Tuesday, May 29, 2012

My Dad Weighs 70 lbs. and is 60 ft. Tall!

About six years ago I started feeling bad for dads who don't often get classoom-made Father's Day gifts since school is out by then in our neck of the woods.  Thus this book was born.  Each child fills out a questionnaire, I type up their answers, I take pics of them wearing a tie, I copy it all several times over, and every father gets their own copy of the book. I wish I could include the answers from every son and daughter because they're all pretty cute and funny too.  I hope you find yourself chuckling as you read these few though.

Click on the page for your own copy.

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Monday, May 28, 2012

The 5 Best Things

I am sharing my love of the written word as a part of the Superb Writers' Blogathon.  In partnership with Grammarly grammar checker, this series is bringing accessible advice to aspiring superb writers all across the world wide web.

In honor of the fathers who raised 25 sweet first grade writers, we took some time recently to put the writing process to work in order to capture some of our favorite father thoughts forever. 

First, I read this book a few times, which became our inspiration for this project.  The plan was to write about the five best things about our own dads, not that we would have any troubles coming up with ten.

Secondly, we started working our way through the process of writing our own thoughts.  Here's a picture of a writing process poster that I keep handy in my room for moments like these.  (Yep, that's Pete the Cat hanging out with us.)

This is a picture of one writer's plan.  This came after I modeled and thought through my own, of course.  

The next step was to take those plans and create a rough draft or sloppy copy as we sometimes call it.  I demonstrated and then gave them the opportunity to give it a whirl.  You'll see an example below.  

The next part of the process is revision.  Notice that in these examples the writers write on every other line.  I've taught them to do this on purpose, so that when it's time to revise, there's space to do just that.  In this picture, you can see some simple revisions.  Unless I'm totally off base, first grade revisions are typically simple.  The idea though is that revision isn't a bad word.  It's what real writers do, because they love their writing too much not to fix it up.

By the way, you're looking at something that happened over several days.  Even though this is a short piece, it takes time to adequately model each step and then give them enough time to try it out on their own.  This next picture simply shows some of the editing that occurred.  The writers used the resources available to them in order to correct what they could. I always tell them that I'm their final editor.  I'm glad to help, but I don't edit for free.  They're in charge of fixing what they can first.  

Finally, we fancied up the pieces and got them ready for the world (specifically Fathers) by publishing.  I typed up all their thoughts.  They did all the drawing and coloring.  Here's what the final product looked like.  It's kind of magical.

I borrowed the art project idea from Mrs. T's First Grade Class and just modified it to fit this piece of writing.  I hope you visit her blog to see what hers look like.  (They actually look better than mine.  After the fact, I realized her drawings were traced with black marker.  Brilliant!)  When all is said and done, our hope is that 25 fathers feel loved enough to keep their first grader's written word around for many years to come.

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Saturday, May 26, 2012

Saturday Sayings: Better Programs or Better Teachers?

(Click here to read previous Saturday Sayings.)

Where are the resources going?  Are they going into programs or into the people who are teaching?  What benefits our students more?  Better programs or better teachers?  I'm just overflowing with questions this morning, aren't I?  I imagine we've all seen a little bit of both throughout our careers and maybe more of one than the other.  From personal experience, I know that the learning in my classroom improves the most when my pedagogy changes, not when a program arrives at my doorstep all sweetly wrapped up like it's a gift I'll be forever grateful for.  

I have the perfect example. The mathematicians coming out of my room the past few years are so much more prepared for the world of numbers than they've ever been before.  I can't thank a math book for that.  I have the State of Idaho to thank, because someone in the upper echelons decided that our math teachers needed to be better math teachers, and that wasn't going to happen by handing them a new teacher's manual.  After many hours of classes and even more hours of collaborating with colleagues, I am that better math teacher.  The resources obviously went into the right place this time.  Nicely done Idaho.  Thanks for resisting the urge to buy me a math book.  (Don't tell, but it would have collected dust in my room anyway.)  

If you've been reading my Saturday Sayings for any length of time, you know that I can hardly resist the chance to show off thoughts by Regie Routman.  I want to grow up to be like her.

"Outstanding teachers analyze situations, know the research, rely on their heart and spirit as well as experience and professional knowledge, and make wise instructional decisions for their students.  Such teachers do not discard what they know when a new mandate or program comes along.  They find ways to ensure that their students are successful."  Regie Routman, Writing Essentials 274.


Lastly, I was thrilled when Barb from Grade ONEderful asked if she could join me today.  Use the link below to check out her own Saturday Sayings, and let her know you dropped by.  I'll be heading over there soon!

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Liced! (The Saga Continues)

I apologize again for posting about nothing that will inspire all of you 170 friends of mine.  It's just that there's really only one thing on my mind right now.  Fortunately it's not in my hair, but it's all over my thoughts.  If you haven't read my last lice post, you really must.  It's a one-of-a-kind.  (Look here.)  By the way, I so appreciate all of your thoughtful comments on that post.  You've all been very sweet to me.

So we took Tuesday off.  I appreciated the effort to put a stop to our wee little problem, but 24 hours is not much time.  Here's what happened in those few hours...

*  We made the news, even a state away.  
*  14 adults have now been afflicted.  (More have it than not.)
*  2 more little ones from my class have it.  That makes 9 out        of my 25.
*  Only about half of the whole student population showed up for school today.  Out of those, 20-something were sent home.  About half of the 20 were newly liced.  (I think I just made that word up.)

The good news is that we only have 1/2 a day on Thursday and no school on Friday or Monday.  I believe our classrooms and several heads, mine included, desperately need that long break.  In the meantime, I'll be back in the war zone tomorrow with my God, my hat, and my tea tree oil.  I'll be singing this little song too... 

"Jesus, be a fence all around me everyday."  

I'm seriously hoping my next post will have nothing to do with things that crawl through hair!  I imagine you do too.  

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Monday, May 21, 2012

A Lice Day...Seriously?!

I've got to warn you.  You're not going to learn a single worthwhile thing from this post.  In fact, this is way more about me and much less about you.  I'm sorry for that, but I really need to share about the crisis my poor school is experiencing right now.  You see, we're having a lice day tomorrow.  School is cancelled.  It's that bad.  Since last Thursday over 60 sweet children have been sent home.  If that's not bad enough, at least 10 wonderful adults have also been given the bad news.  My heart just goes out to them.  I feel so bad.  Everyone is doing their best to be troopers, but I'm sure I would be a big mess and crying on the phone to my mother if they were found on my head.  (I've been checked about ten times, and although my scalp has been itching like crazy the past few days, so far I'm nit-free.  I'm in the minority.)  At this point I've done all I can do.  The classroom pillows and rugs are bagged up.  The headphones are put away.  The backpacks and jackets are on the backs of chairs.  The parents have been notified with letters and a phone call.  The hugs have even been replaced with high fives.  What else can we do but just pray those little things die and take all their friends with them.  Ugh.  What a way to end the year.

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Saturday, May 19, 2012

Saturday Sayings: We're a Busy Lot

(Clicking on the graphic will take you to previous Saturday Sayings.)

With summer vacation right around the corner (not that it's on my mind at all) some person, not mean-spirited but just ignorant, will most likely complain about those teachers who get three months off.  Granted, it's a sweet perk, but we all know that if you watch what the average teacher lugs out to the car on a nightly basis, it doesn't take long to figure out that our work day follows us home most nights and weekends.  We're a busy lot.  

Just like my pedagogy has changed over the past 18 years, the things that keep me busy have changed as well.  I used to do a whole lot more coloring, cutting, glueing, laminating, etc. than I do now.  Considering my anal ways, I spent a lot of time making things look just right.  The problem was the kids didn't necessarily care, and the time it took them to use whatever I was laboring over was hardly worth it.  The things I was creating spent more time taking up space on a shelf than they did in the hands of the students.  When I first read this quote from Debbie Diller, I'm pretty sure I let out a sigh of relief.

Like Debbie, I've made this rule mine as well.  If it's going to take the kids five minutes to use something that would take me sixty to make, I'm going to reconsider my options.  Like I said, we're a busy lot.  If you need a new rule in your life, this one might be a good one to adopt.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Little Little Poems From Little Little People

I don't recall getting a lot of pleasure out of studying poetry as a student.  Even as an adult I don't feel very competent with poetry, but oddly enough it's become my favorite genre to teach my young writers.  You and your writers are missing out if you haven't tried it.  (Click here to read my poetry posts.)  

It's hard to bring such a great unit to an end, but to help us celebrate we created a classroom poetry anthology.  I sorted through their writing folders and took out a few of their best poems.  Then each poet chose one from that selection that they wanted to publish.  As a class, we came up with a name and dedication page.  I copied it all 25 times over, so each child would have their own copy of the anthology.  I took a few pictures of some poems I thought you might enjoy reading. 

I'm really hoping that when these writers are studying or writing poetry during the next 11 years they'll appreciate and enjoy it a whole lot more than I ever did.  Job well done if that's the case.

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Monday, May 14, 2012

Sweet Memories

Eighteen years ago when I started teaching, Mother's Day showed up and I was without a clue what to do for these special ladies.  (Those were pre-Pinterest days of course.)  I believe it was Marsha Hood, one of my first grade teaching friends, who told me about the Mother's Day Cookbook.  I've changed it up and made it my own throughout the years.  Here's a little peek at what it looks like today.  

The above page is on the inside of the cover.  I can't remember where I found the recipe.  All I know is that I can't take credit for it.  (I hope the picture is small enough that you can't see faces!  Don't look too hard please.)

This is an example of two pages from the cookbook.  I fold it in half and can fit two recipes per page.  (I love the Breast Cancer Cookies.)  They all turn out very cute, and the mothers get a kick out of them.  Most likely some mother will remind her 40-year old son about that Breast Cancer Cookie recipe he put in her Mother's Day cookbook back in first grade.  Sweet memories.  

If you didn't get a chance to see the beautifully framed poems my kids wrote for their mothers as well, you can see them here.

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Saturday, May 12, 2012

Saturday Sayings: Beautifully Laid-Out Rubbish

(Click the graphic to read more Saturday Sayings.)

Have you read much of Frank Smith's work?  I've only read one book of his, but from what I can tell, he doesn't worry about stepping on toes.  See below.  

When I read this quote, I immediately find myself thinking about the conferring process.  Would you agree that the hardest part of conferring is sifting through a piece to find a teachable focus that will create the most profound change in that writer's abilities?  This can be a difficult task.  I believe it's made even more difficult by our natural instinct.  Time after time I've found that teachers naturally gravitate towards noticing certain things first when looking at a student's piece.  Any guesses as to what those are?  How about conventions?  Spelling, capitals, punctuation, etc.  Those seem to be the first and sometimes only things that are discussed between a teacher and writer.  As Frank Smith has pointed out, conventions should not be the standard by which a piece is considered acceptable or unacceptable.  I don't mean to insinuate that they are unimportant, but I'd like to challenge us all to look past the surface errors and focus first on what will really push that writer to the next level.  It might take a little more sifting and digging on our part to find out what that thing is, but it will be worth the extra effort.  I'll bring this to a close by letting Regie speak her mind, which she always does so well.

"It is easy to get distracted and try to focus on everything.  Focus first on quality content, and work on editing later."  Regie Routman, Writing Essentials 226

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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Their Way

There's something empowering about giving young mathematicians the opportunity to wrestle with math in a way that invites them to invent the strategies that end up teaching the rest of the class how to think more efficiently.  I suppose it kind of seems backwards.  The strategies come from the students instead of the teacher?  Yep.  It's certainly a new way of thinking for me and requires a step of faith, but I've found it to be a powerful approach to math.  When pressed conceptually instead of handed strategies on a silver platter, they do rise to the occasion.

I posted about my approach to contextual problems and math journals here, so I won't go into a lot of detail.  Basically though, when given a contextual problem, the kids attack the problem without any preconceived ideas from me.  In fact, they're encouraged to try several different ways of solving the problem.  I always say, "When you're done, you've just begun."  While they're working, I choose a handful of kids to draw their strategies on the board.  Those kids eventually explain or teach their strategy to the rest of the class at the end of the lesson.  

I'm always on the lookout for strategies that will challenge the majority of kids to think more efficiently.  If one of the strategies drawn on the board does just that, I take a picture of it, enlarge it, give it a name based on its owner, post it on the board, and refer to it often.  Look below to see what I mean.

Let's take a closer look.  This is basically the order in which the strategies arrived throughout the year.

Amricka's and Garrett's way became useful at the beginning of the year when the kids wanted to draw 60 of something.  Pictures are a great tool when you're barely a first grader, but when numbers get big it's not so efficient anymore.

Dakota's Way eventually showed the kids that there's something even better than tallies.  Drawing groups of ten is much easier than drawing tons of tallies. 

Dylan's and Rebekah's Way came later in the year and gave them another tool for solving problems both large and small based on the idea of the open number line.

Gus' Way showed them that breaking numbers apart using place value helps them think efficiently about numbers.

Scotty's Way actually showed up early in the year.  It demonstrated that mathematicians explain their thinking with equations.

This is the first year I've left visual reminders of their strategies on the board.  It was a good move.  (Thanks Duane Peck!)  I believe having them visually available helped kids make more efficient leaps in their thinking.  Thanks Idaho Math Initiative for pushing me to make more efficient leaps in my thinking too!

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