Tag Archives: classroom

At a Snail’s Pace

In my profession, May roars, leaving me windblown and mud spattered in the wake of the urgency to squeeze in every last bit of learning, every memorable project, and all the performances, displays, meetings, and endless, but somehow necessary, paperwork before school ends in mid June.

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And May is rich.  Students have blossomed into their most curious, creative, innovative, and independents selves.  They seem to peak as the rains ease and the skies warm, classroom routines providing the inner rhythm, the back beat, that allows imaginations and a year’s worth of learning to come together in perfect synergy.  The classroom is busy in May, with students leading the charge…both eager for school to end and reticent leave the comfortable place the classroom has become.

But there is a week in May where time crawls to a snails’ pace.  State testing, mandated in public schools, demands that my students spend hours demonstrating their learning.  During those times I hear each click of the clock reverberate against my eardrums.  The room is unnaturally quiet as students work through question after question designed to test their mastery of third grade.  The work is not too hard for my students, but it is too long…and requires them to operate very differently from our typical classroom routine.

It seems almost from birth, our students were encouraged to collaborate.  They’ve learned to work in groups, sort out misunderstandings through discussion and conversations, negotiate roles and responsibilities, turn to each other for support and critical feedback…until it’s time for the test.  Then they are asked to be quiet, to read and understand complex questions independently, write and revise without feedback, and sit for long stretches of time.

The minutes drag as I roam the room.  I check to make sure these first time test takers are progressing through their tests rather than spending inordinate amounts of time on any one question.  I search their faces, ready to intervene when signs suggest they are ready to crumble.  I remind them to use their tools, to take a breath, to stretch, and to check their work. That clock slows to a snail’s pace, each click requiring the coil of the snail’s body to snap forward, oozing its slimy self toward its destination.

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After the second day of testing I can feel the mood shift.  Novelty got us through day one and two, but day three feels heavy.  The hands of the clock are now mired in sludge.  Students need more encouragement to keep moving forward.  I need to summon some super powers to settle the boiling tummy, churning with uncertainty.  A walk and a talk helps, we are able to settle in again.

I’m proud of my students.  They did it.  All persisted, all persevered, all finished the tests in front of them.  And honestly, that is accomplishment enough at this stage of the game.  Now we can get back to the real learning–the noisy, messy, complex, interactive projects that bring joy to the classroom.  I’ll be the one who is windblown and mud spattered and reveling in the mess.

Playing with 3 Words: NPM 2019 Day 15

Back in the classroom today it was time to play around a bit with poetry.  I asked my students for three words…and then read them some poems that featured three words from the book I am Writing a Poem About… by Myra Cohn Livingstone.  All of the poems in the section included the words blanket, ring, and drum.  They were unique in content and style and all used the words in completely different ways.

With those poems as inspiration, we took the three words I collected: candy, cat, and park and worked on our own poems.  The first attempt felt more like stories about cats and the park and candy…even my own was focused on a cat.

Royal Cat

She slinks, graceful

a cat with a calico coat

as shiny as hard candy

Parking herself on the

windowsill

in a pool of light

she oversees her kingdom

©Douillard

After our first try, we took some time to brainstorm ideas about candy and cat and park, thinking about ways to incorporate imagery using the words.  Then the challenge was on…write a poem using the three words that is NOT about cats or candy or parks.  This was much more difficult!  My second attempt was about recess.

Recess

The bell rings

and they rush out

like candy raining from

a busted piñata

a herd of cats

running this way and that

each following an invisible path

playful

fierce

full of energy.

Exhausted,

I park myself on the step and watch.

©Douillard

Painted in Waterlogue

Wyatt (who had seen a bear over his spring break) tried his hand at a guessing poem…about what else?  A bear.

I sometimes eat things as sweet as candy

but I can be bitter and scary.

People leave treasures in the car,

I take that as an opportunity

to leave the car scarred.

Cats are no match for me.

I live in a place something like a park,

vast,

and you see the same things

over and over again.

I can see that we all need to play around more with the idea of layers of meaning…I think that will be tomorrow’s lesson.

A Doing Day: SOLC 2019 Day 5

You know it’s been a good day in the classroom when nobody has to go to the bathroom. That’s not to say that students didn’t need to go–or even that they didn’t go, just that the asking and the going doesn’t interfere with the learning and learning activities that are going on.

I notice that those are days filled with lots of doing.  Today started with students going online to vote for anti-hate messaging from a contest we entered.  The google form made it easy for each to independently watch the short videos and make decisions about the images and poems and posters and more.  After Cardio Club and an abbreviated morning routine, we dove headfirst into another weaving project.  (You can find a mini post about last week’s weaving here.)  A novel tool is always a plus…who knew there were 18 inch rulers?  Using a ruler to measure effectively and to draw straight lines is challenging for third graders, but with a little help from their friends all were able to manage the task.  (I wish I had remembered to take photos!)  Finishing our 4-triangle inquiry set the stage for a study of two-voice poems through the poem Squares by Theoni Pappas.  (And that was all before recess!)

Add some bubble blowing and birthday cookies along with a couple of chapters of Save Me a Seat before we dove into writing claims about the “right” age for kids to be able to stay home alone.  We were sharing our claims when the principal and superintendent stopped by.  (While the claims were more similar than I would have liked, students did a great job composing defensible claims based on some articles we read…a great early effort!)

We returned to the weaving project, tracing geometric shapes that would be woven into the monochromatic art piece that features design, math, and writing.

tracing shapes

After some last detailed directions before lunch, students returned to the classroom after lunch to weave their geometric shapes into striking pieces of art.  We were so engaged, we almost forgot to get our things packed up to go home!  (And the photo included above is the only photo I took today!  I’ll have to take some of the finished products once we get our two-voice poetry completed.)

This was definitely a doing day!

 

Rethinking Use

For the last couple of days, my teaching partner and I have been busy planning for the first week of school.  With a multiage class of first, second, and third graders, we have a wide span of age and school experience to take into account…and our older students have been in class with us for the last year or two.  That means we are always figuring out new ways to build community and academic skills, encouraging student engagement and building collaboration and problem solving.

We love using picture books to launch student thinking…and students love to be read to!  Today’s planning conversation involved many books, what role they might serve, and how we might use them as we start the school year.  Last year we read a book by Jerry Pallotta called How Will I Get to School This Year? which we used to get our students started with writing opinions.  We used this simple picture book to ask our students to come up with reasons and evidence to support their opinions about how they would want to travel to school.  Which would be better, a grizzly bear or a butterfly?

At the end of the school year when we came across another Pallotta book in the series, Who Will Be My Teacher This Year, we set it aside for potential use this fall.  And when we read it again this year to think about how we might use it, it initially fell a bit short of our expectations. And then we started thinking…

Something we want our students to begin when they come back next week is to help us reorganize our classroom library to better serve their needs.  We have lots and lots of books–but they don’t seem as accessible as we would like.  And we would love to have our students more actively recommending books to each other.  As we thought this reorganizational task through, we worried that some of our more accomplished readers might be dismissive of some of the easier to read choices in the library.

So…how might we use this Pallotta book to model how a seemingly simple book might actually be more than you see at first glance.  When we took a closer look at this book we noticed that in addition to the fairly simple text and some silly associations between teachers and animals, there are also a lot of idioms used.  Attention to these would change the way a reader looks at the book.  We also considered how our students might pick a page where the connection between the animal and the teacher action is tenuous (the alligator teaching students to be “green”–as in environmentally aware–is one example) and revise it.

We found ourselves reading and reconsidering picture books from a variety of perspectives in our planning today.  I know that our thinking today will inform the way we set our students up to revamp our classroom library.  I can’t wait to see all the ways they approach books when charged with this important task of making our classroom library work for them!

How have you rethought your use of and approach to a book you use with students?  What’s a favorite book you can’t wait to share?

Dream Weaver: a Mentor Text

Sometimes it is the simplest books that pack a powerful punch.  When I started to consider a recommendation for the #113texts Mentor Text Challenge so many books came to mind.  I expect to add more than one!

dream weaver

Dream Weaver by Jonathan London is one of those simple books with beautiful language.  The verbs create an orchestra of sound and movement.

A sudden wind, and the trees hum, the branches creak, and Yellow Spider’s web shimmers, like wind across a pond.  But she hangs on and you stay with her.  The whole world is in these leaves.

Besides the language, there are two other features of the book that I love.  One is the way the books uses the space on the page and draws you in close to feel the insect view and then pulls back to give a human perspective.  I also love that the back of the book includes facts about spiders.  (The fiction/non-fiction mix is one of my favorites!)

This year we used this book as one of several to teach beginnings.  Here’s the text of the first page:

Nestled in the soft earth beside the path, you see a little yellow spider.

This beginning takes the reader directly to the “place” in the book.  Our students wrote a piece where they highlighted the qualities of our local community–exploring ways to share their opinions with evidence from their own experience.  But like most young writers, they are still working to build effective beginnings.  So they studied this beginning from Jonathan London and many tried their hand at making this structure work in their own writing.  (Nestled did become a favorite word in our class!)

Here’s a couple of examples from students:

“B” , a second grader wrote this opening

Nestled between the blue beach and the desert there’s a small town called Cardiff-by-the Sea

Okay–I’m not sure that the beach and desert are quite close enough to “nestle” this little town, but she definitely got the idea!

“K”, a third grader tried this version where the setting is revealed in a similar way without using the word “nestled.”

A little town called Cardiff lies between two other towns in Southern California: Encinitas and Del Mar.

There are many ways to use this book as a mentor text.  I highly recommend it, especially for students in grades K-3.  I’d love to know how you’ve used this book (or others like it)!