Amazing Kids

Amazing Kids

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Sunshine Award

My phone was off today. Not just silenced. Off. I spent some time with my hubby and younger daughter, and the three of us went to see "Catching Fire" since we had all read the book. It was a nice outing for us. images When I turned my phone back on (after I realized I had left it in the car!) my heart warmed and out came a chuckle when I saw I had been nominated for a Sunshine Award! Thanks, Ben! @benjamingilpin has a great blog, so be sure and check it out here! He's also my principal and doles out sunshine to students and staff every day!
This is a way for bloggers to get to know each other and one of the cool things about it is that there are limitless "winners"! The Sunshine award gives others an opportunity to learn more about me as a blogger and then, in turn, I will send sunshine the way of 11 other amazing bloggers for you to get to know! Here are the "official" rules:
  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers. They should be bloggers you believe deserve some recognition and a little blogging love!
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. (You cannot nominate the blogger who nominated you.
11 Random Facts About Me
1. I flunked out of my first semester of college, even though I had a full music scholarship.
2. For three years I traveled and played music in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, and the islands of Mauritius and Reunion.
3. My mother-in-law was my high school National Honor Society advisor, but I didn't marry (or know) her son until my late 30s.
4. Fudge Ripple ice cream and the machine to make it was invented by my grandfather. Even before I knew that, it was my favorite flavor!
5. I am a classically trained pianist, violinist, and vocalist (and love it), but my favorite genre to play and sing is jazz and/or blues.
6. My mother taught me to sew so I grew up making most of my own clothes. I've made a couple of wedding dresses and reupholstered several pieces of furniture. I really want to start making handbags. It's still one of those things I feel guilty doing because I love it so much.
7. My mother went into labor for me when she witnessed my dad rolling the car over as he came into the driveway. Fortunately he was okay and my life hasn't been a complete wreck!
8. I have done quite a bit of theater (but not lately). My two favorite roles were Sarah in the musical "Guys and Dolls" and Amanda in the Noel Coward play "Private Lives."
9. I would love to be a contestant on "Survivor." Honestly, it would be a dream come true!
10. School is my "happy place." Although there was a learning curve with the change to fourth grade, and the shift to common core is challenging, I love what I do and truly believe I make a difference in my kids' lives.
11. I do not feel like I'm as old as my drivers' license says I am. I think of myself as a young adult with lots of life ahead of me - and a lot to learn.
The Answers to Ben's Questions for Me:
1. I definitely prefer to shop in stores, although I also enjoy shopping online. I like being a "gatherer" and spending my time in the shoe or handbag departments of nice stores. Or dresses. Or skirts. You get the idea, right?

2. Ben asked how many pairs of shoes I own. Seriously?  Do you want me to count the ones I am thinking about giving to St. Vincent's? I lost count at 60... I think I need to go shopping.

3. My favorite type of music is jazz or blues. However, I have very eclectic taste in music and also adore classical (especially from the classical: Beethoven, romantic: Chopin and Schumann, or impressionistic: Ravel eras). I also love musicals (Stephen Sondheim, Rogers and Hammerstein, Claude-Michel Schönberg), if that counts as a genre. The one genre I don't enjoy is country. My favorite band is Chicago, but again, there are so bands and artists I admire it's hard to choose one.

4. I love both cats and dogs. I believe having one or the other helps you as a person. However, at the moment I prefer dogs because if I said "cats" then my dog, Charlie, would be emotionally scarred.

5. My typical bedtime is 11 p.m. or later, despite my almost-daily resolution to hit the sack earlier.

6. My favorite twitter chat is #titletalk. (Thanks, @donalynbooks and @colbysharp!)

7. I have deep reservations when it comes to politicians and have never claimed allegiance to either the Democrat or Republican party, so I guess I'm "other." There are things I agree with and things I abhor in both parties.

8. The best place I ever vacationed was probably Culebra, a tiny island in the Caribbean whereI also got to teach for a bit. It's beautiful and unspoiled. It's also tricky to get to! But I also loved Germany with its beautiful castles and interesting history. DSCN1131And Panama.

9. Choosing the best book (singular) I've read so far in 2013 is very hard. Top five would be SO much easier...maybe! RUMP, by @lieslshurtliff, THE REAL BOY by @anneursu, THE CENTER OF EVERYTHING by @lindaurbanbooks, READING IN THE WILD by @donalynbooks, COUNTING BY 7s by @hgoldbergsloan. (I re-read WONDER by @rjpalacio - can that count?)

10. Telling my favorite television show when I was growing up is going to give away the age on my driver's license!  I loved "The Wild, Wild West" but would have to say my favorite was "The Dick VanDyke Show" and then "Laugh-In" when that came out.

11. One thing I have rarely shared that I'm proud of is that I was blindsided by a divorce due to an affair (my older daughter was two at the time) and then finished my college education (bachelor and master degrees) as a single mom without child support. I finished both earning high/highest honors. During this time I had at least two concurrent jobs along with being a full-time student. I am now the first person in my family to have earned a masters degree. I honestly don't think about it that much, but when I look back, it's kind or surreal to think that I really did that!

Bloggers who deserve the "Sunshine Award" include: 
Eleven Questions for these Bloggers
1. Why did you start blogging?
2. Do you prefer warm or cold weather? Any reason for that?
3. Have you (and/or your family) decorated for the holidays yet? Why or why not?
4. Whom would you say is the ONE person in history you admire the most and why? 
5. What's your favorite beverage?
6. If you could recommend only one book to someone to read, what would it be?
7. What is one thing on your "bucket list" not many people - or maybe no one - knows about?
8. What's the most relaxing vacation you've been on? 9. Who brings you the most joy in your life?
10. If you could give a lot of money to one organization, which one would it be and why?
11. What's your favorite color?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Week of Two Drews

I LOVE Skype.
I first learned to love it when I taught in Culebra for three months. This tiny island is part of Puerto Rico but is only about 21 square miles and very limited amenities in terms of, well, just about anything except beautiful beaches and wonderful snorkeling. While we had a great experience, we felt pretty isolated, especially due to the fact that the vast majority of the people converse in Spanish and we knew practically none.
My husband and I had agreed before we left that we would Skype almost daily. We did, except when we had no internet (a too-oft-occurring situation) and it made an incredible difference in Hannah's and my emotional well-being. 
When I got back into my classroom state-side, we began to Skype with other classrooms and authors. It was wonderful to expose my kids to other places and people. It was engaging and opened them to thinking in new ways.
Fast-forward to the point of this post. The book, THE DAY THE CRAYONS QUIT, by Drew Daywalt, is a wonderful 2013 book I read to my kids. One day on Twitter there was a conversation with "Drew" and someone else about a Skype in a classroom. I'm not shy about asking for a Skype for my kids, so I butted in on the conversation and made the request. I was ELATED when he agreed! We set the date and I excitedly announced the great news to my kids. 
Drew and I exchanged several emails about the details of our Skype and I was amazed that this was all working so perfectly. Our time is all set for Tuesday morning at 9:00.
Then a few days ago there was a Nerdy Book Club post about CRAYONS! It was a great post, so I tweeted it out along with the message that I was excited to have Drew meet my kids. Within an hour, I had a personal message from HIM, saying he didn't have me on his calendar for a Skype. He asked me to email him. My stomach turned, my mind raced, and I'm sure I lost a few years of life. Panic-stricken, I searched through our email exchanges. What eventually emerged was that the Drew we were scheduled to Skype with is NOT Drew Daywalt, of CRAYONS fame. Instead, this was Drew Dyer, a yet-to-be-published artist and author who has made some incredible illustrations. I felt stupid and embarrassed.
In my email to Mr. Daywalt, I fessed up to my errors and came clean. But this is where it gets really good. He suggested a theme for the week: A Week of Writers Named Drew! And now, ladies and gentlemen, we are Skyping with him!!! YES!!! Monday at 1:00!
That afternoon the packet from Mr. Dyer (the other Drew) came and it is AMAZING! He made personalized bookmarks for each of my kids - and one for me, too! His artwork is so much fun, and he's giving my kids a chance to send him some of their own drawing of alien alphabet letters! He's also sent a personal letter to each of the kids, so when he IS published, they'll have a wonderful part of his journey!
So the bottom line is that I messed up ROYALLY but somehow it worked out that my kids get to meet two amazing authors at two different points in their writing/illustrating journeys!
I am beyond thankful for what is happening in my classroom this Thanksgiving week!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

When Change is Good

Yes, she's mine....and I am almost done restoring her! :)
Monday morning my kids came into a classroom that had been significantly rearranged. I had moved my room around this summer, but the new layout just wasn't working. On many occasions this school year I was fumbling for materials, frantic to find a place to store important (or ungraded) papers, and digging through piles to locate my projector remote. So this past Sunday was spent in and out of my classroom before and after church with my family, lunch, and a trip to my dad's to store my 1973 VW Super Beetle for the winter.  
Just getting started provided a more positive mindset.  Making the decision to get rid of materials I had chosen to avoid last year gave me direction. Each loaded cart hauled to the storage room (AKA Curriculum Cemetery) lightened my step and made my smile a little bigger. Those cupboards in the back of the room that had been filled with unused materials were replaced with organized classroom supplies and updated teaching materials. My table made its new home at the back of the room right next to the counter (and cupboards!) so the kids would have more room up front. The clutter that had grown like an unwanted fungus on my table was removed.  It was a tiring but victorious day.
I am happy to say that because of the success of Sunday, the week that followed was filled with positive events as well. Lesson plans were at the ready, copies for kiddos were in their places (not covered up with a zillion other things), and my table was open for more effective conferencing and for kids to concentrate undisturbed. Plus that, the projector and Apple TV remote were always in plain sight! My kids were engaged and less distracted and chatty. They were more responsive to each other and to me.  On top of that they seemed to raise their own levels of expectation of themselves. We were ALL back on top of things. We were all just a little happier! The credit belongs to creating a more inviting and organized space.
 Happy Kiddos!
While I had to remind myself several times this week that yes, I DO have a place for that and I know where it is, I have to say the results that came from the hard work of organization are a grand thing. Getting rid of unnecessary things that brought stress made even the busiest week (including conferences!) more manageable. One day of focused and no-holds-barred cleansing did a world of wonders for me and for my students! It offered a gigantic boost to my confidence, my competence,  and (most importantly!) their engagement and learning.  I am now ready for my next project!
How do you let go of things that are causing you stress or keeping you from having your head where it needs to be? Have any tips? How often do you toss things? What goes into your decisions to get rid of materials or keep them? I'd love to hear how you prioritize things in your classroom as you prepare units and lessons! Please share!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

It's That Time Again

As teachers, the end of each quarter requires entering grades and comments for every student report card onto a standardized program that is supposed to communicate to parents how their child is progressing in school.  It seems as though every kid is affected by their report card, though, either positively or negatively. I remember mine always being an anxious event and made me feel worse about myself rather than better.

For many years, the American education system has had an unspoken (or in some districts spoken) rule about how to "do" grades. The rule of thumb seems to be to spend time in the classroom working on a concept, hand out worksheets or other assignments about the concept, collect the worksheets (or projects), and grade them. If a student's worksheets aren't done properly or turned in on time, his or her grade is negatively affected. Then they're given a test that they complete quietly at their desks. That test is supposed to show how smart (or not) they are.

We just finished our first quarter. My fourth-graders have not yet taken a "test".  That's a little scary to say out loud. (I should probably clarify that we have formative assessments all the time, and kids are constantly being asked to rate their own understanding and skill set in every subject area.)

I got to thinking about the whole test thing through the lens of our real lives. In the various (and numerous) careers I had before entering teaching, I didn't take tests. I may have had a yearly evaluation; in fact, in most positions, I did have a yearly evaluation. It was a conversation, though, where my progress was discussed and goals for the future were made. It was encouraging and challenging. It reminded me of my strengths and weaknesses, and spurred me on to reach for new goals. I had a specific job with a job description and hours in which to do my job. I didn't have homework (until I became a teacher) either, and if I had to work overtime, often my superior would offer some comp time.

If I truly want to prepare my kids for their futures, teaching them how to take a test doesn't seem like a crucial element. What is absolutely essential is for each child to be able to read, to love reading, to write, to enjoy and feel confident in their writing. They need to understand numbers and make sense of them. They really need to be able to solve problems, whether that's number problems or life problems. And they DO need to demonstrate mastery of a concept or skill. But over all of that, I want my students to know in their heads and in their hearts that they are learning and growing and developing.

My kids have learning targets. They know what their goals are. They keep track of how they're doing on those targets (goals). I know, too. I know some of them have far exceeded their learning goals and others are still struggling. Each time we chat about their book, each time they edit and revise, each time they practice a math skill, they are showing what they know. In social studies our kids have shown what they know by choosing a format in which they demonstrated their learning. Most of the kids did a great job using their creativity (music, posters, and art) and the technology we have at our disposal (prezi, PowerPoint and iMovie). It was interesting to observe that some kiddos had trouble landing on what they wanted to produce and others knew immediately.

The bottom line, though, is that every kid has grown. Every kid is further down the road.

How do you report learning at report card time? Do you have a secret or idea to share or some insight? What are your thoughts on including homework or lowering grades for assignments not turned in?