Saturday, June 30, 2007

do unto the kiddos as you want done unto you

This week in RC training my instructor had us do an imagery exercise I do every year with my kids. She read us a long, image-rich book and when she was done we had to draw 4 images we made from the story. This was the most stressful experience all week! The minute she gave the directions I started stressing... will I remember 4 images? what if I don't? Will someone notice if I copy their images? will everyone learn that I have trouble concentrating on read-alouds?

As she started reading I was almost too stressed to listen to the story. It had no plot and so was hard to focus on images. Plus, I spent the whole time repeating images in my head so when she was done I'd be able to draw 4 images. Needless to say I missed most of the story. And I do not have fond memories of this story either, though I'm sure it was beautiful.

During our 'share with a partner' time I discovered all of the adults in the room had the same feelings. Everyone was whispering under their breath about how hard this was, and how much they disliked the activity. Most striking though was that almost all of us do this activity with our kids.

I've had GREAT results with this activity every year. I had my GMU intern do it this year and she had great results as well. Now that I've been on the other side of this activity I think I can find ways to moderate it to make it enjoyable for the kids as well as the adults. I'd hate to teach them to make mental images while also turning them off to books.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

why i can't go to law school

From where I sit in my class I can see the ropes of the swings swaying up and down. I can't actually see the kids on the swings, just the back and forth rhythm of kids having fun on a summer day. It's enough to make me wish that instead of being around adults that I was around first graders. *sigh*

it's times like this that make me realize i don't stand a chance of working outside of a school.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

magical farts

On a particularly rough day I finally had the class quiet after our 3rd attempt at lining up for music. Every time we talked in line we'd had to sit back down. They sat on the carpet silently, and seemed almost ready. Just as I was about to open my mouth to direct the kids to "try again" my smart cookie let out a 3-tiered fart. It started short and loud, then was long and low, and ended with a high eighth-note.

I had no idea that was possible. none. is this some skill everyone has but me? the ability to not only fart on demand but control them enough to make noises? I've heard of burping the alphabet, but farting musically? It's depth wasn't an accident either. She moved her body to gain control.

Needless to say we didn't make it to music on time that day.

listening to our kids

Today in RC I was doing my homework under the table when I read this quote from The Power of Our Words written by Paula Denton.

"When we know students fully we can make better decisions about curriculum, classroom management, and discipline that will fit their needs"

This rings true to my philosophy of teaching and I felt affirmed because knowing my kids is something I perceive as one of my strengths. Then I read

"To be understood is also simply one of the most basic human needs. We all need to feel understood to have a sense of belonging and significance. To be motivated to learn, children need to feel like they belong and are important to the classroom community. "

The reference to our basic human needs made me begin to reflect on my kiddo I previously blogged about, the one who would tell me, "You hurt my heart". I always wondered about this little guy's sense of self because for most of the year he would only draw himself as an animal. Cat, dog, goat, or horse, but never boy. His disabilities limited his communication skills and so despite how hard he tried he never was able to get through to me, and in return, I was never able to really get through to him.

How frustrating that must have been when I knew the other kids so well. When they'd come in the door I'd ask about their moms, little brothers, soccer games, trips to Chuckey Cheese, etc. I'd always greet him when he came in, comment on his new hair cut, shoes, or ask him how his weekend was, but never any deep connections. In the room where everyone else clearly felt significant, important, and that they belonged, he probably felt like an outsider, or perhaps, less than human.

Maybe I asked him too many questions when really I should have been listening and pausing to reflect on the answers he gave. "My dad sick" led me to jump in with "Oh no! Is he in the hospital? Did he go to the doctor? Is he coughing?" and other questions that he couldn't find answers to. Something about his dad was clearly bothering him and maybe I'd have understood it better if I'd just paused instead of probing for the answers. I wanted to have more to listen to, when really I should have listened to the few words he spoke to me.

No wonder he frequently sat under tables refusing to come out. When he tried to communicate with me I pushed him away with my enthusiasm, scaring him with my questions and demanding answers he didn't know. Because of his language I don't even know if he meant to use the word 'sick' to mean physically ill. Maybe he meant mad, sad, or even on a trip.

These quotes made me think about our special ed and ESOL kids who struggle to communicate. As educators we know the importance of listening to our kids but sometimes there has to be other ways of listening besides traditional oral communication. We have to think about the weight behind each word and gesture to fully understand some of our little ones.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

"You hurt my heart!!"

This year I struggled with a kiddo who frequently told me that I hurt his feelings whenever I redirected him. Even if I was handing out work to each child and called his name he would shout, "Don't yell at me!"
This little one has a lot going on in his life, as well as a lot going on biologically. But he's a great little kid and despite the frequent, "I HATE you!" I enjoyed teaching him.

I never did feel like I broke through with him though and have been left unsettled at how little we accomplished. Sure we learned to read, but we didn't accomplish so many of those social goals I thought we would in the beginning of the year.

Today I saw him at the school summer camp. He came running up to me, happy and excited to see me. He hugged me repeatedly. As I was driving away from the school I looked up to see him running along the sidewalk with my car, waving his arms happily.
maybe I don't have to solve each kid in one year. each kiddo is a work in progress, and we'll keep working together as educators to help set a kid on his path. His happy smile today reminded me that even though I'm not his classroom teacher I can still be a part of his community.

Monday, June 25, 2007

story telling vs writing

In RC training today they asked us to reflect on our 'life-line' as a writer and create a time line of our attitude toward writing throughout our lives. As I sat and thought I realized that my writing life had two life-lines.

One started before I even started preschool, when I became a storyteller. I told stories to my dolls, the squirrels in the backyard, the ladybug on my arm, and any adult that would sit still enough to listen. I told my parents stories about the fairies in the backyard and the problems they were having with our golden retriever. My mind was constantly creating stories, developing characters, and finishing it all off with an exciting plot. In church I use to entertain myself by making up lives for the overly dressed up women sitting in front of me. My parents have boxes filled with my journals; pages of hard to read misspellings going back to when I was 6.

My other writing life-line is that of handwriting, spelling, grammar, and all the logistical nightmarish, school-oriented writing. I have always had terrible handwriting. I couldn't spell to save my life, and have never been able to pay attention to grammatical rules long enough to apply them to my writing.

Slowly high school, college, and a love of reading merged the two so that what i write is somewhat spelled correctly and somewhat grammatically correct some of the time. (Thank you for inventing computers.) To be a successful writer I had to learn all of those important rules. But to be a writer, I needed to love the process of story telling.

It makes me realize that we can pull stories out of kids that struggle to put pen to paper. Imaginations are full of stories and telling stories, even oral stories, is another form of writing. It's not always about how it looks, how its spelled, and its grammatical content. the most accurate writing produced by my first graders may not be the most well-written.

drinking the kool-aide

I admit, I am a responsive classroom groupie. I love their philosophy, their programs, and their workshops. I buy the books, take all of the classes I can, and try hard to impliment their ideas in my own classroom.

This week I am taking 'Responsive Classroom- Literacy' class, as I have already taken RC 1, RC 2, and RC 3 isn't offered this week. There is something inspiring, motivating, and energizing about being in a room for 8 hours with educators passionate about teaching in a way that empowers the kids. They have come from all over the US, some from mexico, to participate in the workshop.

I'll try to share whatever tidbits/broad ideas I get over the next week. Most of today was setting the stage so we'll see where it takes us tomorrow.

Friday, June 22, 2007


While I was choosing books at the public library to take to the beach I overheard the happy squeals of a child with new books. I turned around to see a little blonde headed three/four year old toddling over to the adult book section with a large stack of 5 board books. "Mummy!" he exclaimed in his British accent. "I found books! Too many!" The pure happiness radiated off his face. He plopped himself down in the middle of the floor, pulled up one book and immediately began turning the pages and looking at the pictures. "Mummy!" he announced again, "how will I ever read ALL THESE BOOKS?" Mum, clearly engaged in choosing her own literature, smiled and nodded, but then promised that they'd get through them all.

I watched the boy and was jealous that at the age of 3 he could score so high on the concepts of print test. Before opening the book he knew to turn the book to the front. He knew which was the top of the page and which was the bottom, and he knew that to read books we turn pages from the front to the back. The way his eyes tracked the page it seemed he even knew we read left to right.

What a great mom. From just watching a kid's excitement over new library books you can immediately tell what kind of a great reading-parent raises him. She takes him to the library; he sees her enjoying books and reading herself. She reads to him enough for him to know how books work. She's given him so much already. I wanted to stop this woman and tell her how incredible this was. So many of the kids in my class wouldn't score as high on the concepts of print test as this little one did. It doesn't reflect their intelligence, or their learning potential. It only reflects their past educational opportunities and their exposure to books.

it's easy to take reading parents for granted. I was raised in a 'book-friendly' house where reading was up there with family and God. My parents were lucky to have been raised in book-houses themselves, and were lucky to have the time and education to know to read-aloud to their kids.

I want to be able to give that book-childhood to every child. Other than being a bed-time reading fairy and visiting every house every night before bed, are there any other options?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

good luck!!

The advanced jump rope team leaves tomorrow to compete in the National Jump Competition. I work with our demo-team, so I wont be going with them on their journey to the mecca of the skipping world. We have four that qualified this year. If you have never seen a jump-rope cometition you can't even imagine the crazy jump nation they are about to enter. I don't fully understand, I've never been to a national competition. However, I just discovered a jump-rope video blog if you're interested in getting a taste.

Good luck AT Jumpers!!

messy room vs clean room?

I cannot keep my classroom clean and organized. I try. I really do. Every year I start promising myself this year will be different. I label everything. I make plans so it will be easy for the kids to put things away. At open house my room always looks welcoming, friendly, and well-organized. By the time we go to lunch on the first day it is already in disarray.

Does this make me a bad teacher? The other rooms on my hallway are fabulously well-organized. If someone ever needs to take a picture of a model classroom they always go to the classroom across from mine. It is divinely perfect. The kid artwork is hanging straight on the walls. The library looks lovely, books perfectly put away in their places. The teacher's desk is neat. The calendar math is neatly put up, no pieces hanging off the board because they were frantically put up so there would be time for the math lesson. If I leave her room and walk into mine I break into a sweat and have trouble breathing. I can't figure out how to make my room look like that.

I try, I really do. I don't know if I get so into lessons that I overlook the markers rolling on the floor. Or the tops on the glue sticks escaping under the shelves. Or the classroom library books being hidden in secret places in the room where the reader can find them.
Ok, so I do see these things. But I find it touching when a kid is so inspired by a book that they hide it so they know where it is. And I would rather have certain children follow directions and come to the rug right away than take the time to put the marker away. (I don't see the glue stick tops. Those kill me. i wish I could make a glue stick that wouldn't require a top. I believe it is impossible for first graders to hold onto glue stick tops. They seem to magically fly away the minute children take them off. It doesn't matter how many times you model what to do.)

I've stolen every clean-up the room activity in the book. My favorite is pick-up Olympics, which I give full credit to my mother who taught me this fabulous trick.
"Ladies and gentlemen! We are reporting live from room 117 where the Cheetah team is about to take on the biggest mess of the year! Can they do it? you ask. Let's see. 1,2,3, clean! And they're off. Watch how ____ safely puts away those markers. And over in the corner ____ is getting the tissues that dropped. Wow! look at that skill. He really knows what he's doing. He's been training for this for a lifetime. And here's ____ and ____, look at that teamwork! Incredible!"
The room gets clean, and the best part is you narrate the safety and teamwork. When a kid isn't participating you hand them the 'microphone' and say, "So _____, what do you think you'll clean up next?" Afterward you do a team de-briefing interview where you discuss the teamwork, safety, and skill the picker-uppers used. (Also great for those ESOL students because you are literally narrating every move they make in a socially acceptable way)

Then there is magic trash, where you pick one piece of trash on the floor, don't tell them where it is, and tell them whoever picks up the 'magic trash' gets a sticker. This works great until some wise kid figures it out and accuses you of tricking kids just to get the room clean. I can usually get the game to last until March so I imagine it wont work in the higher grades.

Another great one is litter-bug. You wrap masking tape around their hands, sticky side out. They get to use their tape-hands to pick up tiny pieces of trash on the floor. This works the best after you've made symmetrical snowflakes and have tiny paper everywhere. This is their favorite but it requires a lot of tape.

To top everything off, I even have a broom the kids use constantly. They love sweeping and do it every chance they get. But somehow, by the end of the day, my room is still a mess.

I'm embarrassed when people come in. It doesn't matter what great lessons are going on, I get nervous they are noticing the crooked posters, the number tape hanging off the wall, the stack of papers under a child's desk, and the books scattered in our library. How can kids learn in a messy environment?

But how do I get them to learn if all we do is clean? that is a skill I still need to learn.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

lost report card

yesterday one of my little ones lost her report card. I handed it to her on the way out the door. By the time she got to the end of the hallway it was gone. We looked everywhere. We checked with the office. We emptied her pockets and shook her upside down. How do you lose a report card within 20 seconds of it being handed to you?

zero the hero

‘zero the hero came to school, zero the hero, he’s so cool, zero the hero saves the space… so all the other numbers can stay in one place. Yeah….’ (Picture jazz hands here)

This year my first graders became very concerned about whether or not zero was even or odd. Everyday during calendar math this debate would come up and we couldn’t seem to get past it. They were upset that they couldn’t put 0 into one of the clear-cut categories. I truthfully didn’t know and had somehow gotten through 3 previous years of teaching the concept of even and odd without this question coming up.

Finally I decided to see where they would take this. At first I let one math team (I use teams for math workshop centers) write their reasons for why zero was even, odd, or neither. I loved their thinking, but soon realized the debate was rising to a new level. Now that they were putting real thought behind it they were getting into heated conversations with each other.
“NO Stupid! Zero is even because 1 is odd” “Zero can’t be even! Even is if the number has a partner. Zero has no partners, like you.” “you’re a zero” great.

Though it was great that they were engaged in an academic debate, we clearly needed some good debate practice and perhaps some review of how we treat one another.

So, we started by defining the concept of zero. What is it? Is it the absence of something? Is it nothing? Is it a place-holder for the tens place? Is zero actually two different concepts: one zero represents the existence of nothing; the other zero represents a place holder in base ten?

More confused than ever, we started debating our reasons for why we thought zero was even, odd, or neither. It was interesting because the children who defined zero as being nothing fell into the ‘neither’ camp, while the children who focused on its place-holder status fell into the ‘even’ camp. A few children argued odd because zero does not represent a partner-relationship.

I was fascinated by their thoughts and opinions. I realized I’d never put much thought behind it. I’d always been told zero was neither, but I had never questioned it.

So, we wrote emails to my math professors in college, my math-teacher friends, math ph d candidates, and the math specialist at my school. Everyone had a different answer. I sent groups of kids off with index cards to ask the staff at my school what they thought. They were instructed that the adult must write down their reasoning just like I had made them. The results were fascinating. Everyone in our school had different opinions and the reasons for their opinions varied as well. More interestingly, most of them were very confident in their answer. Only one administrator and one librarian asked my kids to come back and tell them what they had discovered. Everyone else gave ‘the final answer’.

Two of my little girls’ heads almost exploded. Grownups thought they were right, but they didn’t all agree. Not one right answer? Impossible. As their minds grappled with this you could see sparks flying.

In the end we never did come to a conclusive decision, partly because I couldn’t decide how to end it. Mathematicians emailed me that zero was even, yet there still seemed to be enough debate over it to make it a mystery. I also struggled with giving my children a definite answer. I was scared to break the magic the hunt for the truth created. The excitement of having an unknown concept sparked lights with my kids. How could I take that away with a text-book concrete answer?

Their teacher next year can tell them. At least, she can tell them whatever she believes the answer is. Maybe they’ll question her to tell them why.

I’d love to hear your thoughts as well. Even, odd, neither? Why?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

did I teach you enough?

You taught me. Did I teach you

This year I learned:

  • First graders believe all wedding dresses should be pink

  • They also believe a wedding is equal to having a baby

  • If you say, "I'll have a baby when I'm 30, now I'm 26. How long is that?" They believe you are pregnant immediately, with a 4 year gestation period.

  • Never underestimate the powers of an imaginative child with an imaginary friend

  • Germ-x wont kill you like the label says

  • you can't teach a kid to read unless he opens his eyes (and I mean that literally)

  • A kid can refuse to read for you all year and yet still perform very well on the test. He really was listening all of those days...

  • Sometimes I need to get my controls back as much as the kids do

  • Even breaking an egg on the table does not prove that a baby chicken is not inside the egg

  • The debate over whether zero is even or odd is touchy, even with adults

  • First graders can debate quite well when given the right language

  • Rearranging the room with the entire class can be very, very successful

  • Using read-alouds during transitions can be magic

  • Read alouds bring community

  • Especially if you read it again, and again, and again...

  • Many, many different ways to teach kindness and respect

  • Creating a website is a great publishing experience. Writing is not just for books anymore..
  • sometimes expectations need to be clearly defined. What does 'right now' really mean? What do we do on the rug?

The list goes on and on. Did I possible teach you as much as you taught me?

preparing to say goodbye

I've never been good at saying goodbye. I hate when things come to an end. Even the end of beach vacations with my family leave me teary-eyed. The last day of school is by far, my least favorite day of the year. I would prefer to teach the day before Christmas over and over again before I suffer through the last day of school. Maybe that's why looping sounds so appealing to me. A teacher at a nearby school looped with her children from 1st to 5th grade. That sounds like heaven.

It has been a difficult year, but it is still so hard to say goodbye. The minute the kids walk through your door at the open house you fall in love with them. They become your family, as you spend more time with them, thinking about them and working for them than anything else in your life. You're proud of their achievements, you laugh at their jokes, and on your drive home from work you constantly think of the funny things they said, and how you can teach them even better tomorrow.

I'm going to miss them. I think I may have gained new wrinkles this year, and I know I need to see a dentist about grinding my teeth at night, but this was a memorable class and I'm not ready for it to be over. I think I am more nervous about the last day of school than I am about the first day. Wish me luck tomorrow!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

worst week ever, ending with an early happy hour

A few weeks ago I had just come back to the classroom after having a student teacher for 4 weeks. It was SOL season, and even though first graders don't take SOLs, our schedule gets switched because of the tests. We also miss recess to keep the noise from interrupting test-takers. We were into the 2nd week of testing and everyone was getting a little antsy. Changes in our schedule are particularly difficult for some of the kids in my inclusion class and I had many children station themselves under tables in protest.

On Tuesday a little girl, determined to get my attention, threw a chair. She had tried whistling at me with a "hey you!" and when that didn't work she picked a chair up over her head and let go. It wasn't intended to hurt anyone, just to get us to notice her. When one of the special education teachers in the room attempted to get her to go to the thinking spot she refused to go, saying, "You can't make me". After she had settled herself into the middle of the table, we were left to call the office and have administrators come down to get her.

This display of resisting authority did not help the environment in the room. As the week went on this chaotic behavior continued, more children under tables, more out spoken behavior.
By Friday afternoon I was exhausted. I finished my last guided reading group and went to take a sip of my diet coke* before bringing the children to the carpet for reading share. Unfortunately I didn't just take a sip, but a few large gulps before I noticed the bitter, antibacterial taste lingering on my lips. Standing not far from my diet coke sat the bottle of germ x, the antibacterial hand soap I have the children use before going to lunch. Lightly licking my lips again I confirmed my suspicion, my diet coke had been germ-xed.

Not wanting to create an uproar in the classroom I approached a likely suspect and asked her if she had done anything to my coke (first graders do not lie very well so there is no need for true interrogation). She looked horrified. "Miss L!" she exclaimed. "I could hurt you! Why would I do that?" Feeling instantly guilty for accusing her I looked around the classroom, looking for a likely suspect. One girl who had overheard this confrontation yelled, "I saw _____ put germ x in your coke!"

OK. What to do next? A child, on purpose, had put a substance in my drink whose label read, "If consumed immediately contact a physician".

The boy in question was currently out of the room with his reading teacher. I left my kids with the IA and approached him. I hated to interrupt the lesson but I crouched down and asked, "Did you put germ x in my diet coke?"
His big eyes gave everything away as he frantically shook his head no. His reading teacher slowly pulled the book away from him, closed it and said, "Oh. I think we're finished now"

"Did you put germ x on my table and get it in my diet coke?"
His head hit the table and large sobs started. His entire body was shaking. The reading teacher and I stood silently, in shock more than anything else.

It was up to the office, yet another trip that week.

** ** ** **

Obviously, I lived. A quick google search led me to realize that my friend had only started my happy hour early, seeing that germ x is really just made up of alcohol.

Later the reading teacher asked some of my other children why they hadn't notified me the minute they saw the germ x enter the drink. "Well" one little girl said innocently, "Miss L always tells us to take care of ourselves and not tell on other people". I think that might have been the only time all year she listened to that particular suggestion.

As a class, perhaps it brought us closer together. We had a class meeting when I returned to the room and discussed the hazards of germ x, as well as general disrespectful behavior. The boy in question has done so much to win my heart this year that it is hard to be mad at him for long. It helped that his return to the classroom after his long suspencion showed a remorseful, ready to learn child.

Still, that weekend I thought long and hard about the teaching profession. I went to my first graders' soccer match and then attended a birthday party for another one of my students, reminding myself why I do this job.

Still, in law school a six year old would not have tried to poison me. At least, I hope not.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

the characters you meet in first grade

alice the fairy, one little pig, mo willem's pigeon, and a bunny from muncha, muncha, muncha.

"Little children looking up, holding wonder in a cup"

I am exhausted. My arms hurt from doing the monkey bars, my legs are covered in mud, my legs are sore and I have a headache. Today was the first grade picnic.

Although there were times this week when I wasn't sure my class would even be allowed to go, we made it and had a great time. (Though it did take us 3 tries to line up and 2 more tries walking down the hall semi-quietly before we could get there).

The picnic is always held at a little park behind our school. It has two small playgrounds, a few picnic tables but other than that it is completely wooded.

The minute we approached the paved path in the woods the kids shouted, "Let's sing!" So, we made our grand entrance singing, "Going on a bear hunt!" Luckily (or unfortunately for their moms) we hit the 'go through the mud' part at the exact time we hit a huge mud puddle. fun.

I grew up on a 10 acre forest in the middle of nowhere. 10 acres sounds like a lot in NOVA, but it was really nothing but a small patch of grass for our backyard and lots and lots of trees. I had the best childhood ever running around the woods, making forts and imagining everything there is to imagine in the forest. I watched my kids today look longingly at the dense patches of forest and wanted desperately to let us all go play. One little girl led me by the hand and pointed out where she would have a forest fort and where mine could be. I watched her eyes glaze over as she was imagining playing in the woods. I watched other kids use sticks to dig up rock treasures, make tepees with twigs and houses with moss. The wonder and life I saw in them as they looked at nature was more than I'd seen all year. It wasn't from an academic point of view, but from a desire to know more about the world around them.

I always wished I had grown up in a neighborhood with friends all around instead of the forest, yet today I realized how lucky I was. Today the kids were able to let their 7 year-old imagination run wild and truly be kids instead of being cooped up playing Nintendo or riding a bike up and down the sidewalk.

Today was one of those days that inspires me to want to redo all of my lessons and units to make them more meaningful to the kids. What more could I teach if I can channel that wonder and awe?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

hero worship

I am my kids' hero, not for anything I did, but because they believe I married Spider Man. After seeing a picture from my wedding I caught the kids whispering, "Thats Peter Parker! Now Miss L is Mrs. Spiderman".

It doesn't help that my husband's name is Peter. Once they found that out there was more whispering.

cardinal sin of teaching

I yelled, "stop yelling" yesterday.

needless to say, they only yelled louder.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

1 thing I love about my school

Today was our jump-rope team's party. Everyone was asked to bring in some sort of food. The hit of the party, just like last year, was a large plate of sushi. I don't think I had sushi until I was in college, and even then I didn't eat towers of it.
Today I had to guard the sushi plate, making sure everyone took their allotted 3 before they could have seconds. The oreos remained virtually untouched and the doritos bag was half-full by the end.
I love that I teach in a place where kids bring their culture, but also that all the kids are exposed to it. The kids from South America were fighting over the sushi right along with the kids from Asia and America. Kids at my school are so open to differences and excited about the world. Sometimes I forget that the rest of the world isn't like our school's microcosm.

Monday, June 11, 2007

what i don't like about teaching

the half-bare way the room looks when you are packing up at the end of the year.

packing up at the end of the year.

dice stuck inside linking cubes

finding a library book a kid already paid for behind the math manipulative shelves when cleaning.


Sunday, June 10, 2007

problem solvers

In my graduate and professional development classes I'd heard about elementary IB programs. I was fascinated by their method of having one open-ended question that is examined in every subject during the entire year. I decided to try it and chose a very open question, "What is a problem solver?"

This was simple to incorporate in first grade. We approached reading decoding and comprehension strategies as 'problem solving'. Word study and spelling was also problem solving, as was writing... 'does it make sense? how you can solve that problem?' Science was also easy to incorporate, every unit of study started by discussing what we noticed in nature. Then we talked about how we could learn more about what we noticed. In social studies we looked at people as 'famous problem solvers'. We had a problem solver wall and every person (other than Helen Keller, more on that later) we studied we made a poster for and added it up there so we could refer to it throughout the year.

I found this hugely successful. It gave us a common language and asked the kids to create skills they could apply to every aspect of their lives. Can't do something, don't know... can you be a problem solver and figure it out? Studying famous Americans gave us definitions of what a problem solver is, reading and math gave us a chance to practice it, and science gave us a chance to develop higher-level questions where we could work through strategies for finding answers. I loved the inquisitive nature this created and how it developed thinkers, wonderers, and triers. It gave kids permission for things to not be perfect, because you could always be a problem solver to fix it. It was ok to take risks. It also gave them control of the classroom, asking them to look at problems, take responsibility for them and fix them.

Where it was most effective was giving us a common language with social skills. Can't find a chair? Can you be a problem solver? Someone stepped on your toe? Can you be a problem solver and figure out what to say? Spilled crayons on the floor? That's fine, just be a problem solver and clean it up.

For my young scholars and kiddos ready for higher-level thinking I saw so much growth in their thinking patterns. They were excited to approach new topics and frequently asked questions showing that they were looking at things from every aspect. Some even wanted to tell us about how their family members were problem solvers.

The common language this created was also great for my special education students. I was worried that asking them to 'be a problem solver' left things too open ended and unsettling. Yet, it seemed because we used this language all the time it actually gave them a sense of flexibility to help them get through the day. My little autistic friend frequently asked us "Be problem solver!" when someone can't find a spot on the rug or a chair in the classroom.

If I was going to do it again there are things I would change. We needed more discussions in the beginning of the year on good problem solving and bad problem solving. One little kiddo took problem solving into her own hands and started pinching people to get them to do what she wanted. Not ok, not solving the problem...

On Friday a head start teacher told me that one of my children was visiting her. After watching her try to put stuffed animals in a box my little one told her, "Just be a problem solver. Maybe try another box". If nothing else, hopefully studying problem solvers has given them a life skill that will help them take responsibility, be creative, and show initiative later in life.

Friday, June 8, 2007

ok, maybe we are ready for second grade

Today we started scrapbooking our year. Amongst the scraps of flying paper, photographs, and glue sticks I looked down at one little one's page. The picture she was working on was of just herself, reading a book. Beside it she wrote, "I love my sfl." (self).

My heart skipped a beat for a moment. This little girl had the most negative self-image in the beginning of the year. We started to wonder if what was interferring with her learning was that she was depressed. Now that I look at the changes and growth she made this year I realize that it is her image of herself that is leading the change. now that she sees her own worth she is pushing herself, coming to school, working hard, and frequently singing in the classroom.

I don't know where she got the language 'i love myself' and what gave her the idea to write it but she wrote it again in writing workshop. if nothing else at least she is going to second grade with a positive self image.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

give me one more month

8 more days. 1 is our picnic. 1 we get out at 12:20. 1 we get out at 10:30. we're done. the year is over.
I'm not ready to let go!!

In the beginning of the year, when I started to realize that this might be a hard year, I decided I would use it to make myself a better teacher. I read every book I could get my hands on, researched issues that affected my kids, consulted every person in the building, and stalked the guidance couselor (who is my hero) for advice. My mantra became: this year will make me stronger. (subtitled, therefore I will not drown my sorrows with alcohol)

I'm not satisfied yet. I don't feel like I'm there yet. The kids are fine academically, ready for second grade. It's not that. I'm just... I thought by the end of the year we'd be a team like I've had in the past. I thought if I did everything right, followed professional research, tried and true advice, and worked really hard that by June we'd be set.

we're not set.

I realize I'm making it about me and not the kids. I'm not satisfied yet so I'm not ready to let them go. One girl lay on the ground during field day and refused to participate because "today I am a puppy. bark, bark". I had hoped by the end of the year that would be over. I'd have given her the vision and inspired her to come to school ready to learn. Right now I have to settle for her coming to school (something that has improved since august).

I can't help but feel like I failed. Maybe not the kids, but myself. I could have made more of this opportunity. I could have read another book. Kept kids during lunch. Tried something else. I don't know how to let this year go. Even now I'm frantically teaching social skills and routines. it is june and i'm teaching routines. I need to let go. watch them go off to second grade and be proud of what they did in first grade.

why is it so hard to divide my own success from theirs?

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

jet-lagged teacher

The minute the kids saw me this morning they were wild with excitement. One started looking under the tables wondering where the leprechaun was hiding. When I finally had them slightly settled on the rug I read them the story I wrote last night about how the leprechaun stole my pictures. They were furious, telling every adult that came into the classroom what happened. Although their excitement made them wiggly, their paintings of their mental images were unbelievably accurate for the story. It was a great reminder that they don't have to be sitting perfectly still to be learning (in fact, it is usually the opposite, if they are sitting still they are probably not paying attention). Even ones who rarely participate where excited to paint in detail ("look, there is Miss L kicking the grass and her husband Mr. L saying, 'just calm down'")

it was a great, wild morning. I didn't have the energy to match their excitement, but it was fabulous them engaged in their learning. I'm glad I could use my misfortune to some advantage but I am still trying not to cry over the lost pictures.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007


We got in last night from our trip to Ireland and now I'm off to work with no leprechauns to bring to my first graders. On the island of Aran Islands, Inis Oirr, where the wedding was held, I managed to snap quite a few pictures of a leprechaun house. However, while sitting in the pony-cart taking us down the mountain from where the wedding was held, I realized all of my pictures but 11 were gone. The leprechauns stole my pictures! I am still in shock that all of the pictures from our incredible 3 day vacation are gone.

To make up for it I've written a short story about how the leprechaun stole my pictures and today I think my kiddos will paint their mental images (a reading strategy you must learn in first grade) of the story, to replace the ones the leprechaun stole.

teachable moment... teachable moment...? or, Truthfully, I just don't have any other plans for today.

Friday, June 1, 2007

I just finished running around our dusty playground fields for Field Day. I LOVE field day. I love watching the kids cheer for each other, jump up and down and squeal for almost no reason other than the excitement of the day. I love watching them come back in exhausted from the day, but still in happy moods. It builds such great community that I almost wish we did it earlier in the year. (Our school runs a very organized field day. I've been at schools that are the opposite and then I didn't love field day quite so much. )

After spending half the day at field day, I am about to head off to the airport for a quick trip to Ireland with my husband. His best friend is getting married on Monday and we're flying over for the wedding and flying back on Wednesday. It will be a whirl-wind trip but I'm excited about it.

My first graders were not. At least at first. "You're doing what?" "You're leaving us?" "Why do you have to do that?" "I didn't even go to my gramma's wedding, because I threw up in the car and we had to turn around"....

I grabbed the globe, showed them where we were going, and then reminded them of St. Patricks day. Suddenly I was getting all sorts of directions on how to catch a leprechaun. They couldn't stop rattling on about all the different ways I could bring one back to our classroom. So, in our cool-ish classroom after crazy morning in the heat, my kids excitedly wrote all kinds of instructions on how my husband and I can catch a leprechaun.

I wont be missed anymore although now somehow I have to either produce a leprechaun, or a really good story on how I tried to catch one. Perhaps some pictures of one getting away. My husband is going to love our new task...

"You can get a butterfly catcher and capture him. and come back to room 117. Then you can say "tell me war is your gold and sho me war"

"You shod drestup like a leprecone and say no! I will tacke you! and tacke your gold and say I have a lot of gold! You shod make him clean and give him a little bit for it can make it clean.

"You should catch the leprachon and he might be annoying but i know you can do it so I am going to trust you guys and if you guys don't catch one its ok. PLEASE catch it"