Monday, September 30, 2013

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

My walls don't need much on them at the beginning of the year when I know this will be happening to them.  For the first several weeks of school, the kids decorate our back door and wall with their trash.  The point is to heighten their awareness of words they can already "read."  What an important message to send, especially for those who didn't even know they were readers yet.  What's even better is that the trash never ends up in the trash.  When it comes down it finds itself  in books that the kids love to read over and over again.  It's the gift that keeps on giving.  See what I mean here.

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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Saturday Sayings: Magic Moments

I found this thought in Buschman's book about helping children becoming problem solvers in math.  (If you'd like to improve the mathematical problem solving in your classroom, this is the perfect book to pick up.)  Obviously the quote applies to any area of the curriculum, but I find myself echoing how Buschman has found it to be true in math.  

I have discovered teachable moments abound when I ask mathematicians to solve problems in ways that make sense to them and then carefully listen to their explanations.  On more than one occasion I've had a look at a child's strategy and thought it looked like gibberish.  Instead of dismissing it, with a deep breath and a smile said, "Now, tell me about your strategy."  Come to find out, it was a brilliant strategy and one worth letting the child teach to everyone else.  Those moments do not necessarily occur in a situation where the teacher controls the use of problem solving strategies.  There is very little chance for conversation and explanation when children don't have the freedom to invent their own ways of understanding math.    

I believe Buschman is right when he says that when we let go, we give children magic moments.  Admittedly, taking the risk of letting go can induce all sorts of fears.  Will there be any learning?  Will I be able to teach all that's in the curriculum?  What if no one organically invents the strategies that I believe are most useful?  And so on.  I can attest to the fact that letting go does not mean that chaos ensues.  Instead, magic moments occur.  They learn to be problem solvers.  They learn to take risks.  They learn how to communicate about their thinking.  They understand math.  They become mathematicians.  It really is magical.

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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Reading Makes You Feel Good

I don't ask my readers, "Does reading make you feel good?"  I ask them, "Why does reading make you feel good?"  Since I'm the teacher, I get to assume lots of things, and fortunately, they all go along with it.  Todd Parr inspired me to ask this question and to create a classroom book about their answers.  I posted about it before along with other Todd Parr creations (look here), but this time around I made the book a different way.  

Many of them said that reading makes them feel good because it's fun.  Their answers will likely develop and become more insightful as the years go on, but for now, what a great reason to read!  Thanks Todd!

(By the way, I'm in our book too.  I believe that's important.)

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Monday, September 23, 2013

Positive Thinking Day

Friday the 13th might not be known for the best of reasons, but my class knows September, Friday the 13th for being Positive Thinking Day.  We celebrated with a little video and some great reads.  Even though we loved the video enough to watch it about five times, it really only took once or twice for them to figure out what positive thinking was.  Take a look. 

My instructional coach tracked down I Like Myself! from one of our K teachers who then let me borrow it.  The character in the book sounds practically identical to my little friend in the video.  They could be twins.  On the other hand, there's The Pout-Pout Fish, who oddly enough can sound like a few first graders I know.  

Okay, to be honest, even I sound like a pout-pout fish from time to time.  Regardless of age, we all need some reminders to spread the cheery cheeries instead of dreary drearies.  I think my first graders now have a better idea of what positive thinking and cheery cheeries can do not only for them but for others.  If it takes talking to ourselves in the bathroom mirror to make that happen, so be it.  :) 

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Saturday, September 21, 2013

Saturday Sayings: Their Beautiful

If I weren't a teacher and went to work elsewhere each day, I bet I'd want that space to look like me.  I'd want to see myself on the walls just like my students want to see evidence of their presence.  I've found over the years that my adult life wishes aren't too far off from what my kids want in their world (something to keep in mind when making all sorts of decisions that affect our students).  I doubt it's that they dislike commercially published materials, but I'm betting on the fact that they find their contributions to the classroom walls much more meaningful and worthy of their attention.  For me, that's enough of a reason to avoid materials made by strangers if possible.  I don't mean to say the walls should be completely naked on day one.  I have a few items that I've enjoyed creating and displaying in my room that I do believe add nicely to the atmosphere I wish to create, but the majority of space is wide open and waiting for its most important inhabitants.  Although it doesn't take long for the walls to be covered in graphs, photos, artwork, environmental print, charts, etc., I'm positive I can always strive to put more of them and their beautiful on our walls.  

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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Tasty Tools

We've been working on number sense and using the retractable clothesline in my room to learn about number lines.  We've learned that the spaces between the numbers are as important as the numbers themselves.  We took that knowledge and applied it to the creation of a concrete model.  I found this great picture through Pinterest which unfortunately leads me nowhere.  Holler if you know the original owner.

First their task was to get their cheerios spaced out as evenly as possible.  Then they added the numbers.

Next they ate their number line and replaced it with a written one.  The last step was to add little lines to hold their numbers' spots as they removed the Cheerios one by one.

Not every math lesson can involve tasty tools, but there's sure something motivating and memorable about learning a concept when it's edible.

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Monday, September 16, 2013

We Fit Together

Here's a little something that I do with my kids at the beginning of the year to help cultivate classroom culture.  I believe I found it in the Mailbox Magazine years ago.

It all starts with 25 puzzle pieces like these.

I trace the puzzle pieces on two poster boards.  One poster board gets cut apart and numbered on the back of each piece.  The other poster board is left intact.  Each piece is numbered on the front.  

After each child draws themselves on a piece (on the side that isn't numbered), they bring it to the intact poster board, find the matching piece using the shape or number as help, and then glue it on.

When complete, we fit together pretty well.  

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Saturday, September 14, 2013

Saturday Sayings: Launching Pains

I've written 84 Saturday Sayings and luckily most have felt inspired.  It's been a long week though and inspired does not quite fit the way my mind and body feel right now.  (Anyone with me on this?)  So searching my book of quotes for today's post proved to be a ho-hum undertaking until my eyes landed on this one by Lucy Calkins.  It's such a perfect thought for this moment that I think she probably meant to say, "Tammy, when you launch a writing worship, the one thing you know for certain is that there will be problems..."  Maybe she didn't want to exclude anyone so she chose pronouns like "we" and "us."  I'm pretty sure she was talking directly at me though.

Training up writers in the way they should go is almost painful.  I won't miss a day, but there are times when I have to talk myself into another writing workshop.  (I think I can.  I think I can.  I think I can.)  The persistence pays off in the end and the writing they produce is one of the most rewarding parts of my job, but the launching is so much work, especially when my writers aren't necessarily familiar with the writing workshop practice of writing every day, writing about their lives, stretching moments across several pages, independently working for a sustained amount of time, using pens, and the list goes on.  They're wired for this though.  I am too.  Even amidst the pain of problems, they were born to be writers and I was born to teach them.

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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

What Are You Full Of?

The best part of my day...
Me:  What are you full of?
First grader: Greatness
Me:  You're right.  You were born to be great!

Since the first day of school I've told my kids that they're full of greatness.  (Interested in reading about that?  Look here.)  The greatness isn't always easy to find from one child to the next, one moment to the next, or one day to the next, for that matter.  Even as an adult my greatness varies from day to day it seems.  It's there though.  

Today I used shaving cream and a mirror to show my kids how greatness works.  You see, greatness is like seeing your reflection in a mirror.  It's always there.  It's just that sometimes things cover it up.

 Sometimes the things we say can cover up our greatness.  It's still there of course.

 Sometimes the things we do can cover up our greatness.  The more these things happen, the more difficult it is to see the greatness.

The good news is that this can be fixed.  It might take a little work though.  The shaving cream doesn't come off as easily as we'd like sometimes (as I showed them above), but with some effort it's obvious that the greatness never left.

The mirror came in handy the rest of the day too.  It followed me around and every so often found faces full of greatness looking into it.

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Sunday, September 8, 2013

Favorite Letter Gifts

Confession - I've never given my kids birthday gifts.  I've always celebrated with them and have some sweet birthday traditions involving cubbies, capes, and love notes (see here) but I never thought to give gifts.  I don't have a good reason for being such a loser of a teacher. :)

All that is changing.  I tried to come up with a memorable gift that would be worthy of holding onto for a while.  I decided to make each one a framed first letter from their name, which for most of them happens to be their favorite letter.  Here are my first four.

The good news is that they're dirt cheap to make.  I already had everything I needed except the frames, which were under a dollar a piece from the thrift store.  The other good news is that they're easy to make.

I even snuck in a little message on each one.  Hopefully this will redeem my loser-of-a-teacher status!  

Thank you Tara for the linky.

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Saturday, September 7, 2013

Saturday Sayings: Becoming

I'd love to perfect first grade, but knowing that's not remotely possible, I really am content with the knowledge that there will always be more to become.  Most of the time, like Regie, I welcome this fact.  Then there are the rare moments, like the one I'm in now, possibly induced by the most stressful and draining time of the year, where my ever-growing-must-improve-me list of better teaching practices can seem quite daunting.  Sometimes I just feel like a mediocre teacher disguised as an exceptional one.  I've pulled the wool over everyone's eyes, and they wrongly perceive me as better than I really am at this thing called teaching.  I say that not to induce an onslaught of pats on the back.  I say it because, well, I'm normal.  I struggle at times with myself and my weaknesses.  In hopes of not sounding too much like a pout pout fish though, on this 20th year of teaching, I do have so much to be thankful for.  In the midst of all the improvements on my wish list, I can't help but be so deeply grateful for 20 years of becoming that has brought me to this place.  I have come a long way.  The process isn't always comfortable, but I know it's worth it.

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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Ugly Words

A lot of work sure goes into teaching little people what excellence sounds and looks like in the classroom.  This simple activity is just one piece of that.  I've been doing this for years and apologize for not remembering the original source.  

My kids helped me brainstorm ugly words.  The only rule was the word couldn't be a swear word.  We made our list and could have kept going (there are a lot of ugly words out there), but for sake of time, I called it good and said, "This is what I think of ugly words."  I scrunched up the list and stomped on it until it was sufficiently flattened.  Then I hung it at the front of the room on the whiteboard for all to see.  (Yep, it will be there until June.)

"The next time you feel like an ugly word is on the tip of your tongue, swallow it."  When an ugly word does appear though, I point to our smashed list and say, "That's an ugly word."  The visual is pretty powerful actually.  Sure this activity won't fix the problem, but it's an important piece, that in conjunction with all the others, moves us in the right direction to looking and sounding like excellence.

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Sunday, September 1, 2013

Color Cats Freebie

Barb at Grade ONEderful loves using poetry in her classroom, as do I.  She's sharing two great poems today about teeth.  You should really go get yourself a copy of each.  I decided to join her and throw a post together about a poem that I like to use at the beginning of the year too.  It's simple as all get out, but my kids always enjoy it.  It's got a great rhythm, useful color word recognition, the "at family," and a little surprise in the middle.  (I apologize for not being able to give credit to the brilliant person who wrote it.)    

Click on the picture for your copy.  Then head over and visit Barb!

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