Friday, April 15, 2011


The best/funny thing about working with kids is their understanding of life. Through the eyes of most nine-year-olds, anything a teacher tells them is true, new, hilarious and/or ingenious.

For example: I have a student in my class this year with a Leap Year birthday (Feb 29). When my students discovered that there were actually only 28 days in February, the questions began. After explaining that this boy has only had 3 birthdays, but will still be 11 years old, my kids were in awe. After the initial shock wore off, they began laughing hysterically because "there's a 3-year-old in our class." I'm not sure I understand how it is THAT funny, but, as I've said before, children's laughter is one of my favorite sounds ever, so I didn't mind.

Moving on, though. The reason I brought up the statement about information being new is because, if you were to look at the curriculum from Kindergarten through 12th grade, you would notice a lot of similarities. Year after year after year, students are exposed to the same information, yet year after year after year, they look at the teacher with eyes wide as he or she presents "new" information. Sure, the concepts get more intricate and advanced, but essentially we're just adding little details onto the big ideas. Being a teacher, this can be both energizing and draining. On the one hand, it's exciting to help kids discover new ideas and realizations. On the other hand, though, it gets frustrating to have to drill kids on math facts because they didn't memorize them their first 3 years. It also makes you wonder how much they'll remember from this year to next...

One perfect example of this lack of information retention is in reading. Starting in Kindergarten and 1st grade, students learn that some different words can have the same meaning... also known as synonyms. They start young with simple ones like mad and angry, or small and tiny, etc. using words the kids already know. As they progress through the years, they should be expanding their vocabularies and be able to make more extensive lists. They also start learning about thesauruses (thesauri?) and how to find synonyms for words they don't know. Well, after talking to a co-worker and hearing that her kids had no recollection of the terms "synonyms" and "antonyms," I decided to put my kids to the test. We've been studying character feelings, so I thought those would be good words to use. I had the kids make a chart in their journal and then we brainstormed together synonyms for happy, sad, mad, scared, and excited. To allow them more practice looking up words, I had them look up the first few. When one girl looked up the word "sad," there was a LONG list of synonyms for it... so many, that the list had to be broken into two columns. Since I was doing the activity with one of my lower reading groups, the girl's fluency was a little choppy. I heard her read a couple of the words, including "downcast," which was the word at the bottom of the column, and therefore broken into two parts and hyphenated in between columns. So, I heard her stumble over down-cast and a few other synonyms. To quickly check comprehension, I had her close the book and asked her to repeat a few of the synonyms she'd read. Without thinking twice, she said, "Downs Syndrome.... I mean, downcast." It caught me so off guard that I couldn't help but laugh before moving on. Hopefully, this will not stick and she will not go throughout her life thinking that Downs Syndrome is a synonym for sad. Considering that only the strangest things/most unimportant tidbits of knowledge that I throw into my teaching are what the kids remember, I wouldn't be surprised if that's one of the few synonyms she takes to 5th grade!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Ever since receiving my SmartBoard, it has become more and more an essential part of my teaching. Most days, I can't go more than 30 minutes after turning it off before I have to turn it on again. As such, a lot of times, I just leave it on through our activities so that I don't have to wait for it to start up. It was on the other day and I received an e-mail (or 10) from my mom discussing what to get my dad for his birthday today. Since I use Outlook at school, a little pop-up showed in the bottom corner of the screen, and since clearly ANYTHING is more interesting than my teaching, about 15 sets of eyes darted to see what the new email was about. They were able to see the subject before I regained their attention, which led to a whole discussion about whose birthday it was (it clearly said Dad's Birthday), when it was, and if we could make him a birthday card. Not wanting to break 20 little hearts by not allowing them to show appreciation for a person they've never met, I agreed. So, from Room 21 to the World's Greatest Dad.... Happy Birthday!!

Happy Birthday also to Mrs. Heidi Jones, Long Division Master/Machine/Weenie Pete/the best Skippyjon Jones voice-impersonator I've ever heard! :)

The highlight of their day was signing this card!!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Best Books!

From mid-January to mid-March, I completed a 3-credit graduate course through UVA for teaching reading comprehension using picture books. It was an amazing class (professor Beth Estill) and it transformed the way I (and the rest of my 4th grade team) teach reading.
Before taking the course, my whole group lessons usually involved reading from the kids' reading textbook while they "followed along" or let their minds wander until they heard me ask a question or say "the end." Since week 2 of the course, my lessons have used on-grade-level picture books that line up to the skills and strategies we are working on.
The transformation in my room has been incredible. When I pull out the book for the morning, students perk up, start creating predictions and questions instantly and stay intrigued through to the end. The discussions they have about the texts are no longer full of sentences like, "Sally is the main character," but now include sentences like, "I made an inference that Sally is feeling upset because she is frowning and I know I would be upset if that happened to me" and "Are you sure that's an inference and not a prediction, because it's something that you know is happening now and not what you think will happen?" (For those of you non-teachers, this is actually a big difference and I was ecstatic to hear this convo!) This love of books has transferred to the kids independent reading and they're constantly asking me to pick them out a good book or sharing books with each other that they enjoyed. It's super exciting to watch.
One day, as I pulled out a new picture book, one boy asked me why we hadn't used our textbooks in a while and I told him we were going to take a break from them for a while because I thought these other books were more interesting. He didn't hesitate at all to loudly proclaim, "FINALLY! That book is SO boring!" I love that they have no trouble speaking their minds. :)
A few weeks ago, we were working on the strategy of making mental images and I didn't have a book picked out for the next day yet, so I quickly grabbed one off the bookshelf as I was walking out the door to go home. I skimmed through it and made sure there were stopping points, but didn't read it in too much detail (a rare occurrence and not recommended!). Turns out, the book, Alpha and the Dirty Baby, includes imps, which are basically aliens/demons that take over the girls mom and dad and make the house super dirty, etc... it's a REALLY strange book, but my kids were enthralled! About 3/4 of the way through, one of my kids shouted out, "How do you always find the BEST books?"
I said, "It's been on the bookshelf all year!"
He said, "How come when I go back there to look, all I can find are boring books that I don't like and you find good ones?"
I just laughed and kept reading. Haha. Clearly, he just doesn't read them... or has a poor taste in literature if he thought this was a good book!

Today, we started our study on Elements of Non-Fiction and the kids are responsible for being able to locate and use a Table of Contents. Since I didn't have any non-fiction books handy, I quickly walked over to the bookshelf and literally grabbed the first chapter book I saw, which happened to also be the biggest and brightest. I took it back to the front of the room and said, "Ok. If I wanted to find the table of contents of this book, Stuart Little, I'd ----" I couldn't finish my sentence because all of my students started an uproar about the book! Apparently, for 27 weeks, none of them saw it sitting there and now ALL of them wanted to read it and they couldn't stop talking about what a good book (or movie!) it was! The same boy from a few weeks ago, again, said, "How do you find these good books?" I open my eyes when I'm looking at the book shelf? How do you NOT find these books? Haha. What have you been doing this whole year? These are some of the questions that ran through my mind, but I think I diplomatically just said something along the lines of, "I'll help you find one later."

The librarian just gave them the challenge of reading 10 chapter books in a month, so hopefully that'll help keep them going through the end of the school year! If I come across any other "Best Books" in my room, I'll let you know!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Spring Break!!

Spring Break is come and gone and we are in the final countdown until end-of-year-testing (27 days) and summer vacation (45 days)! Judging by the pollen that currently covers my car, it is obvious that Spring has finally arrived! If you need any more assurance, just spend 5 minutes in my classroom and you will see some definite spring fever!

I was blessed with the opportunity to spend my Spring Break week in Moloka'i, Hawai'i with some amazing friends. We had perfect weather, scrumptious food, the perfect balance of tourism and relaxation, and a million laughs. Between the 5 of us, we took somewhere around 2,000 pictures and I have spent countless hours flipping through them since our return! One of my travel companions was kind enough to make a short photo montage for us, so, after a quick geography lesson about Hawaii's location, I showed that to my kids on Monday. Creepily, a couple of them asked me for the link so they could look it up later... um, I think once is enough, thanks. :)
(Funny side story: While in Hawaii, I took the following picture and put it as the background on my school computer so it would be the first thing the kids saw when they walked in on Monday...
Well, it was the first thing they noticed, but unfortunately, one of my lower readers (who clearly doesn't speak Hawaiian) walked in first and said, very matter-of-factly, "What does Alleluia, Room 211 mean?" Oh jeez. Well, it's the thought that counts, right?)

Before I told them about my trip, though, we played a little writing/inferring game. Upon walking into the room, each of them had to write down 5 things they had done over their Spring Break. After 10 minutes, I collected all the papers and then read them off one-by-one. After finishing each list, the kids had to guess who's paper I had just read and tell me how they knew. As expected, more than one student included eating at the Golden Corral as one of the highlights of his or her Spring Break (I don't think I will EVER understand what they find so great about that place!)!
One of the "events" on one boy's paper was that he had gotten thrown up on, in the mouth... I was disgusted upon reading this, but after he clarified, it turned out just to be some spit up from while he was burping his new baby sister... still disgusting, but much less so than it could have been!
Other "highlights" included getting in a fight w/ a neighborhood kid who stole my student's chips, being sick for two days, playing video games, sleeping in, going to the Circus at Hampton Coliseum (I was actually pretty jealous of that one!), Chuck E. Cheese, and playing outside.

All in all, the kids seemed pleased with the way their Spring Breaks went and more than one mentioned that he or she was happy to be back in school (always good to hear!). Aside from a few minor recess incidents, they've actually been pretty well-behaved since we've been back and we're cracking down hard on the learning!

So that I can continue enjoying my Spring Break as long as possible, and you can get a taste of Hawaii, here are a few pictures from the trip! :)

One of the many sunrises we watched from our lanai (patio)... who knew getting up at 6:30 could be enjoyable on vacation?
The two girls of the group!
The most gorgeous beach I have ever seen!

Another BEAUTIFUL beach... all to ourselves!!

We had all the gear, but I'm pretty sure the fish heard us coming!
A wonderful group to spend a week with!!

We got not one, but TWO leis upon our arrival!

P.S. (My 4th quarter resolution is to keep up with my blog... sorry for the 2 month hiatus!!)