Monday, August 31, 2009

There Are No Words

This afternoon I was talking with another teacher about one of my students from the past. This teacher will be working with her now. We were talking so that the new teacher would understand the trauma that had occurred in this student's life the year she was with me.

As I was attempting to recount the story I found myself using vague phrases and unable to state the facts. The fact is that this girl was raped by a family friend on several occasions. Saying those words out loud was shockingly hard. Why is that?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

First Grade Meditations

My little Beyonce had a rough morning yesterday. She and I have been talking about having lunch together, but her behavior has meant that I haven't been willing to do it yet. Yesterday morning was so awful that I had her eat lunch in the office (something I rarely resort to). Surprisingly, the afternoon went really well. At least with Beyonce it did.

Near the end of the day, at the start of our free choice time, another little girl was crying. It had been a long day and this was not the first crying incident so I wasn't very patient with it. Beyonce was sitting near the crying one and I asked, "Are you helping the situation?" I was clearly thinking she was the cause of the crying. My wording was confusing, but once she understood she assurred me that she was helping, so I got the rest of the kids going on free choice.

When I returned to talk to the crying child, Beyonce had herself, the crier, and another friend sitting cross-legged in a circle. They were holding their hands up, fingers pinched together, eyes closed, chanting "ohmm."

It was brilliant. Now if I could just get her to give that a try when she starts to lose control.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Responsibility , Respect, and a Recording Artist

Another run-in with one of my little ones today made me think about several things. One is that I need a name for her here because I'm sure I'll be writing/thinking/tearing my hair out over her a lot. I've decided to call her Beyonce. I choose the name because of a couple of experiences with her. On the first day of school I take a picture of every child in my class which I use throughout the year for a variety of purposes. She was the only child to truly 'strike a pose' for the picture and I loved it! The second event was during our free choice time when she was part of a group playing with Lincoln Logs (I found them at a yard sale). One kid was actually building with them but the others had found other uses. This little girl was holding one like a microphone and singing and dancing!

Today she had a fabulous morning and then things fell apart after lunch. It's a long story but I finally sent her to another classroom to calm down and when she returned it got ugly again. We brought in one of our after-school-care teachers who knows her and took her somewhere quiet to settle down. That worked well. I don't think I handled things perfectly, but I'm not sure there is much I could have done to improve the situation.

So, I'm left wondering what to expect of this six-year old. I've wondered this before. If a child's problems stem from parenting or family issues (I'm not sure that is true here or not), what does that mean? Should we cut them some slack? Should we hold even tighter to counteract the other?

I don't feel like I can expect the same behavior from a child with a difficult home life than I can from a child with a stable home. These are children. They are going to struggle with emotions, impulse control, focus, and so much more even when things are going well for them. When things are tough of course they will act out or shut down. How do we help them build skills to cope with life, much less teach the prescribed curriculum?

I feel as though I've rambled on a lot here without ever truly managing to get at the point or question that is in my head.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Walk This Way

It hit me today that this year's class is able to walk down the hallway so much more quietly and under control than last year's class could do. That's a big positive for the start of the year.

On the other hand, the big negative is that I've never had so many students who regularly pick their noses and a couple who often touch themselves.

It makes me yearn for the days of struggling to walk down the hallway.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Hard at Work

I wrote last week about offering my students choices about where they work at any given time. One thing that surprised me is that students are working in unexpected places. This first little table was passed on to me by our fabulous librarian because she knew about my tables at different heights and thought the kids might like this as a place to work. She was right.

Working on the carpet is not new. Kids did it last year, but only at fairly specific times. They would stretch out there to read or play a math game. This group almost always has at least one kid on the carpet, no matter what they are doing in the way of work.

The bench here was originally a printer table. It was passed on to me years ago by our retired librarian. My father and sister added the bulletin board to the back and reinforced the bench so that it would hold me or students. It sits in our math nook area and has only really been discovered as a working spot by a few students.

The two desks here are where the students sign in every morning. I put them there as a thinking spot for kids who need a break from class. No one has used it that way yet, but many students have sat there to work.

This table came from a house my sister lived in years ago. She was one of several renters living there when the owner decided to sell. She was the last to move out and ended up with lots of things folks had left behind. My plan for the table was to be part of a writing center (the trays behind this student held various paper options last year). Now I don't think I can put anything on the lower part of the table because the kids expect to be able to work there.

Students have also taken to working at the trapezoid table near my desk that I will use for meeting with reading groups and other small groups and the small desk I set up for my co-teachers to have a home base when they are in the room.

I was surprised by how the students have adopted all these spots for working, but it was a pleasant surprise. I can't wait to see what happens when our library area with the couch opens!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

High and Low of the Day

I tried to tackle too much today. It's only the second week of school with first graders, I should know better. I was trying to have several things going on at once and it got a bit out of hand. I stopped the class and sent them back to the carpet to reevaluate. One little girl refused to cooperate. We've run into this more than once in the past week but we've been able to make things work so far. Today, not so much.

I gave her a couple of options, finally told her I would count to 3 and she needed to be doing her job as a first grader or take a break across the hall in a kindergarten classroom. She didn't want to pick either choice. After counting to 3 I took her hand to head across the hall. She wouldn't go. I quickly decided that I couldn't get into this power struggle right then and picked her up and took her across the hall.

It didn't even take the entire walk across the hall for me to recognize that I had not handled this well. Her behavior wasn't really any different from what we'd seen so far, but I was so frazzled by the other things going on that I didn't have the wherewithal to work this out with her.

When I returned to get her after about 2 minutes I sat down with her in the hall. I told her how much I like her and how high my hopes are for her. I don't know if what I said mattered because her teary, hesitant response was, "So you're not going to call my mom." I reassured her that I had no intention of calling her mom, that I wanted the two of us to come up with a plan for a good year. I hope I figure out how to make that happen!

Ugh, I hate when I realize that the issue was me, not the student.

On the positive side, I sewed a skirt for my tall table and I'm so excited by it! You can see the 'before' picture here. This is so much better.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Sweeter Side of Bill O'Reilly

This week's Parade magazine has an article by Bill O'Reilly, What President Obama Can Teach America's Kids. That title by that author was just begging to be read. I'm still wondering what compelled O'Reilly to write it.

To a less cynical person the article might read as a positive take on the president. Clearly, I'm more cynical than I like to think.

O'Reilly lists the various lessons Obama can teach: forgiveness, respect, persistence, hard work, and anything is possible. Good lessons. But O'Reilly can't leave it at that.

He says, "President Obama was just 2 when his father abandoned him and his mother in Hawaii." I've read Dreams from My Father and nothing in it suggests abandonment. However, I was willing to let that one slide.

Then he writes, "Even though his mom and dad apparently put their needs ahead of his, he speaks of them in mostly affectionate terms. He finds a way not to demean them." Mostly affectionate terms? Apparently finding a way not to demean someone is too tough for O'Reilly.

One last quote, "That man had no fatherly guidance, is of mixed race, and had no family connections to guide him into the world of national politics." I'm guessing Obama's grandfather was a pretty good guide. Also, let's not forget the wisdom of the women in his life.

There are other backhanded compliments throughout, but I think I've ranted enough to feel better. Thanks for indulging me.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Books in the First Four Days

This year I decided to try something new to start off independent reading. I've been collecting multiple copies of various books and attempting to have many from various series as well. In this first week I've read as many books as possible and then put them out for the kids during independent reading. It's been highly successful! The kids are very engaged in reading these books.

We also read two wordless picture books to model for the kids how to read books without words. The goal was to help them read books with text that is too difficult for them. Until we really get into guided reading they won't likely have books they are truly able to read yet. So we wanted to set them up for successful independent reading. Again, it's worked pretty well.

The video above shows all the books we've read together by lunchtime on the fourth day of school. We're copying the covers of the books and hanging them up to help the kids remember them. I'm really good at starting things like this, less good at following through.

(I wish I could remember where I read about having multiple copies of books the teacher reads for the kids. I have no idea.)

I Wonder What His Mom Would Think

I'm clearing out pages from a few notepads and I came across a quote I wrote down last year:
When our mothers don't have babies, they ask strangers to be in their family.
I don't remember the context of the quote, but I couldn't throw the page away without sharing it.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Choices, Choices, Choices

I firmly believe in the power of choice for kids. I will admit that I'm not nearly as good about making sure choice is built into our day as I would like to be.

I recently heard another first grade teacher talk about ways she incorporated choice in her classroom. One thing she did that really struck me was not assigning seats and setting her tables at different heights. Not assigning seats is new to me. I've always assigned seats, although I have let kids make requests.

I was really excited about this possibility. So, this year I have one tall table where students can stand to work, two typical tables with chairs, and one table on the ground for students to sit on the floor and work.

So far, I'm thrilled with it. The kids haven't seemed fazed by it at all and just find a spot at different times throughout the day.

One interesting unexpected result is that the kids have adopted other areas of the classroom for themselves. I have one desk set up as a home base for the other teachers who come to work in my room and the kids have sat there to work. One certain kid has totally grabbed it as his place. I also have a desk sitting alone for students who need a moment on their own before rejoining the group. Kids have also decided to work there. It seems that no spot is off limits to them. It seems that the classroom is ours rather than mine already. I couldn't ask for more than that on the third day.

(Just as an aside, I'm sewing a skirt for the tall table. It is driving me crazy that it looks so messy with all the stuff underneath it. I want it for storage, but I want it to look nicer. We'll see how the sewing goes, I'm not much of a seamstress.)

Monday, August 03, 2009

Rookie Mistake

Today was our first day of school. We crammed a lot into the few hours we had together. One of the things we did was sketch quick pictures of ourselves. Before sending the first graders off to sketch we talked briefly about the different parts they might have in their picture. I used thinkblocks to help with this idea. After a bit I asked the kids to return to the carpet with their pictures. A couple of kids shared some parts of their picture and we used the thinkblocks again. Then I sent them off in pairs to use the thinkblocks to discuss the different parts of each of their pictures.

As I walked around the room I kept gently reminding kids of the directions because so many were playing around with the blocks. After a few minutes I realized this was my own fault.

Tomorrow we will spend some time just exploring with the thinkblocks. Then we'll dig back in with them in more structured ways. I really do know better than to hand 19 first graders a new manipulative/tool/toy and not give them time to play around. I'd want time to play around!