Thursday, March 26, 2015

Joy in a Jar

On my desk, a small glass jar sits.  Each day, my students fill it up with notes to me from students and with what we call virtue tickets (or good news prize tickets).  Notes range from nice to know things like “I like your dress and please copy my essay for me” to need to know like “Suzy hit me or Johnny is being bullied”.  

Students mostly feel comfortable enough with me to write their names on their notes and if they don’t in case someone else sees it, we have code words that are picked at a different time.  The little notes are our little secret unless of course it’s something that needs to be addressed.  It’s nice in the hussle and bussle of our day to have a place students feel comfortable expressing themselves.  It feels good to be heard even if it’s by a paper ear.  
To my surprise one day recently, a student left me a larger than normal note .  Most are scrawled on paper scraps or sticky notes.  This particular note was handwritten in Sharpie on a piece of full sized notebook paper and was addressed with “Please Read” and even requested “Please Retern”.  This in itself intrigued me.

I opened the carefully folded paper and found it was a story written by the student.  I read the title which suggested a scary story was about to be told.  I read the story word for word.  

I was so impressed with this student’s willingness to share this with me.  I was even more impressed with how it ended.  I would not be able to come up with a more suspense-filled ending to a scary story.  I am hoping this young author continues the story. Or at least leaves me more! For this language arts teacher, it was like finding a little love note.
Do you have a system for your students to tell you things? What are some ways your students leave you little "love notes"? Leave me a comment with your answers.


Monday, March 16, 2015

Which, That and Who versus Whom

Relative pronouns and adverbs may come easy to some people; however, they often allude many. Take for instance who versus whom.  It is one of them most misused elements of grammar, yet there is an easy way to remember it.

I teach my students who versus whom by giving them the hint that who replaces he/she and whom replaces him/her.  I point out that him ends in m and thus needs whom.  I tell them to replace him with her if it's a female and then revert back to him. 

It's little tricks like that that make studying these nuisances of the English language more bearable for the faint of heart (or patience).  

In discussing relative pronouns, we look at the difference between which and that.  That is used when the information is necessary to the meaning of the independent clause.  The pronoun which is used when the information is not necessary.  This dependent clause is offset by a comma in front of which.  
A little trick I use to help my students remember if it's which or that is if it's need to know info or not.  I liken it to reporting versus tattling.  You need your teacher to know THAT something is not safe.  I explain the information in the dependent clause with the pronoun which is often something nice for the reader to know instead of what they must know right now (just like in tattling).  I also reference the comma that when tattling the teacher doesn't always need to know so you could sometimes wait to tell him/her.  A comma is a pause so I let them know that a comma is like the waiting time to tell the teacher.  Silly and sounds complicated, but they really seemed to get it.  

I have placed my Clauses, Relative Pronouns, and Relative Adverbs on TeachersPayTeachers.  It includes definitions, hints, and examples.  I use these notes in my students grammar interactive notebooks.  They just cut around the border and glue right in. The corresponding slide presentation can be seen here:  Relative Pronoun and Adverb Slide Prentation.

 TeachersPayTeachers Link

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Sink or Swim

I drive about an hour everyday to and from my school.  It gives me a lot of time to prepare for the day and reflect on it on the way home.  I had a meeting recently about a student and on the way to school that day, I was thinking of what I needed to share and I thought about my ultimate goal for the child -- independence.

One thing I always find in these meetings is that everyone involved wants what's best for the child, but may differ in what we feel is best.

I also got to thinking about how sometimes children are puzzles.  They cannot always tell us what they need, but their actions usually will give us some clues.  For some, it's that their distract-able and that impacts their learning (or lack there of).  Others, it shows that they might have cognitive impairments that get in the way. Sometimes, they spend so much time processing things, that they get overwhelmed and melt down. Occasionally, they just refuse to even start for fear of being wrong.

As teachers, it is our job to determine student needs and help meet those needs within the confines of the system we are in.  Most of the time, this is relatively easy.  Other times, especially in the area of cognitive deficits, we are tasked with a daunting task. The data suggests one way, parents another, and teacher instinct another.  How do we reconcile this?

I liken it to when I used to work in a summer daycare.  We would take the kids to the local high school for swim lessons on a weekly basis.  I did not care for this day, because inevitably one of the kids would freak out and nearly drown me.  I love water, but I have nightmares of drowning.  I have a feeling it has something to do with my brother dunking me under whenever he got the chance when we were younger.  But I digress . . . At the end of the summer, the treat for the kids that excelled at their lessons was to allow the off the diving boards.  We were tasked with "catching" them or at least making sure they came back up.  One particular time, a kid jumped off the diving board, freaked out and clung to me for dear life.  In the process, he pushed me underwater and it was difficult for me to get him back to the side of the pool without injuring myself.  I succeeded, but it took some extra effort.

Some children take that extra effort in school.  They are afraid if they are expected to be independent that they will fail (or drown).  So instead of working on their lessons by themselves, they expect us to "save" them.  It's sometimes hard to determine if they need us to catch them or to do the work with/for them.  Do we chance it and pull farther back or do we allow them to be dependent a little more than we would normally and maybe they'll "float".

Our ultimate goal as teachers is to "raise" independent young adults who can think and do for themselves.  But what about the ones that still need us to rescue them?  What service are we giving them?  Are they eventually going to be come independent?  Where do we draw the line?

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Summer Slide

I like a break just as much as anyone else, but to hear kids say that they didn't do any reading or math over the summer makes me sad.  I was the kid that ate up the public library's reading contest each summer.  It's interesting how much I found the bookmarks and all of the other trinkets so motivating. I also believe that is how I began to love reading, and I probably wouldn't have read classics like Little Women otherwise.  

I have heard many arguments against summer assignments like "let kids be kids" and "Johnny, doesn't like to read so I don't make him". However, we are doing Johnny and everyone else a disservice.  I have my students read at least 20 minutes a day.  I don't care if it's the back of a cereal box or a comic book as long as they read.  Dr. Seuss was right.  "The more you read; the more you know.  The more you know; the smarter you'll grow."  Think how much farther those that read and practice their math facts are by the end of the summer.  

You can only get better by practicing.  Do we let our kids take a break from piano for 3 months straight or from baseball or other sports? Most often than not, NO!  Then, why do we let them from academics?  

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Do you work in the summer?

“So you don’t work in the summer?”

This phrase and various other versions of it are said to me each and every summer. It is my version of fingers on a chalkboard, and it sends me reeling (even though I try to hide it). Just ask my husband!

While I know there are lots of teachers that sit around the pool all summer, I am not one of them.  I also know lots of teachers that spend their summers nannying, tutoring, and doing other “2nd jobs” just to get by on their small salaries.

So do I work in the summer?  

Before having my daughter, I was tutoring ALL summer or teaching summer school. Now it isn’t full time, but that doesn’t mean I take a break from learning all that I can about what’s new in our profession and various other things related to work.

I read, plan, and create all summer long.  It isn’t stressful like it is during the school year.  I start the summer by organizing my lesson plan book for the year.  Then, I fill in the calendar information, and I start planning the design of my classroom and map the curriculum out for the year.

I spend time reading through the teachers manuals of new programs we are implementing and I even attend workshops and webinars.  I find supplementary materials to go along with what we are learning.

While it’s usually stress-free, it is still related to my career, so I still call it working.  Do I go out of town on vacations and spend some time outside and at the pool?  Of course, but I am never completely away from my work and I like it that way.  It helps relieve the stress of starting the school year, and it keeps me organized.  

So what do I say in response?  Yes, I still work during the summer, but it’s more preparing for the next year (and yes, that entails some R&R mixed in).

I also am creating products for Teachers Pay Teachers.  Check out my summer sale:  


Monday, June 2, 2014

Letting Go of Perfectionism

One thing I love about teaching is being able to stay at home with my daughter during breaks.  Am I off the job? Never, but at least we get to figure out our own schedule.  

Today, we decided to “color” with the crayons she got for Easter.  Being not quite a year and a half old, crayons are a new concept to her.  but she learned quickly how to get color on the page.  When we were done, I had her put her colors back in the box.  

See I am a perfectionist when it comes to a lot of things, even if my house is still a mess.  I like crisp corners on my books; dog-eared pages make me cringe.  I like books to be put back on the shelf spine out.  AND I like my markers and crayons to be put back pointy or cap side up.  

My 1 year old helped me to see that sometimes we just have to let go of the perfectionism and just celebrate that the crayons were returned to the box, and the books have been returned to the shelf.  She put them in willy nilly, but they made it in the box.  

This got me to thinking about my classroom and the things that eat away at my perfectionism or drive my OCD tendencies nuts.  Pencil shavings left around the sharpener.  Notebook metal spirals sticking out.  Classroom library books placed on top of the baskets instead of in them.  Should these things be taken care of? Of course, but they don’t need to ruin my day or anyone elses.  It’s not about having the perfect classroom.  It’s about the learning being done.  

So going into the next school year, I hope that I can put these things into better perspective and not let them bother me so much.  

I think I am learning more from this little girl than she is from me!  She’s so wise ;)

Happy Monday,


photo credit: EJP Photo via photopin cc

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Why I Don't Use Reading Logs

Why I Don’t Use Reading Logs

I no longer use reading logs  in my 4th grade reading/language arts classroom.  When I say reading log, I am talking about the ones listing the title, author, and pages read each day.  Why would I not, you might ask?  I have a number of reasons that I will outline here.  I still LOVE the Book Whisperer and what she outlines in her book, but the logs just weren’t working for me and my students.

Reason 1:  It’s not going to help the love of reading.

You either have readers that LOVE reading or don’t.  I have found that my students that LOVE to read just want to read and the ones that don’t aren’t made to like it anymore to have to sit down and fill out the form.  

Now don’t get me wrong.  I was a kid that LOVED to read and found it very motivating to fill out the summer book contest logs from the public library in order to win prizes.  However, the lists we did in school was just a chore and took away from my reading.

Reason 2: They are a paper waster.  

What happens to all those paper logs after the kids are done with them?  They end up in a pile on my desk or glued in a notebook just taking up space.  What do the students do with them after I hand them back?  They end up throwing them away or, at best, recycling them.

Reason 3:  They are a time waster.

What happens to those pages and piles?  They end up cluttering my desk and taking up my time being graded.  Completion grades are a thing of the past anyways, so why grade them in the first place?  Who’s to say they didn’t just make it up anyways?  

So what do I do?

I assign a minimum of twenty minutes a night of reading.  Is it an honor system?  Yes and no.  Do I randomly ask how far they got in their book or what they read about? Yes.  

We have a big talk about how 20 minutes of reading a day will get you farther I also assign Accelerated Reader Goals for each quarter.  The good majority of them meet and exceed their goals.  The ones that do not meet their goals are usually pretty close.  I check in with the periodically throughout the quarter.  I suggest they take notes as they read so that they do not forget details and my accommodated students are allowed to use those notes on their quizzes.  I do give opportunities for rereading and if their books don’t have a test, I allow them to write a report.  AR even keeps a digital record of the books that they have read for me.

Are my reasons bulletproof ? Of course not.  Do they work for others?  Of course.  So take this with a grain of salt, but know it’s ok to not use them.  

Happy Reading,