Saturday, March 29, 2014

Saturday Sayings: Self-Imposed Hard Parts

It's been a year of unavoidable hard parts.  I'm surely not the only one who can say that.  It's difficult to be a teacher without facing hard parts that are completely out of one's control.  Here are a few examples inspired by Regie Routman's list.  

My district and principal do not restrict my movements, but I know many out there do, placing requirements on their teachers that make it difficult to be a professional who's free to make choices about their classroom.  Required testing is completely unavoidable, and I feel for the 3rd through 6th grade teachers in my school who are faced with the challenges of the new testing beast that accompanies the CCSS.  New curriculum mandates come and go but can turn a teacher's life topsy-turvey.  Overall, I'm fairly pleased with the CCSS, but it's obviously messed with a fair amount of teachers out there.  Here's the one I currently know the most about: challenging students.  One doesn't teach for 20 years and not know the difficulties students can bring to the classroom.  I've experienced this unavoidable hard part on a whole new level this year though.  Then there's the myriad of ways we impose hard parts on ourselves, making the unavoidable parts even more challenging to deal with.     

Come January of this year, I had to start doing something nice for myself.  I gave myself two goals: leave school as soon you can on Fridays and don't let yourself have too much homework over the weekends.  Thankfully I've been able to accomplish both and as a result, breathe a little more deeply. I also made the choice to simplify my most recent writing unit celebration.  The project I had originally planned takes an extraordinary amount of teacher time to pull off.  It was a pleasure to do last year.  This year it would have been a chore.  

The trick is to get rid of the self-imposed hard parts.  We all have our own list that's tailored to what we've become accustomed to.  Routman provides some good examples.  During an already difficult season of the unavoidable, some of those things can go.  If you're in one of those seasons, find ways to simplify.  I'm ready for the school year to be less stressful and more fun, and I understand that I'm partly responsible for making that happen.  

Pin It!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Agree or Disagree? (freebie)

My mathematicians recently measured and worked with place value at the same time.  I have Math Their Way to thank for this activity, so I receive no credit except that I fancied up the sheet you'll see soon.

I designated several things in the room that I wanted measured with unifix cubes.  All the objects were varying lengths but longer than ten cubes.  Partners visited a spot, measured the object with cubes, broke their long train into tens and ones, and placed them on a place value board.  

At each station they recorded their results on an Agree or Disagree sheet.  The first pair to visit simply wrote their answer in the box at the top.  Everyone else who came after them, did their own measuring and then wrote their names in the correct column based on whether they agreed or disagreed.  If they disagreed, they had to write the answer they got by their name.

I've used the recording sheet for all kinds of math concepts. It's rather versatile.  Feel free to use it as well.  Just click on the graphic below.

Pin It!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Saturday Sayings: Day In and Day Out

This week I attended an emergency school board meeting with around 300 other people to hear what the community thought about our recently failed levy.  The school board had three options:  run the levy again in May, run it in August, or leave it be and let our budget committee figure out what stays and what goes in order to make up for a loss of about 3 million dollars.  Three million is a lot, especially for a district like mine.  

Over the years I've heard rumors about how poor the funding is in my district but nothing ever seemed official enough to quote.  All of that was confirmed by our school board chairman at the levy meeting.  He reaffirmed that Idaho is the second to the lowest state for funding and that my district is one of the poorest in the state of Idaho.  Do the math.  That would put my district towards the bottom of the barrel in the whole country.  So the rumors are true and worse than I could have imagined.  

Yet I don't believe a stranger would walk into my school or my classroom and feel sorry for my students or me.  Maybe it's because I've spent all 20 years of my teaching in the same district and don't know any better, but I don't think we act like we're poor or disadvantaged.  We educate and inspire just like anyone else.  Having said that, I notice the perks of working in some of the nearby richer districts, and at times, I salivate.  What would it be like to have the resources they have?  But I have 20 years of proof that I, the teacher, am what really counts and makes the difference day in and day out.  Cunningham and Allington are right.  For good or bad, what I do in my classroom from 8:10 to 2:35 matters the most.  

Granted, money helps.  The money to pay for more teachers to bring down my teacher-to-student ratio of 1:25 would help immensely.  We need our 3 million, but money doesn't guarantee good teachers and good teaching.  Poor teaching occurs in rich districts as well as in poor ones.  What's important is that my students have no idea there are rumors about their district and that the rumors are true.  The quality of instruction is what should protect them from those facts.  I plan on keeping it that way.

Pin It!

Friday, March 21, 2014

In Summer!

Even though it's only just now officially spring and I'm just starting my spring break, I'm honestly thinking a lot about summer.  (It's just been one of those years.)  So today we drew Olaf in honor of summer.  Isn't he just the cutest snowman ever?  Watch this if you're unsure.

We watched the video below, straight from Disney, of how to draw Olaf.  The artist makes some artistic moves that are a bit too complicated for first graders, so I simplified my directions. It was still very interesting for them to watch though.

Here's how Olaf turned out.

In summer!

Pin It!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Saturday Sayings: It Won't Matter

An elementary ed major from a local community college spent this last week in my room.  Being the opinionated teacher that I am, we covered numerous topics when the children weren't around.  I probably gave her more to think about than she had bargained for when assigned 30 hours in a classroom.  I brought up this idea of what teachers should focus on the most in their students' writing.  I probably sound like a broken record for those who read my blog often, but it was a new one for her and from what I can tell, is a topic that current classroom teachers need to ponder as well.

We talked about how easy it is to notice the surface level stuff.  Like Regie says, those things are distracting in a glaring sort of way, beckoning the teacher's attention.  It's easy to make a beeline for them.  All the while, ideas and content are bypassed.  I'll admit it's harder to dig deeper into a piece and find a way to nudge the writer towards expressing their ideas better.  

What makes a piece of writing proficient?  What makes it something worth reading?  I've had discussions with teachers who honestly want to know if the writing in their hands is proficient.  Most often, their criteria of proficiency depends on whether they see capitals, periods, and spacing.  I want them to raise the level of their expectations, realign their parameters, and consider this question.  Who cares if their conventions are perfect if it's not something worth reading?  

I told this young future teacher that the writers in my room will focus on what I focus on.  If my vision of proficiency hinges on conventions, then that's what they will produce, and most likely at the expense of what makes their writing really worth reading.  It's not that the other things aren't important.  Like Regie, I believe there's a time and place for them.  They are certainly part of what, in the end, will make their writing even more inviting, but without great content, it won't matter.

Pin It!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Math Experimentation

I'm trying something new with my Friday estimation jar activity.  Typically we practice making reasonable estimations, group the candy by tens, count it, and eat it.  I'm attempting to integrate the open number line and just better number sense.  It's kind of an experiment.  Here's how it's going so far.

The person who brought the estimation jar filled with wrapped candy chooses three people to share their estimations which I write on the smartboard.  I draw an open number line and we put the estimations in order on the number line with proper spacing.  Then I draw another number line on the board and we start counting the candy.  When we get to ten, I talk about how I could make ten small hops or I could simply make one hop to ten. Every time we count another ten, I make another hop and so on until we've counted all the pieces.  Finally, we return to the three estimations from the beginning of the lesson, find where those numbers fit on our new number line, circle them, and see how close they were to the actual number.

Here are several examples.

I'm tweaking as I go, but I think I'm on to something that will help my mathematicians grasp the open number line better.  Eventually, I envision the kids doing this with me at their desks with their own number lines, following what Regie Routman says.  I do, we do, we do, we do, you do.

Pin It!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Saturday Sayings: Beat Me to the Punch

I love this NCTM quote from Larry Buschman's book Share and Compare.  I saw it play out more than once this week while working on the concept of time.  (If you need some quality clock lessons grounded in understanding instead of memorization, go here.)  

I've still got much to learn about questioning kids and ensuring they are doing most of the talking, but my goal is to purposefully orchestrate discussions so the children are discovering and not simply receiving information from my great wealth of knowledge.  In one instance, we were investigating a numberless clock with only a minute hand.  As I moved the minute hand to a numberless spot on the clock, we would figure out how many minutes it was past the hour.  Of course, I didn't tell them there was an efficient way of counting the minutes.  I knew someone would figure it out.  Not surprisingly, Walter chimed in and explained the way he thought we should count them, by 5s of course.  We dubbed it, "Walter's strategy" and I consistently referred to it throughout the remainder of the lesson.  As we were transitioning to another part of the room for additional practice, Michael had to tell me something. "Miss McMorrow, Walter's strategy really does work!"  

I don't believe I've ever heard them say, "Miss McMorrow's strategy really does work!"  It's not that they don't believe me or can't learn from me, but there's something extra poignant about moments when they learn from each other.  If the teaching comes from one of them, there's a better chance that they'll grab on to it more quickly than if it was something I mandated.  If it comes from Walter, they know it's worth listening to, and he's not the only one.  They've heard me say many a time, "I'm not the only math teacher in here.  This room is full of them."  Sometimes we simply need to remember to let them beat us to the punch.  The others will listen when we do.  Something clicked for Michael when he heard and practiced Walter's strategy, and I'm pretty sure he wasn't the only one.  

Pin It!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Saturday Sayings: Reading Streak

My cousin Laurie just turned 50 yesterday.  Back on June 1st of 2013 she decided to run into her 50th year by doing a running streak.  For you non-runners out there, that meant she was going to run every single day, at least one mile, fully clothed.  She did just that.  She ran 273 consecutive days for a total of 520 miles.  Some might have said that kind of running would wear her out or cause damage.  Neither happened.  In fact, she became a faster runner.  There's just something about the daily practice of a skill.  (Way to go cousin Laur!)

Seven of my little readers leave my room every morning for an hour of small group reading intervention.  Here's the question I always struggle with.  "What am I willing for them to miss?"  An hour is a long time and a lot can happen in my room in an hour.  They certainly can't miss writing workshop.  Shared reading is important too.  I need to meet with them about reading as well, so they've got to be around for that.  There's really no good answer.  In the end, I chose a time when they will miss very little direct instruction.  They're gone for 30 minutes of Read to Self (independent reading) and 30 minutes of Daily 5.  The negative is that they miss what Richard Allington is talking about above.  They miss a concentrated amount of time to practice what I've been teaching them.  Yes, I do realize that they're reading while they're out of my room and I appreciate the help they get, but I believe what they do when they're gone is different than what Allington is referring to.  All readers, but especially my seven, need time to sit down with a basket of books at their reading level and simply practice being readers, incorporating all they've been taught.

What does "daily in-school reading" look like?  Here are some things I don't think it is: workbook practice, reading games, activities, etc.  This morning I wondered what kind of numbers I'd see if I did the math and calculated the percentage of my day that kids actually spend reading real texts vs. learning about reading or doing things about reading.  All of our kids simply need more time to practice being readers with real live books in their hands.  Let's multiply those minutes and keep the reading streak alive.

Pin It!