Amazing Kids

Amazing Kids

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Questions Abound

Coretta Scott King Award with
a wonderful message on eating disorders.

Cover art for PICKLE
New author, Kim Baker,
and middle grade book! Yay!
As a teacher I am constantly questioning what is the most important "thing" to teach and what is the most effective way to make it stick in the lives of kids.

I find that although more coursework is required of us as teachers, much of the money spent is wasteful. What  has become truly valuable to me in the classroom is what I learn from admirable individuals who can be found on the internet and in my personal network. People (usually teachers and/or writers) who blog and truly hold and inspire depth of insight. Or share ideas and book titles.

I can honestly say that other than two very influential professors I had in college, the folks who influence me the most in my teaching are my colleagues, my nephew, and the people with whom he has connected me. Some of those have come directly from him and some in a circuitous fashion.

Unusual Creatures: A Mostly Accurate Account of Earth's Strangest Animals: Hearst, Michael
This way cool book is non-fiction and
I KNOW my kids will love it!
Tonight I have learned about three new incredible books I will be adding to my classroom library. I have also had my position shifted on the value of teaching cursive in school (is it more important than learning new vocabulary words?) I gained more helpful knowledge on how to help my kids blog about the books they're reading today, too, and how to imbed a Prezi in my blog. Oh, and is it typical to have more than thirteen tabs open while being online? (I am NOT ADD.)

I have always felt that I am a highly effective educator. I love on my kids, give them the perverbial kick in the seat or words of encouragement when they need it, and stay on top of the curriculum. I've always insisted kids turn out their best work on time. However, if you would have seen my classroom a few years ago you wouldn't recognize it now, except for the fact that the colors are still research-based ones to enhance concentration and calm, both a very high value for me! I have made fewer copies of student worksheets this year than ever. Not because of yet another grad class, but because of the incredibly smart people I get to stalk on the internet.

I must grade papers, but I had to get that off my chest. Thanks.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Creativity and a Thesaurus

Friday was an incredibly busy day in our fourth grade classroom. Our first endeavor was to fine tune and publish our own version of "The Itsy Bitsy Spider" using other words taken from a thesaurus. This turned out to be a truly valuable lesson in how to appropriately use this reference tool, as we often needed to consider whether our word was being used as a noun, verb, adjective, or adverb! It was an idea passed on to me by my fellow fourth grade teacher, Bre, who had gotten the idea from another teacher's blog. It turned out to be more time-consuming than I had predicted, but what the kids learned from it made the time well-spent! Look for pictures on the next post!

We also had a major project to work on in the afternoon!  Thanks to Donalyn Miller, author of The Book Whisperer, my kids are plowing through books in my classroom. They are trying to get "first dibs" on new books that come in (although our once generous book fund is nearly depleted so the new titles will be slowing down). They are making pretty amazing book talks. They are beginning to blog and making Prezis, too. And they're having fun reading picture books out loud to their kindergarten book buddies.

Danielle's version of the class pet!
Combining those picture book characters with the pumpkins we brought back from our visit to the pumpkin farm this week was a perfect fit.  My fellow fourth grade teacher, Bre, found and used an idea last year from and we just HAD to "steal" it. I have also seen quite a few ideas similar to this on Pinterest, but since our class has been delving into characters so much, it was too great of an opportunity to pass up!! And we have amazing results to share!
Love this expression on Splat!

Calvin a la Nick!

McKenzie's Princess

Ladybug Girl!! 
Fancy Nancy with blue lips
Pumpkin Princess Aurora!

Check out those ears on Olivia!!! 

Can you believe the ultra-cute paws??

Gotta love those eyes!!
Okay, I ADORE this one!

Another Olivia!

A Mercer Mayer duo...Award for Best Couple.
This one gets the "Best Use of Felt" award!!! Bad Kitty!!!

I absolutely adore this one, too, even though I've never read the book!! Thanks, Devin!

Now THAT's personality plus!! Love the teeth!

The kids did this 100% on their own during class time. They worked carefully ahead of time to identify character traits as well as the supplies they would need to complete their project and were totally engaged throughout the entire process. I went shopping the night before to be sure they had what they had requested and as you can see, the results are fabulous! The ONLY down-side to this is that those pumpkins will not last forever, darn it!!!

Some of the kids didn't quite finish because of paint not drying, glue not working, or some other technical malfunction, but overall, I'd say they did an outstanding job. they also left me with lots to clean up over the weekend!!! :) But they're SO worth it!

What a great group of kiddos!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Culture Shock

So how do you inspire kids? How do you get them to be creative? How do you motivate them to become more? Put a book in their hands they don't want to put down.

In the weeks that have passed since the first day of school this year, my fear of having an extended time dedicated to reading in class has been replaced with the regret of not having done it sooner for my students. My kids are devouring books. Beyond my wildest imagination. Then they are doing book talks on them, beginning to blog about them, and telling their friends about them.

There are many days I feel as though I'm not very clever and creative. I look at various websites with all the cute stuff kids can do in the classroom; see how the other teachers in my building have all these amazingly creative activities for their kids hanging from the ceilings and displayed in the halls, and I'm (frankly) intimidated. I have to fight the "keeping up with the Joneses" syndrome. I have to will myself to stop those thoughts and go put a protective plastic cover on a book jacket. And don't forget the sticker that indicates the genre and the stamp showing who donated it. 

The cute stuff really is fun AND educationally effective. I don't want to allude to anything otherwise. And I don't want to make my classroom all or nothing one way or the other. The point I'm trying to make (to myself) is that this new paradigm I've found is an amazing, eye-opening, life-changing way to reach every single student. It has me more excited about teaching than ever. And I was pretty excited already.

My kids are pretty well-versed on authors, genres, and characters. In fact, they sometimes like to argue about the genre of their book. They are stoked about skyping with an author tomorrow. They can hardly wait for their turn to work on their blog. On an almost daily basis at least one student will tell me she needs another "book sign-out" sheet because hers is full. That's never ever happened in my classroom before this year. It's a total shift in culture. It's nothing short of amazing.

My kids want to read their books so much they sometimes try to sneak their own book instead of the required picture book when we meet with our kindergarten reading buddies! Yeah, one of my kids wanted to read Wonderstruck or Amulet or Holes something. To a five-year-old. I redirected the two of them to a amazing picture book that both of them would adore.

So this shift in the atmosphere of my classroom has had, I'm thinking, some pretty profound effects on my students. I'm sure this will affect the results of our state test scores. During our state testing last week, one of my students read Breadcrumbs and A Crooked Kind of Perfect in two days. After she was done with her tests. Maybe she just filled in circles so she could get back to the important stuff.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Field Trip to a Pumpkin Farm

Okay,  I have to admit that I was more than a little skeptical about today's field trip. 

It was in place before I came to fourth grade and going to a pumpkin farm sounds rather, well, weak, to be honest. Nothing delights me more than to be able to report this was an entirely engaging, hands-on learning experience for our kids. 

They listened with rapt attention while Farmer Tom told them about the fishery he runs with over 60,000 rainbow trout. He let the kids look at the babies, the "teenagers" and the "grown-ups," showed them how they are sorted, what they do when they're fed, why they're called rainbow trout, and even let them in on the reason he has so many fish. His answer surprised me! Surprisingly, he even let the kids get up close and personal with fish, being careful to let all the kids examine it carefully and making sure the fish wasn't out of the water too long.

For kids who weren't aquatic animal lovers, Farmer Tom also has some goats and a llama. After a short feeding and petting time, we made our way to the wagons for a nice ride.

Riding the wagon on a "hay ride" (no hay, but who's going to argue this point, right?) was the highlight for many of the kids. With an old noisy tractor pulling us, Farmer Tom would make make stops at various places, pointing out beaver dams, explaining the differences between harvested and non-harvested pumpkin fields, letting kids dig for arrow heads (my kids found eight!) and showing a site where it is believed there was a Native American village.

The end of our wagon ride brought us back to the front of the farm and we thoroughly enjoyed our time with Big Fish, a Native American who is very knowledgeable about his heritage. He kept the kids' attention with his explanation of his clothing, his tools, and his ancestors' ways. He had many authentic baskets, weapons, and animal skins he had hunted, skinned, and tanned himself using traditional methods. The grand finale was when Big Fish started a fire using flint in about ten seconds. He became a super hero in that ten seconds if he hadn't become one already.

With lunch at the tail end of our trip, the kids had plenty to talk about and were ready, with help from Harley, the farm's dog, to pick out a pumpkin and head back to school. 

All of that adventure was truly great food for writing so they all wrote about what they enjoyed or were most impressed with from the day. It was wonderful to see a vast array of ideas and to see more of the kids bring details into their writing.

Days like these are worth remembering and writing about.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Making Headway

We're reading. A lot. The kids are overjoyed with the books they're choosing. I'm overjoyed with the books they're choosing.

They are making and we are watching the book talks on video. Some are making a Prezi of their book talk. I even made a Prezi on a book I read yesterday. All of the kids are blogging.

We were just given a grant we (I) applied to get. It's for economics and it's a big deal.

I have more books in my classroom than I have ever had. My students are reading because they want to (except for maybe two. And they have to read even if they don't want to).

I am thankful. So very thankful. So why do I constantly see what I'm NOT doing?? Why does my head constantly remind me of how I could be doing this better? My shoulders are tense. Sometimes I have a throbbing headache. Whatever I do, it's never going to be enough to please me. That one email from a parent can move my lens far enough to change the view completely.

So my job now is to focus on the good things that are happening to the kids in my classroom. They are reading...and comprehending...great books. Some not-so-great books, to tell the truth, but they're mostly good. They are reading authors they've never heard of before. They're meeting new characters and hopefully gaining empathy for others. That's the hope. The plan.

We got a new book in on Friday and I had the pleasure of reading it yesterday. It reminded me that we all have a less than perfect life. It is Linda Urban's wonderful story, A Crooked Kind of Perfect.  You should be able to click on the link and watch the Prezi book talk on this wonderful story of Zoe. It's my first attempt at Prezi and I think it turned out well. I do wish I could slap on "Forever In Blue Jeans" by Neil Diamond, as it would be totally appropriate with this!

After you click on the link, just make the presentation full-screen and click on the arrow to take you through it! It's very fun!

So now I'm going to bed and hopefully dream of giving myself better self-talks!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Muddling Along

After agreeing to be observed by some college students, I confessed to my principal that what they will witness may look very messy. Some of my kids are reading the same book but no one is in the same place, some have three or four (or more!)books stacked on their desk, some are writing their book talk, some are video-recording their book talk, some are on the computer blogging, and there's always one who's talking to me about their reading.

I'm in process; my kids are in process. We're on this really amazing journey together to forge new relationships with characters to be discovered in hard covers and soft covers. And relationships with each other, too. My kids are opening their hearts to Auggie, to Ivan, to Babymouse, and so many more.  

In every conversation with one of my kids, we talk about what they like in books, what they're reading now, and all that "normal" stuff. Today one of my kids who has had a pretty tough time of it shared some things with me that are going to stick for a long time. She told me she's read more this year than ever. She told me how she really enjoyed reading Little House in the Big Woods (Laura Ingalls Wilder). However, she didn't have it written in her reading log and hadn't written a book talk about it. She said, "But I read it at home, so I can't put it in my log, right?" Fighting to not show the emotion I was experiencing, I assured her that whatever she read at home still "counts" and she should definitely write her next book talk on Little House AND list it in her historical fiction section.

ONE OF MY KIDS HAS CAUGHT THE READING BUG!!!!!! I'm so overwhelmed by this, especially knowing this particular kid! 

Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that she would love these beautiful stories. Never would I have imagined my kids to beg to be the first to read a book freshly delivered to our classroom. Never would I have imagined how excited I would be to hear what my kids have to say about the characters they are meeting.

But it's all very messy. And I'm kind of anal. Just a tad. My kids are reminding me to relax and enjoy the journey. Especially today's journey.