Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Community Circle Time and _My Princess Boy_

In my classroom we do regular community circles. This is a great time for students to talk with one another, get to know each other better and become a community. It is amazing to see how far they come in accepting one another and being comfortable talking with each other over time. Todays circle was a day that showed us just how far we have come.

In the past we have talked about bullying. Actually, we addressed a case of bullying that was happening at school. One of my boys (who has long hair) has been being teased for his hair. Kids were calling him a girl, making fun of his hair etc. As a class, we had a few long talks about this, and the bullying stopped in the classroom.

Today, though, I decided to share a book with my students called My Princess Boy. This is a non-fiction book about a young boy who likes to wear dress up clothes and how his family accepts him, as well as about being teased at times. The students were all very respectful and had insightful things to say about the story.

The story also brought up more issues of teasing. Quite a few of the girls talked about being teased for playing "boys sports" at recess. Other students talked about being teased in the past for how they dressed or for looking or acting "like a boy" or "like a girl."

I had been considering reading this book on and off for a long time, but was not sure how my 4th grade class would handle it. Honestly, I was worried about having issues from some of my students parents. My student population is quite diverse. The class is around 90% free-reduced lunch and has a combination of new immigrants (generally from conservative families from Mexico and Central America), white students, African American students and Somali immigrants (mostly Muslim).

My students can sometimes handle more than I give them credit for. The conversation was amazing and thoughtful and was a great community building time.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Publishing student work the fast way

This year, I have been using a remote typist to publish my student writing. Because my students are so slow at typing, and are so far being in reading and math, I really can't justify the time it takes them to type up their writing. On the other hand, I do want them to have some nice typed up writing pieces.

Internet to the rescue!

I can now take the pieces and scan them using my school computer. The scanned pieces are emailed to me as a PDF.  I email them to a remote assistant. Time taken on my part - 5 minutes! Using google docs, the assistant types up the writing and sends emails me back.

Does this cost me money? Yes! It costs me less than a grande mocha. Considering I have 3 children at home, I think this is more than worth the money. You could also use and get them typed up for free with an internet volunteer.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Super Improvers Wall

I started using a Super Star Improver wall in my classroom this month. I got this idea from a free webinar on the Whole Brain Teaching website. The whole idea of the wall is to celebrate and reward improvement!

 Now, as students make improvements (in anything) they can get a star. The students can get stars for improving in behavior, test scores, kindness, behavior with a substitute teacher etc. They love to get stars. This week some students received stars for the following:
  • Improving scores on a vocabulary quiz
  • Doing extra credit during reading time
  • Participating with gestures during mirror
  • Tutoring another student on some tricky math problems
  • Working well with their partners
  • Turning in HW (a child who frequently forgets)
  • Improving scores on Super Speed Math

Every time they get 10 stars, they move up a level. We have a celebration after lunchtime when students are going to move up a level. Another time I'll share the different chants we use in the classroom. When a student has ten stars, a student helper moves their card so it is vertical. That lets me know that the child is ready to move up a level.

The students really like to take home the index cards with all of their stars. I then make a big deal of letting them choose the color their name will be written on for the next level.

We have a solar system theme going on. I find some decal stickers of the solar system, which I put up around the wall. They start at the sun and move out towards Saturn.

Here is a picture of the wall!

HOL online classes I offer:

FIRST DAYS OF SCHOOL: From Stress to Success
SAVE TIME: Time Management for Your Teaching & Your Life   

Monday, February 20, 2012

New Math Nameplate with color

I copied the math name plate and tried watercoloring it to make the name plate less overwhelming. I think that this new version is much improved!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

New Math Nameplate

I have been using the DollarTree name plates for this year, but wanted to create something more useful for my students. Here is my newest nameplate. It includes a blank space for writing the student's name. It includes the visuals from Bridges for how to multiply and divide. It also includes the visuals for fractions that we use in egg carton fractions. (These visuals make adding and subtracting with different denominators so much easier.)

The decorations were just me having a little bit of fun after the kids went to sleep. I love doodling and making fun designs.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Testing anxiety

State testing is coming up soon.

While I have very mixed feelings about the tests, I know that a ten year old should not be loosing sleep over these tests. Prior to a district assessment earlier this year, I noticed that the students were acting a bit off. I had them sit down and asked them to share some of the thoughts that were going through their minds.

  • "My parents will get mad at me if I don't do well."
  • "I won't pass the grade."
  • "I'll be moved into a different reading class."
  • "I'm no good at reading."
  • "I'm going to get a bad score."
I was actually surprised at how anxious it turned out all of my students were. I quickly changed the lesson we were working on, and took some time to talk about testing thoughts.

We looked at each thought they were having, and then came up with a new helpful thought. For example, instead of saying "My parents will get mad at me if I don't do well," they could label that thought as emotional reasoning and say in their heads, "My parents love me no matter what."

I didn't think too much of the exercise until I saw the test results. Amazingly, the students did much better than their previous reading exam. Of course this wasn't any scientific study, but it is worth a try and made for a much calmer classroom!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

New Word Work Activity for Daily 5

I have started using a new word work activity - called "SuperSpeed 1000" in my classroom. I actually like it so much, that I've started sending it home as homework as well!

What SuperSpeed 100 and 1000 have in common is that it is a game that helps students practice the most frequently read words. Unfortunately, most of these words can not be sounded out. That's the bad news. The good news, though, is that the 100 most common words make up 50% of everything we read!

So . . . if we can just get our students to read those 100 words fluently, we are half way there to fluent readers. The game is very simple and is rigged so each child is constantly breaking records while improving their reading speed. They love to play the game. I love it that their reading is improving.

Here is all of the information:

(And yes, it is completely free!)

Monday, February 6, 2012

Using to suppliment math time

I am piloting a math learning website called What a difference this is making! I am able to help my students be so much more successful in math by using technology. I can differentiate and give focused practice for students who are missing basic skills.

What some our math lessons now look like is the following:

  • First 10 minutes = mini-lesson for everyone on the objective of the day.
  • 2 minute quiz - I ask one or two questions, the students write the answer, or can write that they would like to continue working with me. Normally 3-5 students are able to move onto working independently, and can do so on the computer. These are the same students that would potentially be bored with the whole class, or would be trying to answer all of the questions.
  • Next 20 minutes - Guided practice
  • 2 minute quiz - Normally, I just have 5-10 students left after this quiz. Students who show mastery go onto a computer, with 2-3 students sharing each computer.
  • Till end of class - Reteach with small group in a different way
I now have more time to work with small groups, students are not bored and they get immediate feedback!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Favorite Valentine's Day activity

Prior to Valentine's Day, I spend some time as a class figuring out how much money we potentially could spend on cards.

  • 25 students
  • Each student has 2-5 siblings (average 3, one student is an only child)
  • Cost of valentines box ($3 - average)
  • 25 * 3 * 3 = $225 
After discussing that this amount of money is a bit excessive, and doesn't include any candy, I share with them how we do Valentines day in my classroom.

Each student receives a piece of paper with 6 large hearts per page. There is the name of one student written on each heart.  I then copy them and make a packet for each child. Their assignment is to write a thoughtful compliment to each and every student in the class. They also need to decorate each of the hearts in a thoughtful way. We spend some time giving examples and working on them in class, but the rest is the homework for the week. (And some do need the entire week to come up with a thought for every single student.)

On Valentine's Day their entry ticket to our party, is the completed packet. They have to have one completed heart for each student. (They cut up the hearts at the party, so it is easy to see who did the work.) These cards end up being so more thoughtful than anything you could buy at a store and make for a real warm festival of friendship.