Friday, August 29, 2008

Our Dreams

Yesterday my class talked about Martin Luther King, Jr. Most of my first graders had no idea who he was. We read a big book about him, mostly looking at the pictures of segregated places, the lunch counter in Greensboro, MLK in jail, and more. The idea of segregation is such a difficult one to get across to young children. I wanted as concrete an image as I could find so I looked around our circle to name a white student and a black student to explain that they would not have been able to go to school together at that time. I started to panic as I looked thinking that I had no white students. Then I saw one girl, the only one in my class. I have three African-American students. All the rest are Latino, middle-Eastern, or Eastern-European. I managed to avoid any discussion of what school they would have attended or whether or not they could have gone to certain places. I'm never sure how to answer those questions.

For those students who were really listening and beginning to grasp the ideas we were discussing, I think they were shocked. It was amazing to watch them grapple with this concept compared to the world in which they live. After our discussion I sent them back to draw a picture of their dream. Below is a video of some of them sharing their dreams. A few literally drew something they had dreamed about recently, some drew things they would really like to have happen to them, and some truly got the idea of drawing a visionary dream.

In case it's hard to follow what they are saying, here's a brief synopsis of each one.
  1. She wants everyone to have a special house (a shockingly profound dream in the current economy).
  2. He says, "All the persons be together, it doesn't matter which color of skin they have."
  3. He is talking about everybody being able to play together and help each other.
  4. He wants to say sorry to Martin Luther King (we had a brief discussion of his assassination because one student brought it up).
  5. She wants the world to be forgiven (I'm trying to follow up on this one to better understand her thinking, but I'm not sure yet).
  6. She drew herself and her friend finding lots and lots of gold.
  7. This is her in a rainbow spot.
  8. He is describing riding a horse and shooting a ghost.
One of my biggest concerns having switch grades so drastically is that I will underestimate my students. They wowed me with this and I hope I can challenge them enough.

Trading Spaces (Thanks to A Year of Reading)

Franki and Mary Lee at A Year of Reading have coordinated a share of our classroom spaces. I've planned to get my pictures posted for weeks now and am finally getting around to it. You'll notice from these pictures that the focus on literacy is important to me, not surprising in first grade. This is one bookshelf in our classroom library or book nook. We've got the other two bookshelves covered up right now to limit the number of books they are choosing from during reading workshop. I am still amazed at how many books my school provided for me for first grade.

These are the books we've read recently. I didn't have one of the really nice wooden display pieces for books that some classrooms have. Fortunately one of my teammates mentioned to me that I could buy these from Walmart for pretty cheap. I don't know if they'll hold up for more than a year, but I'm fairly happy with them.

This last picture is of one thing that is new to my classroom this year, a couch. It takes up a lot of space, but I love having such a warm, cozy spot in the room.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Cords, Cords, and More Cords

For the first time this year I decided to really manage all the cords by my desk. I never worried about it with fourth and fifth graders, but I think it could be quite a temptation for these first graders. So I gathered them all and taped them up and away. (There are cords for my computer, printer, Smartboard, projector, speakers, iPod, and palm.) However, after the first few days I realized we needed to make a change in our meeting area. So I started over. About a week later I changed things again and did the cords again. Finally, last Friday I got rid of the desk I'd been using and switched to this one (it was a space saving decision) and started over with the cords yet again. I'm hoping this is the final time. At least they are out of the way of my students!

Tea Dead?

Our students have been writing their stories in little books. (If you want more information Organized Chaos explains it well.) I'm learning to read first grade writing but it is often a challenge.

This was written on the back of the last page of this student's book. It says, "The End."

Friday, August 22, 2008

Starting off a Friday

I've been close to tears twice this morning already (and it isn't even 9 am). Once was in a good way. One of my students from last year's fifth grade class stopped in and said, "I just wanted to come and say thank you for this." as he held out his SOL (standardized tests) scores. He had a perfect score on math and passed reading, writing, and science easily. I hugged him, but told him not to thank me. He worked hard for those scores and he deserves the credit.

As I greeted my first graders at the door this morning one of them wouldn't shake my hand or look at me. When I pushed the issue, gently, with her she said she was upset because her dad yelled at her. She's usually really easygoing and upbeat so this was quite a switch. I don't think dad was out of control in any way. She felt like she got blamed and yelled at for something that was her brother's fault. It just illustrated for me how much things that seem small to adults can be so huge to children.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Success! (at least a little bit)

One student in my room has been having a rough time. This kid has been trying the patience of all of us, quietly defiant, not joining the group, turned away a lot. Small things, but they add up to a lot by the end of each day. Plus, at dismissal this child has said to me every day this week, "Call my dad. Tell him what a bad day I had." My response has been the same, "I can't wait to call your dad, but I'm going to do so when I can tell him what a fabulous day you had. So I won't call today, but maybe I'll be able to call tomorrow."

This morning this child gave a thumbs down about another student's answer during our calendar time. It was the only thumbs down in the class. I figured it was just another quiet way of pushing my buttons, but I questioned the child about it. The response was genuine and thoughtful about the thinking being done. The child was completely wrong, but still I showered the praise, for having the courage to speak up, for really thinking about the question, and so on. This student was glowing. In just a bit I called this student up to do our magic number activity. Then, during math I spoke one-on-one and asked for help during calendar tomorrow. The rest of the morning was fantastic.

I had to leave at lunch for a meeting at a nearby university, but I told both the literacy coach and the special education teacher I work with about the morning so that they could continue the praise at every opportunity. When I got back the class was just wrapping up writing workshop. We keep the books they write in their writing folders each day but this child wanted to take today's home to read to mom. It was all about our calendar time this morning. I sent it home, only saying that I wanted it back tomorrow so that it could be read to me!

I told this little one that I would be calling dad to share about the fabulous day. More glowing. Then, by chance, it turns out that dad was at school at the end of the day for a meeting with a sibling's teacher. I found him talking to his child in the lobby at dismissal. I put my arm around my student and gushed about the day. Getting the chance to tell him in person with the child there was even better than a phone call. I have high hopes for tomorrow!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Why My Job Can Stink

I just spent several minutes holding and hugging a first grader as sobs wracked her body. She was devastated that she did not get to share at the end of reading workshop. Of course, I recognize that this significant reaction was only very tangentially related to share. Mostly it's from all the various weights that she carries on her thin shoulders, most of which I don't, and probably won't ever, understand.

The only thing I could do was hold her tight and tell her that tomorrow we'll see what we can do about share.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Random Act of Kindness

My students have lunch at 10:40 everyday. We're the first class to go to lunch. It was fascinating to watch the parents' faces when I told them that at Back to School Night.

We arrived at the cafeteria today to find that lunch wasn't ready. Initially we were told they needed five more minutes. When they looked at the clock they revised that to say they needed two minutes. My students, antsy and bored, waited in line until they were let in. I'm still staying with them to help make sure they get through the line without trouble, an attempt to make life easier for the ladies in the cafeteria. As a result, I walked out of the cafeteria ten minutes into my thirty minute lunch break. Needless to say, I was quite frustrated. (Thank you for indulging my need to whine about this.)

On my way back to my classroom to eat, check email, and read some blogs I stopped by the office to check my mailbox. I found an envelope from Kristen in my box. I've never met her and have only had online contact for the past few months. She's one of the few primary grade teachers who blogs that I've found and greatly enjoyed. She's offered me a lot of support and encouragement as I've begun my adjustment to first grade.

I opened the envelope and found a CD full of songs for first grade. It was such a kind, generous act. I'm continually impressed with how much teachers do for one another. For a profession that can be incredibly isolating, it is full of people who go above and beyond for one another.

I have to say that I walked back to my room in a much better mood.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Ain't That the Truth

I'm exceptionally lucky to work with two amazing teachers during our two and a half hour language arts block. One is a reading coach at our school. Her job is designed for her to be in a classroom co-teaching for half the school day and coaching teachers the other half of the day. I get to be her partner this year. The other teacher is one of our special education teachers who used to be a first grade classroom teacher. I am learning a lot from them both.

Yesterday we cracked down on behavior during center time. We're raising our expectations of their stamina and focus. The students who were reading to a stuffed animal (really just more independent reading, but with a twist) were sitting in a tight little triangle together. I went over and had them each turn around so that their backs were to each other. One girl really didn't want to do it. She kept saying, "Now we won't have any fun."

I'm beginning to think that their switch from kindergarten to first grade might feel as shocking to them as my switch from fifth to first feels to me.

You Never Know What You'll Learn

During writing workshop today we had our first graders telling stories from their lives and then writing them in books. The idea comes from Katie Wood Ray's book Already Ready and my astoundingly amazing co-teacher organized chaos has explained it quite well in some of her recent posts.

One little girl was completely unable to come up with any story to tell. After trying to help her come up with something I suggested she go sit at the Thinking Spot so that she could think with fewer distractions. After a few minutes she came back to me saying she was going to write about when her mommy and dad got married. I asked her if she was there (because we keep telling them to write about something that has happened to them!). She responded, "I was in her tummy."

I recommended that she write about something she can actually remember.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Underappreciated Specialists

I'm starting to feel as though I'm getting my sea legs in first grade. This is allowing me the opportunity to notice things beyond me, my students, and our classroom.

One of those things has been watching specialists work with my class. Intellectually I've always thought that specialists (librarians, PE, music, and art teachers) were amazing because they know almost every student in the school and work with all grade levels, from head start through fifth grade. However, I'd only ever really seen them work with the fourth or fifth graders I was teaching. Now I've seen them teach amazing lessons to first graders.

These teachers are immensely talented. They adapt numerous times a day to various groups of students who are at a wide range of ages. They have to meet the needs of hundreds of different children. I find it exhausting to try to meet the needs of the twenty students in my class. For all the challenges in that I have lots of time to get to know these students and they are all at fairly similar developmental stages. Our specialists also work alone. They do not have teaching partners or instructional assistants (usually, at least) to help them. I am awestruck by them.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


I survived my first Back to School Night as a primary teacher last week. As the event began there were five parents (out of 19 students) in my classroom. My phenomenal co-teacher and I looked around with a bit of disappointment, but smiled and moved forward. She sat down in a child's chair to be out of the way as I made sure the welcome videos from administrators and school board members was loud enough. A few minutes later she had to get up because the chair she was sitting in belonged to a boy whose father arrived. She moved to another table and sat down. Not five minutes later that child's parents arrived. She stood up and moved off to one side of the room. I quietly walked over and told her to sit somewhere else so more parents would arrive. She chuckled and chose a new seat. Again, that child's father arrived. She moved again and again the child's mother arrived. It was amazing!

By the time the evening was over we had the parents of thirteen of our students there. One other came the next night for his older child's Back to School Night and was very apologetic for missing ours. It was a wonderful experience.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Overwhelmingly Grateful

I haven't managed to post anything in the last week for a variety of reasons. As a result, this post is long overdue. Switching from fifth grade to first was more terrifying and exhausting than I had expected. The support of my teammates and other friends at school has made a huge difference, but I knew that would be true. I've been at that school for ten years and I know how wonderful everyone is.

I was astounded by the encouragement and support from my online network. I haven't had nearly the time for Twitter as I have in the past. However, there have been tweets that have made my day. Thanks so much to sfern, KarenJan, jomamava, timstahmer, coordinatortwo, and gever.

Every comment on my recent posts has been heartening and helped me get through each day. Some have been from other teachers in my school, splatypus, jm, organized chaos, snippety gibbet, or my district, kgd. Others have been a part of my personal network for some time now, Michaele, Stacey, Amy S, Doug Noon, and Julie Pippert. Still others are fairly new or brand new to me, dcowart, egretsnest, Veggie Mom, greenisle13, teresa, teacherninja, Ms. Mize, Mandy, teach5, and Tracey.

Finally, a couple of other bloggers have had posts that have helped. It's been a personal example of the power of the network. Tracey's post actually references back to one of my posts from last year in fifth grade. Tricia's post gives me more credit than I deserve, but is greatly appreciated.

Again, thank you so much to all of you who have offered advice, encouragement, or simply come along for the ride. It has made all the difference.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

The Joy of Math

I'm amazed by what a teacher can learn simply by watching first graders work with manipulatives. I've learned about their understanding of shapes, physics, patterns, cooperation, and cleaning up. At the same time, they've been having an absolute blast. It will be an effort of mine to ensure that they have some time for exploring with various manipulatives throughout the entire year. I don't want them to lose the joy and the free learning that is happening in these pictures.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

State of the Classroom

The classroom is beginning to feel like it's coming together. Thank goodness since the kids have been there for a week already. They've got book boxes, for all the books they're reading during independent reading time. Our calendar is rolling, although just barely. I haven't quite figured out how to transition into it each day. I've got to iron that out this week. Our meeting area is pretty set. It's a tight fit when we're all there, but the rug is colorful, we've got the easel, the chart stand, the Smartboard, and the word wall. What more could we need. Finally, we've got a Thinking Spot for those students who need a moment to pull themselves together.

These parts of the room, however, are still in a serious state of disarray. Hopefully I will find the time this week to get them in order. The library will be organized by the students (at least, I hope so) over the next few weeks to a month. The listening center and the computers are up to me. I just haven't felt the urge or had the energy to tackle all the wires. It should be noted that my husband began the process with my computers. Also, it looks impressive that I have 3 computers, but only one is really usable. Two of them are Waterford computers with a phonics program my students are required to use.