos were spent!  They stretched their brains as far as they could go and did an excellent job of staying in their seats for the entire duration of the test (minus the quick stretch break I gave them).  They were in dire need of recess to get all of their wiggles out!   While they were at recess, I had a nice little chat with Mr. Fly – here’s the message that he left for the class:

Attached to the message was a bag full of Smarties.  When I shared that Mr. Fly had left us a note, you should’ve seen the look on the kids' faces!  They were all kinds of excited!!!!  I split the Smarties amongst the class and we spent the remainder of our time together playing some fun games to practice our sight words. 
After reflecting on my fun few days with my firsties, I know 100% that teaching is the right choice for me!  I can’t imagine a more rewarding profession where you get to experience the magic and wonderment that kids bring into the classroom.  Teaching is a profession where you get to experience endless days of sunshine!  J
Have a sunny day, friends!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Miles of Smiles

1.  Phases of a First-Year Teacher:

     This week has been one of those weeks where I’ve stayed at school until almost 8pm every night, so when I came upon this wonderful first-year teaching graph, it just made me burst out laughing.  I truly hope that I don’t hit the disillusionment stage.  Even feeling like I’m in “survival” mode, I still feel pretty positive about life.  I’m in love with my kids and couldn’t love my job more!  Not to say that there aren’t stressful times (because I’ve definitely had my share of those lately), but by looking at things sunny-side up, I know exciting things will occur.  I am so hopeful for a wonderful rest of the year.  I know I will face many challenges, but I am sure of one thing – I will persevere! 

2. A Girl with Many Names:

I always greet students with a friendly hello as I pass by, but being a new teacher in a big building, many students do not yet know my name.  So far, this is what I have been referred to by students (keeping in mind that I’m 5’10” with blonde hair): Mrs. Pretty Lady, Tall Pretty Lady, Big Giant Girl, Huge Teacher, Miss Nice Teacher, Mommy, Mom, and Mr. Smarty Brain (I’d have to say that last one is one of my favorites… said by a kindie of course J ). 

Recently I was walking down the hallway to my office when a 4th grader whispered to her friend, “That girl looks like a real-life Barbie.”  It definitely made me giggle.  A few days after that, I was conversing with a colleague when a first grade student passed and said “Hi Barbie Girl!”  Haha.  I couldn’t contain myself at that point.  I didn’t know what to say, other than just laugh.  Apparently I look like a Barbie… I’m just going to take it as a compliment.  J

3. The Wolf:

This adorable stuffed wolf has been passed around to different staff members in our building.  It is given to a staff member to recognize their efforts for making our school a great place for kids to grow and learn.  I was recently given this wolf to acknowledge the positivity I bring to the school and for the new ideas I share and the effort I put into the work that I do with kids.  J  I was really excited as a new staff member to be recognized!  Thank you to my wonderful staff for appreciating my efforts!  I couldn’t do it without you!!!! 

4.  Chatter Box:

I decided to implement this idea because I want to develop a deeper connection with my students.  Since I get to see my kiddos for such a short time each day, it’s difficult to get to know each of them really well.  In order to get to know them beyond the hour they spend in my class, I created what I call a “Chatter Box.”  Students can write notes to me before or after class, sharing anything they want to share, whether it’s good news, bad news, or just a note saying hi.  I want my students to know that I am a good listener and really care about them and what is going on in their lives.  I wasn’t sure what would happen when I decided to implement this idea, but was pleasantly surprised by the responses I got.  Here are a few of the notes I received:

(written after discussing the vocabulary word "content")

And this last one is from a student who has been giving me a particularly difficult time in class.  I wanted to cry when I read it…

Such a simple statement, yet so powerful! 

When I read the notes at the end of the day, I’m always left smiling and feeling like I am making a positive difference in my students’ lives.  I can’t wait to see what else will be left in the box! 

Here are a few more pictures of the Chatter Box:

This is the students' favorite thing - looking at the bird inside the box when they leave a message  :-) 

If you’d like to create your own Chatter Box, here’s what you’ll need:  an empty coffee can (or oatmeal container), some brightly-colored wrapping paper, some cute clip art animals, and some speech bubbles. Have fun chattin’ it up with your students!  J