August 31, 2010

What to do with the 5th graders who can barely read...

Last year, I had a handful of painfully low readers.  This year, I am very quickly realizing that I didn't even know what low was... Let me clarify.  My school uses the Fountas & Pinnell assessment system to level our readers.  The system assigns students with a letter level based on their fluency and comprehension reading a passage at that level.  Anyways, I asked the literacy specialist to F&P a few of my low readers this week so I could get an idea of their levels.  A 5th grader should typically be around a level S to start the year, and move up to a U by the end of the year.  A few of my little kiddos came out to a level I...and I have 1 still to be tested that I am certain is lower that that.


What does this mean to me?  Well, when I got that news it really just depressed me.  My goodness.  How will I ever meet their needs?  I have no students with identified special needs, so that means I don't get additional classroom support from SSTs (basically special ed push-in teachers).  That means it's up to me to teach these 1st and 2nd grade reading level kids, along with their grade level peers, and a handful that are way beyond grade level.  I promise I won't get too deep into complaining...but I just really don't know where to start.

It breaks my heart to think about how these children got so painfully far behind in something as critical as reading.  I know that there are probably unidentified learning disabilities at stake, but so much also comes down to moving schools frequently and not growing up in a home environment that fosters and encourages reading.  How will I ever be able to catch them up?  How will I ever be able to meet their needs without neglecting my other students?

What does this mean to my teaching?  Well, this is going to be a tough year of teaching literacy, that's for sure.  Not only does it looks like I will have 5 guided reading groups, but with kids that low, they are WAY below comprehension level for even my approaching leveled readers.  Also, they will be able to do very little reading work independently.  I will have to find some creative ways to get them double doses of reading instruction throughout the day, and to modify work to make it more accessible.

I'm really nervous about this, I have to a young teacher, there is so much I have to learn still, and it's daunting to think that the responsibility for these kids falls on my shoulders.  Of course, it doesn't ALL rest on me.  They will get intervention services because they are Tier 3 kids, and will work with other teachers during our built-in intervention block.  But still...I'm worried.

I guess I will commit once again to doing my very very best this year, and working as hard as I can.  A little luck wouldn't hurt too, so keep your fingers crossed...we could use a reading miracle over here!!!

August 27, 2010

Might seem like small potatoes, but...

First week down, and here's how I know we're on the right track:

  • The kids knew exactly what to do when they came into the classroom this morning
  • They also knew exactly what to do after lunch
  • When I took them out for an afternoon recess, they started lining up IMMEDIATELY when I raised my hand as the "time to go back inside" signal
  • The floor was clean at the end of the day again today
  • Everyone turned in their homework 
  • They paid attention and giggled through a 2-chapter read aloud from Sideways Stories from Wayside School (I could barely have last year's group sit together on the carpet because they'd always be "bothering each other")
Here's how I know I'm doing my job:
  • When I told one kid I still hadn't seen the Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie, he told me he owned it and offered to bring it in so I could borrow it
  • I got a paper cut during lunch time and had two students in the room making up some homework.  One is a student who I know will be a challenge this year.  He has had a great first week, but I know that he has some emotional problems and has had both a tough life and a history of behavior problems (the latter being due to the former).  Anyway, as I was grabbing myself a band-aid, this student looked up from his work and asked, plain and simple, "Is it okay?"
^That may not seem like much, but it made my entire day.  This child has been at 8 schools in the past 5 years, comes in late frequently and occasionally stays home for no reason other than that he doesn't have a family supportive enough to make sure he's in school, and I'm sure has a million other things going on that neither can I understand or imagine.  And he's making sure my paper cut is okay.  3 simple words that show we are on our way to building a relationship.  I teach for moments like this.

This is going to be a good year.

And now I'm off to lay on my bed and read, all I want to do (other than sleep) this entire weekend... :)

August 26, 2010

Second Year Teaching > First Year Teaching (the understatement of the century)

Last year, when school ended Thursday afternoon of the first week, I was crying at my desk because I was beginning to realize that, while I had felt prepared finishing student teaching and graduating with honors from college, in reality I had no idea what I was doing.  I vividly remember the first two days of school going smoothly, then Thursday reality setting in.  The kids were chatty, they weren't following my directions, and I was ALREADY bogged down by planning, etc.  So much for a honeymoon period!!!

This year, the very same day, I am feeling exactly the opposite.  I am astonished at how quickly we have settled into a routine.  (It helps when you actually know what kind of routine you want the students in!!!)  I think the reality of the success hit me when, after school, I picked up 1 little piece of trash and 1 pencil from the classroom floor.  Last year, the floor would be covered with garbage every day, no matter how many times I told them to clean up.  This year, I have students signing in and out to use the bathroom, and doing it correctly 90% of the time.  Last year, I still couldn't get them to sign out correctly in May.  The difference?  It is a million times easier to teach a routine correctly the first time and continue to reteach that same routine than it is to teach a routine, then change it, then change it again, and hope the students can keep up.  Yes, this year is better.

Another celebration of the day: yesterday when I launched Daily 3: Read to Self I was a bit nervous when the students only built up 1 min 30 seconds of read to self "stamina."  I left feeling like we had a looong way to go!!!  Today, they made it up to 15 minutes!!!  I felt like doing a happy dance!  It was like they all decided that this was a goal they wanted to achieve, and worked for it together.  Amazing.  I was sooo proud.

Some not so thrilling parts of the day:

  • Crazy mom continuing to criticize, this time about things I haven't even DONE yet, but that she seems to be anticipating I will do...for example, her writing me a note saying her gifted child needs to be challenged and that this is MY job to do, not HER job to do at home. (did i say it was???  I love gifted children and am HAPPY to challenge them!!! I've worked with gifted kids in summer for 3 years!)
  • One of my tough guy students writing in his get to know you letter to me that I should know, "If u be mean to me I be mean to u."  Alright then!  (My response?  Obv, "I never be mean to students who behave--like i know you will!!")
  • Discovering just how low some of my students are in reading...yikes.  I am already nervous...I have my work cut out for me!!

August 25, 2010

Musings on Day 2

2 days down.  I'm too exhausted to write a true entry (mostly because I just stuffed my face with a veggie burger and fries from my favorite local burger joint), but wanted to share a list of my observations and thoughts so far...

  • This class seems less chatty than last year, but I'm sure this is part of their grand scheme to get me to let my guard down before exploding in chatter next week...
  • Seems like I have a great group of girls this year and probably won't have to worry about them trash talking each other by writing on bathroom walls (oh last year...), at least I hope...
  • Might have more trouble with the boys this I miss my handful of chill boys from last year who managed to mellow the others out most of the time!
  • Some of my kids are low.  I mean L O W.  I have my work cut out for me...
  • I've decided that this week I'm not worried about the aforementioned statement and am focusing on "training" them in all my routines
  • Routines = life blood of a smooth running classroom.  I can already see the difference from last year.
  • It's important to follow through with logical consequences right from the get go.  Which is why we spent time practicing walking in the hallway today...
  • Our first day of Read to Self left us with 1 1/2 minutes of reading stamina (meaning our class can read on task 1 1/2 MINUTES before someone is off task--although this is mostly just wandering eyes, we still count it).  Oh boy...this should be interesting.  
  • This one parent is going to drive me completely up the wall.  She already had a problem with my first assignment...sweet.
  • Some of these kids are going to be tough, but I'm working hard at building the relationship.
One last thing to share:  As part of my quest to make this the year of Love and Logic, the following words came out of my mouth today, and were largely effective:
  • "On a scale of 1-10, how good a choice is that?  Thanks for giving it some thought."
  • "Just because I like you, should I let you get away with that?"
  • "Feel free to play appropriately on the slide or have a seat on the bench."
  • "It looks like you're having a hard time getting started on your work.  Would you work better at your desk or on the floor?"
Tomorrow's Plans/Goals/Wild aspirations: add books to students' book boxes based on their reading interest inventory surveys, rearrange desks again, help the kids reach 5 minutes of read to self stamina, be consistent with my consequences (aka actually give consequences), love and logic the heck outta these kids, take a moment throughout the day to personally connect with each student, survive another day :)

August 24, 2010

Writing Workshop

One of my biggest goals for myself this year was to embrace Writing Workshop and implement it the RIGHT WAY.  I attended a few workshops, read a few books, and had a lot of conversations with my mentor Mrs. H and my wonderful lit specialist the fabulous Mrs. J.  I was excited all summer to start the year off teaching writing this way and to build by "workshop" structure in the classroom.  And as I was planning my first week of school, I figured there was no better time to start than the very first day of school.  My mom (also a teacher) thinks I'm crazy for starting curriculum the first day, but so much of writing community, which is a perfect beginning of the year idea.

I am dedicating the entire first month of school to "ideas" lessons, or writing mini-lessons that focus on developing an idea for a writing piece, then setting it aside and continuing to brainstorm new ideas.  The hope is that the students will generate so many ideas for writing pieces that they will never be able to say, "I have nothing to write about!!!"  (Who hasn't heard that before...I can even hear it in this whining high-pitched voice in my head as I type it...) Today's mini-lesson was based on the theme "Summer Memories."  I read aloud an adorable picture book called Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge about a boy who collects a box of "memories" to share with an elderly friend who has lost her memory.  As he shares each object with her, she remembers things in her own life.  We then discussed how the objects in the book made us remember things in our own lives, too, and added some of these memories to our ongoing "ideas list" on the writing board.  The kids' homework assignment tonight is to find an object at home that represents one of their summer memories.

I loved teaching this lesson.  I will never understand how some teachers of intermediate grades don't see the value in read alouds or picture books or gathering students on the carpet for a lesson.  They are not too old for these things.  There is something magic about gathering close together as a class and sharing a story together.  Not only did my students listen intently and share their own observations about the story, but when they returned to their desks with the assignment "Write about a summer memory you have, OR write about anything you want!" they did!.  Yes, there were a few students I had to approach and whisper, "It's time to get started.  Let's try and get 3 sentences on your paper before time is up."  But what an auspicious beginning.

I am genuinely excited to see what the near future of our writing workshop holds in store. :)


Last Thursday afternoon as I sat in my classroom writing names and numbers on folders, book bins, name tags, clothes pins, you name it, I began to have something of an anxiety attack.  Ever Miss Worrier, I stared down at my class list of 21 strangers (yes, my initial class was 21 students.  As of today, I am up to 25 and officially out of desks and coat hooks...) and convinced myself that half of them were going to be behavior problems and that the year was going to be just as rough as last year.  My basis for this?  Zero.  I had no idea who these children were, save 1 or 2 that I'd heard about from the previous teacher, but Little Miss Sunshine me decided that obviously they were all going to be crazy.

After working so hard to form relationships with last year's group, it was just daunting to me to have to start getting to know an entire new bunch of STRANGERS, to earn their trust, and "get them to fall in love with me" (as Fay & Funk would say in Love & Logic aka my teaching bible).  At the same time, though, I was also excited to have a fresh start--a chance to really hammer home those routines that I was still figuring out last year.  Anyways, I did manage to calm down, mostly by talking to my 4th grade teacher friend Miss R.  She reassured me that they were overall a great group.  Every class in our school has a handful of difficult students (there just aren't enough classes between which to spread them out!), so I was prepared for that, but there are of course so many wonderful students here too.

After that, I pulled myself together and stopped freaking out.  My room was completely pulled together by Friday, my copies were made, and I had my first few weeks outlined.  Logistically, I was ready to go.  However, I still spent the whole weekend pretty nervous.  Mostly I think I was/am nervous about laying that foundation of high expectations, routines, and procedures.  I don't want my students to develop any habits right off the bat or think that I will let them get away with anything.  Last year I knew the importance of building routines as preventative classroom management.  The only problem was that I didn't know what kinds of routines worked for me!  After a lot of trial and error last year (and a lot of learning on my part!), I think the systems I'm implementing this year really work for me and will work for my kids.  Of course, I also learned last year how critical it is to adapt and reteach the SECOND you realize your current routine isn't working.

This morning I entered my classroom optimistic and in high spirits after a successful meet and greet last night.  I was amazed at the sense of familiarity I felt writing the schedule on the board, organizing materials, and previewing my lesson plans.  I have done this before.  While there will be many things to learn and many surprises, I feel far less FRANTIC than I did last year.  It's a wonderful feeling.

While I know we will be in the "honeymoon" stage most of this week, I know that even when my students' natural squirleyness kicks in I will be ready:  I know that as important as it is to capture my students hearts and get them to love and trust me, it's equally important to be consistent, to crack down on disruptive/inappropriate behaviors immediately, and to reteach routines until they become second nature.
Most importantly, I know that no matter what, I can handle whatever happens this year.  I will make it through. :)

First Day!

I'll admit it...I had to hit the snooze button this morning.  Already.  It's the first day of school, and I'm already exhausted!!  Maybe I should have "practiced" getting into the back-to-school routine...oh well!  maybe next year!!  Because I know this will be a long, busy, exciting day, I'm starting out with a delicious breakfast PACKED with protein: oatmeal with banana, blueberries, peanut butter, and sunflower seeds. YUM!  Let's hope it holds me until our new late lunch time at 12:15 (I know that sounds normal, but last year I got very used to an 11:15 lunch.  This could mean a lot of stomach growling all morning!!)

Here's to hoping the 01-11 school year is just as rewarding as the 09-10, but maybe with a few less tears and late nights at school.  :)

(PS- today is the MUCH awaited debut of book 3 in the Hunger Games trilogy, Mockingjay!  Words cannot express my excitement.  Book review on all 3 books in the trilogy to come soon!)

August 23, 2010

Twas the night before the first day of school...

After a wonderful summer and a hiatus from this blog, I'm happy to say I decided to blog about year number 2.  This is going to have to be a very short post though, as I'm completely exhausted from my first 5:30am wake up day in months.  Yikes, how did I used to do this every day?  Let's hope my body figures out what's going on in a hurry.  Anyways, after a meeting-filled day and a meet-and-greet filled with seemingly sweet children and mostly normal parents (except for one whom I will describe in detail in the near future...don't worry...), I'm feeling optimistic about the first day tomorrow.  I've read an reread my battered, dogeared, post-ited copy of Teaching with Love and Logic, proofread my plans too many times to count, packed my lunch, and set out my outfit.  And I have to say, I'm feeling good.  So I'm heading off to bed in search of 7 1/2 hours of sleep with this prayer in my head (because let's face it, I can use all the help I can get!):

From Chalkdust by Elspeth Campbell Murphy
"On the Night Before School Starts"

School starts tomorrow, Lord, and I'm nervous.
Ease my anxiety.
Give me confidence,
and let my confidence give the children security.
Let my external control
be a means of promoting their inner control,
so that classroom order
becomes a shared responsibility.
Let me have the kind of self-control
that teaches by example.
And let my discipline be patterned after yours,
rooted in a love
that will setltle for nothing less than their best.
School starts tomorrow, Lord; make me ready.
You have given me a job to do
and the ability to do it well.
You have given me your promise that you will never leave me.
And you have guided me in all my preparation.
So now let me face tomorrow
eagerly and unafraid,
for ultimately my confidence rests in this:
"I am ready for anything
through the strength of the one
who lives within me" (Phil,4:13).
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