Thursday, September 30, 2010

Anger Notebook

I've got a little darling this year who has trouble controlling her anger. She couldn't be any cuter than she is. She also has amazingly strong emotions. One strategy we're trying with her is a notebook. She is a bright, bright girl and capable of doing a lot of writing in the beginning of first grade.

When I gave her the notebook I told her she could write or draw whatever she wanted there. I even told her she could write, "I hate Ms. Orr." again and again if it would help. She asked if she could write happy things. I said sure. The first thing she wrote is happy, "going to the pool".

On other occasions she clearly wrote when she was angry. I think this third one says, "Ms. Orr is stupid."

It's the final note here that made my afternoon today. I love the idea of a six-year-old writing a "note to self," especially about the progress of her day. I'm also quite impressed by the idea that she can recognize when things are going downhill.

It's not clear to me yet if this notebook is helping or not. We started it on Monday and this week has definitely been better than last week. We'll see how things continue.

(She does not attempt to keep this notebook private; she shares with countless people regularly. Today, she left it out in the midst of everything at the end of the day. I suggested she put it back in the home she chose for it but she declined, several times.)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


For a week we had a document camera in our classroom. One whole week! It was wonderful. Now it is time to start looking for a grant so that I can have one of my own.

I borrowed this one from our school district (we have pool of electronic equipment we can check out). One of the things we do in the first few weeks of first grade is 'read' wordless picture books. As many of my students are not yet readers, I want them to see how much they can read of a story just through pictures.

However, trying to do so just looking at a picture book seemed too challenging. If we wanted to really read the pictures I thought the students should be able to see them clearly. Hence the document camera.

I didn't get it well set up in our classroom since it was only temporary. But it was perfect for this use. In these pictures we are 'reading' the pictures of a non-fiction book. That was suggested by one of my amazing co-teachers and was a brilliant idea. Lots of first graders love non-fiction books but they don't really know how to go about reading them yet.

There is nothing like having a piece of equipment in your classroom to get the flood of ideas coming. There are so many ways we could use a document camera if we had one all the time. Off to grant hunt...

Friday, September 24, 2010

Arms and Legs

I'm in my 13th year of teaching. I like to think I'm not superstitious, but I am getting worried.

Yesterday one of my darling little girls fell off the monkey bars. It's been an almost everyday experience for at least one of my kiddos this year. But yesterday was different. She came over, clearly upset, and I sent her with a buddy to get some water. (The clinic was not open because our clinic aide was out.)

A few minutes later our fabulous principal came out to say they were calling the parents because they thought her arm was broken.

It was. She had surgery for an hour yesterday. She was home on painkillers today. It's not clear when she'll be able to return to school.

This morning another little darling and I had quite a bit of trouble together. She was disrespectful and defiant. I did not always respond well. But even when I did it didn't help.

It finally ended when she kicked me. Nothing major, just a lashing out physically. It didn't hurt me but it crossed a line we couldn't ignore.

So, either this year might be cursed or today was just a big teaching fail.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Brillance (or Laziness)

My students use pens. Not just sometimes, all the time. The only pencils in our classroom are colored pencils. Well, and the ones I use in my plan book because that can not be written in pen.

I made the switch to pens several years ago. I hated all the erasing my kids did, especially in their writing. I wanted to be able to see their thinking process as much as possible. Plus, elementary students tend to erase with vigor and often end up with holes in their paper. I also hated all the pencil sharpening. It's noisy and time consuming.

So I decided to get rid of pencils. The students don't even seem to notice a difference. They just draw a line through anything they want to change as they write and move on.

Pens do get lost and I have to replace them. But so did pencils. Occasionally students manage to take apart a pen but I try to see that as an experiment and exploration on their part. On the whole, I couldn't be happier with this decision.

The one thing I've learned, though, is to throw out the caps. They make awfully fun things to throw, chew on, bend, and who knows what else.

This idea has turned out to be brilliant, but I think it was really born out of laziness and irritation. I think that may be true of most of my good ideas.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Thinking about Our Hopes

Responsive Classroom suggests creating classroom rules using students 'Hopes and Dreams' for the year. I've found it to be a fun and effective method. This year I decided to use ThinkBlocks and the Patterns of Thinking to help us.

I shared my hope for the year and gave the students time to think about theirs and to talk with a friend. Then, as students shared their hopes I wrote each one on a big ThinkBlock. The next day we returned to our ThinkBlocks. I grabbed the medium sized ones and began sharing the parts of my hope. I talked about the things I would do in order to make my hope happen and the things I would need others to do. Students then shared the parts of their hopes. (They felt especially motivated to do so in order to get some medium ThinkBlocks. It's amusingly impressive.)

Finally, the next day we discussed how we can help each other successfully complete our hopes. The list was fairly short and surprisingly focused. In the end our class rules are: Be Kind and Help Others.

We did talk about being kind to people and to things (furniture, walls, supplies, etc.).

Be Kind and Help Others. I can live with that.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Another View of our First Day

I can't remember ever being this exhausted. On our old calendar we started school on a Monday. In our district the kids go home early on Mondays to give elementary teachers equal planning time to middle and high school teachers. Starting on a Monday was great because it gave us a chance to get to know our students, their interests, attention spans, and such. Then we had Monday afternoon to make basic plans for the rest of the week.

Being back on a regular calendar we started on Tuesday this week. Not only did that mean a full day with the kids on the first day but then no real time for planning the rest of the week.

These pictures were taken in the first hour of our first day. We were making name tags for a variety of reasons. As I contemplate surviving the last bit of the week these pictures remind me of the energy, excitement, and enthusiasm with which we started the week and the year.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

One View of the First Day

Seventeen children arrived in my classroom yesterday morning, most of them with their supplies. One of our first activities every year is to sort our supplies. If you've never spent time in an elementary school classroom on the first day you are missing the sheer joy of small children weighed down by an increasing amount of school supplies.

At our school we create a supply lists by grade level. So, as a first grade team we agree on a list. As a result, I immediately pass on the pencils to others because we use pens. I also get rid of the erasers because they will do us no good. We also aren't likely to use so many binders or folders. It feels wasteful to have families buy all this but we don't know who is in each class until the week before school starts.

At the end of last year I did send each child home with a pair of scissors, packages of markers and crayons, and some glue sticks - all left from our year's supply. I hope they were used frequently!

Monday, September 06, 2010 only a day away

Last Thursday I met 14 of the 18 kids in my class. I'm really excited about this year with them. But I think I broke one of my cardinal rules. Unintentionally but still.

Lisa Parisi recently wrote about whether or not she should talk to previous teachers about her students. She laid out the pros and cons very well.

I commented that I like to get to know my students for the first week and then talk to their previous teachers. That way I build my own impressions of them but then I benefit from learning about their histories and tips for helping them. The best of both worlds.

Unfortunately this year a lovely teacher I work with already knew a lot of these kids. As a result, I've heard quite a bit about them. None of it is negative but it shaped my view of them as I met them last week.

I'm concerned that I've already placed students into certain boxes in my mind. This will make it harder to hold high expectations for them or have patience with them or who knows what else. This is my own fault so, starting tomorrow, I'll just have to work extra hard to see each of these little darlings for themselves rather than through others' eyes.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

It's A Book by Lane Smith

I recently received a review copy of Lane Smith's newest, It's a Book from Macmillian Publishing. There's been a bit of controversy about the book (that link will explain the controversy but will also give away the best part of the book).

I'm not sure Smith wrote this one for kids, at least not in as general a way as his previous titles, John, Paul, George, and Ben or Madame President or any of his others. I've already bought a copy of this for my dad for his birthday because I think he may be the target audience. I know I loved it the minute I read it. I've read it about two dozen times now because I've taken it everywhere with me and made friend after friend read it. I like more and more each time.

I won't be using it with my first grade class, but I'll keep reading it and I'm likely to be giving it as gifts to other appreciative adults.

By the way, the book trailer is worth checking out. It'll give you the idea of the book without giving away the controversy.