Friday, July 27, 2012

Chatty Cathy


Anyone remember these Chatty Cathy dolls? The one on the left looks sleepy...I bet she goes to an early start school like mine (sorry sweetie!) The one on the right looks a little smirky...I bet she's trying to figure out if you saw what she just did to her neighbor (or her crayons).

My students LOVE to talk. Often times, I'm excited to hear the amazing academic conversations they are having or the ideas they are bursting with excitement to share. And then there are times when I look at them and grit my teeth to prevent myself from saying "BE QUIET, doggone it!! It's NOT your turn!" But then I have to remind myself that when I was in first grade, I drove my own teacher batty with my constant talking.

(You know what they say about karma...darn.)

But then again, look at me now. I get paid to spend the entire day talking to little people and big people. So now I look at my little chatterboxes and say to myself, "You're going to be a teacher, and you're going to be a lawyer and you're going to be a motivational speaker, and you're going to be the president..."

There's got to be a good reason for it, right? If my students have been blessed with the gift of chatter, I might as well embrace it.

Mental Muscle Memory

Yesterday I went to the gym. I've recently become a Zumbaholic, an addiction that has succeeded in getting me to the gym significantly more frequently than normal, and it's a good thing. What can I say? When reggaeton comes on the radio, I can't sit still.

Unfortunately, after a weekend trip to a friend's wedding and some busy/tired days afterward, I'd  missed 4 Zumba classes in a row. I felt like I was melting into a puddle. So I broke down and went to the gym on a non-Zumba day (inconceivable!!) and lifted weights (not because I actually like it, but hey...gotta stay in shape).

This morning I was thinking about my week, and somehow got confused as to whether I'd worked out Tuesday or Wednesday (anyone else sometimes forget what day it is during the summer?). I lifted my arm and said OUCH! Yep, I did...but the more I work out, the sooner the pain goes away and I get back into my exercise groove.

Then I thought to myself, do our kids ever feel like this? I recently had one of those experiences where I'd taught them a concept and we'd been over it and over it and over it and over it...and yet and still, my assumption that they would definitely know what they were doing was apparently off-base. It's amazing to me how quickly they forget things sometimes. And in those moments where I think to myself, "WHAT? But we've been doing this since September! It's only been three weeks since we last reviewed it, and they've already forgotten? HOW?!"

It's moments like that where I have to remind myself that if I can forget what day yesterday was as quickly as this morning, my students can forget their vocabulary words or how to show their work on a story problem or the parts of a plant or what a living thing is or the difference between fluency and accuracy. And you know what? After a brief period where I really thought I'd have to stop and reteach it all over again, my kids hit their stride like little runners, and everything I'd taught them showed up, slowly but surely, on their papers.

It may take a little longer than I'd like or expect, but if I give them time, it all comes back to them.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Choose Your Own Adventure: Behavior Edition

I frequently read the awesome blog Look at My Happy Rainbow. The author day, the author was talking about his behavior management plan and how he doesn't have time out or consequences, just conversations with his students about their behavior and a "rest stop" for when they need a break to regain control of themselves and calm down.

I have no experience with or training in Responsive Classroom outside of the Morning Meeting Book (a good one, I like it), so when it comes to collaborative vs. authoritative management techniques, I'm a little outside of my box. But this time around I thought I'd try something new.
My chiquitines were on their way to lunch. Yesterday two of them had to take a little thinking break after their behavior yesterday. So today I reminded them to make good choices and be good listeners while they were in the lunchroom. After lunch, I went to pick them up and was informed that over half of them had NOT, in fact been on their best behavior and had made some quite unfortunate choices.

In the past, I might have sent them to time out, or taken away some recess time, or imposed some other consequence on them. But today, I decided to try the "let's figure this out" solution.

So we sat down, and I asked them to tell me what happened, and then I cut them off when they started accusing each other. Then I asked them for ideas as to what a good consequence should be when they make these kinds of choices. They came up with some interesting ones:
-everyone turn your card (I still use a card system, yes)
-only the ones who were in trouble turn your card
-everyone play but the ones who were in trouble go read a book (I vetoed this one; reading is fun--it shouldn't be a punishment. They agreed)
-sit in silence at their tables (they decided this was a bad idea because they would be tempted to play with the things on their tables)

They closed their eyes and voted, and decided they should sit in silence til the end of recess (actually, it was literally half and half, so I broke the tie and decided on 5 minutes of silence). So that is what we did.

It was really interesting listening to the kids decide for themselves what their consequence should be. Lots of debating, thinking about the implications of each consequence. You could tell some of them were voting down specific consequences because they wanted to get out of them, but for the most part, the kids were really thoughtful throughout the process. We actually spent more time talking about our problem than sitting silently. All in all, I think I liked the process. I'll probably use it again in the future for large-group issues like this...if their behavior improves.

Let's hope things go better tomorrow...

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Email Withdrawal?

You know what's weird about summer school? 

No email. 

During the school year we get something like 5 new emails an hour (I might be exaggerating a little). Considering that we're with the kids for 6 hours and I often only check my email before they come and/or after they leave, that's 30 emails a day. All those little bolded titles in my inbox list, blaring at me through the megaphone of extra "ink": JOB POSTINGS! BUY MORE BOOKS! TAKE THIS E-COURSE! BUS INFORMATION! UPDATE YOUR CLASS LIST! I'M A GREAT PUPPETEER--INVITE ME TO YOUR CLASS! MEETING TOMORROW! MEETING TODAY! MEETING RIGHT NOW! DO WE HAVE A MEETING? 


In the summer, I get maybe one a day, maybe...and that's it. 

It's so strange. The empty silence of an inbox that is not constantly filling itself with new messages, however relevant they may or may not be to my life. Is it weird that I'm a little sad? No one wants to send me another update to the bus list? There are no new e-courses to advertise or puppeteers to offer services? No books to buy? No meetings?

For a twenty-something, technology-obsessed constant email checker like me, it's like I'm in technological limbo...I can't stop checking, but there's nothing new to read.

I need a hobby. 

Or maybe I just need to work on my lesson plans.

Or maybe go buy some cheesecake. I like that idea. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


I am a cheerleader. Not a former cheerleader, like back in high school, but it's actually what I do for a living now. I spend all day, every day, saying, "Come on, come on, you can do it! You are smart! You can do it! You're so smart!" And of course, it naturally follows that when my children share their ideas, I do my best to listen with rapt attention as though whatever they are saying is the most interesting thing I've ever heard.

And on days like today, it kind of is.

My kids and I read Pastel de Truenos (Thunder Cake) by Patricia Polacco today, looking for words written in all caps. Then they did a little hunt with a partner in an independent book, looking for more words in all caps and figuring out why the author decided to write the words that way. Turned out that most of the time, they were sound words. KABUUUUUUUUUUMMMM!!!!

On a totally unrelated note (or so I thought), we started writing class after reading, and talked about what good writers do and how to confer with the teacher. Then my kids bounced off to their seats to write exciting stories about their 7-year-old lives. I was conferring with one student when another said, "Look, Ms. M, I wrote a lot!" I glanced at her paper and saw the word SPLASH! written with big exclamation points after it. I told her how cool it was that she used a sound word and how I could just hear the water splashing in my head, and I could tell it was a swimming story even without reading the rest of it, and could she please keep using cool sound words in her writing? Grinning from ear to ear, she nodded yes and kept working.

As I made my way through the rest of the students, reading their stories and conferring with other writers, I discovered that several other students had included sound words, words in all caps, and exclamation marks in their own writing.  I was actually a little bit shocked. Lucy Calkins has an entire unit on taking cues from published authors and trying some of what they do in our own work. I hadn't taught my kids to do this. I hadn't suggested or even mentioned it--we just studied it as readers and why it's done, and suddenly my kids were taking cues from this author and treating her as a writing mentor, all on their own. Their intelligence and initiative is awe-inspiring.

On days like today, SPLASH! really does feel like the coolest thing I've ever heard. I can't wait to see what they write tomorrow.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The #1 Lesson

After a challenging several months with little M, we have finally begun to overcome the self-efficacy hurdle. The other day I said to her, "Did you know that I love you very much?" With a beaming smile she replied, "Yep! Cuz I'm a Smarty Pants." I went on to inform her that her intelligence isn't the reason I love her, but it is something I love about her. What a change from 6 months ago--"NO, I am NOT smart!!" were her insistent (and sometimes defiant, and sometimes tearful) words back then.

Now, she works hard on all her work, every day. Today she was so excited and proud to be finished, I taught her to air five!

Yo sí puedo: the most important lesson my students learn all year.

Word Pictures

At recess today, it was too hot to go outside. So as a few of my children frequently do, little M hung around me instead of the other kids, looking for something to do. I didn't have a job for her, so I asked her to draw me the prettiest picture she could. She said ”Okay!” and bounced away.

A few minutes later, she came back with this:

I couldn't have asked for a more beautiful picture.