A Little Yearbook Love

Seven third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders. 38 Friday afternoons. One yearbook.

That’s the goal anyway. We have a long time until we submit the yearbook in June…luckily.

Last year, I had five fifth graders, one fourth grader, and two third graders. This year, as all of my fifth graders have moved on to middle school (sniff!), I have a very young yearbook club, with four new third and fourth graders and only two veterans.

Lucky for them (the yearbook? my sanity?), this is my second year, so I can bring all of last year’s expertise to this young, enthusiastic group.

At the beginning of the year, there isn’t much for us to do yearbook-wise, so we take lots of pictures. Lots and lots of pictures. Sometimes we take pictures of the school. Sometimes we take pictures of the playground. Sometimes, we get to take pictures of each other (so exciting!). There aren’t many school events that we need to document in the first few months.

Once Halloween hits, though, we are off and running. Halloween is our first big all-school event, so we were out in full-force, taking pictures of everything that moves. 300 pictures later, I think we are finally getting the hang of it.

I saw my yearbook crew being courageous and asking random students (not just their friends) to turn and look at the camera. Hooray for diversity!

I saw my yearbook crew taking lots of pictures. We have looked at enough blurry, off-center pictures to know that we need to take a LOT of pictures in order to get one good one (or the approximately 10 we will use for the yearbook page). Hooray for quantity!

I saw my yearbook crew looking like real photographers. Moving around the get the best shot. Moving right to the front. Moving from group to group. Lots of movement. Lots of pictures. Hooray for quality!

Looks like we can start building our first yearbook page of the year. Yes!

 

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A Good Writing Minilesson

This year, I have tried to be more intentional with my writing instruction. My students wrote a lot last year, and they certainly improved–some by a lot–but I wasn’t sure what I had actually taught them.

So, I planned my narrative unit more intentionally this year. I started with a week of writing first drafts, and then we dove into the revision process by learning a lot of different strategies.

Now, we’re in the editing stage of our final small moment narrative draft. Today, we talked about dialogue. I knew that some of my students included it in their pieces and that they understood the basic structure of dialogue, but I saw this as a place where we could make a big impact by looking at the punctuation and paragraphing of writing dialogue.

As I often do, I turned to a picture book to use as a mentor text.

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Not only does this book include many examples of well-written dialogue, it is funny and includes hilarious idioms that were fun to discuss with my students.

We created a list of guidelines for including dialogue in our writing, starting with what we already knew and adding more as we read the book.

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I feel like this was a good lesson. They learned something practical to use in their writing, it will make their writing a little more polished, and it was fun to do a bonus read aloud.

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Time Travel

Sometimes traveling can actually feel like time travel. This weekend, I went to visit my sister who lives in Denver. For most of the weekend, it was 75 degrees with blue skies, lots of sunshine, falling leaves, and cool fall breezes. The perfect fall weather.

This morning, autumn was gone. I woke up to a thin layer of snow covering the ground, with more falling fast. Thank goodness I brought a coat and gloves. The clouds were low and grey, and I couldn’t see the mountains. While it’s been a few years since my last snowstorm, this definitely felt familiar: winter.

By the time I returned home to Austin, there had been another shift in the weather: 90 degrees with sunshine and not a cloud in the sky.  I was sweating in my sweater and boots. Definitely summer.

The different seasons I experienced this weekend was enough to give me whiplash. All I needed was a good rainstorm, and I could’ve experienced all four seasons in 72 hours.

I got on the plane amidst a snowstorm and stepped off the plane surrounded by sunshine. I woke up in winter and fell asleep in summer. Ahh, the joys of travel.

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Setting the Example

I tell my students (5th graders) that they are the leaders of the school and that they need to set a good example for the younger students in the school. They need to behave like the rest of the school is watching them and learning from their behavior. They need to be responsible and respectful. While we talk about that a lot and they show that leadership in small ways, the opportunities for them to be real leaders are few and far between.

Yesterday, we had the opportunity.

The 1st grade class was visiting our classroom, presenting their poster on fire safety. The 5th graders were being a good audience, despite the fact that they obviously knew the material already.

Then, we all hear the siren. We were having a lockdown drill.

My 5th graders immediately jumped into action. They closed the blinds, covered the windows on the doors, crouched on the floor. They were silent. They were focused. They were calm. They were taking it seriously. The 1st graders got to see the 5th graders in action as real life role models: organized, motivated, helpful, and respectful.

I was so proud of them, my leaders. 🙂

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This Class

I like my class this year. Really, I do. It’s just that last year’s class was that special class. That class that you will always remember. That class that just made every day amazing. That class that made you happy that you became a teacher. That class that made everything else worth it.

This year’s class is just not that class.

I have been trying to grapple with this guilt all year. It has nothing to do with my current class; they are smart and funny and they clean up the classroom like a boss.  I just keep thinking about my class last year.

But today, I had a breakthrough. It wasn’t anything big or particularly magical. We were just writing–creating character maps and rewriting our small moment narratives–and as I was walking around the room, I got that good feeling in my chest. That feeling that I get when I am connected to my class and I am proud of them and I am so glad that I get to work with them every day.

It took 26 days of school. I don’t know how long it will last. But today, right now, I love my class. This class.

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When I was very young

We are diving into small moment narratives this week. We are reading small moment stories. We are writing small moment stories. We are sharing our small moment stories. We are knee-deep in small moment stories.

This week, we are writing a lot of flash drafts of small moment stories. Flash drafts may or may not be revised and edited, but the goal is to write, write, write without thinking too much about quality. The point is to get the words on the page. Then, we can revise and edit later, if we want to with that draft. Next week, we are going to dive into specific strategies to make our small moment stories better.

In an effort to be good writing teacher, I am modeling this type of writing for my students. Each day, they get three choices during independent writing time: they can answer one of the two prompts I have provided, or they can write a small moment story about anything they want. So every day, I write two small moment stories of my own to share with my students if they want some inspiration. This way, I will have my own flash drafts to model the specific strategies we will learn about in the upcoming weeks.

I thought I would share one of my flash drafts with you today. This is a response to the prompt: Write about something that happened when you were very young.

Mary and Maddi became my friends in fifth grade. We weren’t in the same class in fourth grade, but we were in fifth grade. So, of course, we became best friends.

Mary and Maddi lived close to each other, so they walked to school together. I walked to school with a different girl, and I usually got to school after Mary and Maddi. Everyday, when they got to school, they would hide somewhere on the playground, and I would find them when I got to school.

One day, I couldn’t find them. I looked all over the playground. I looked under the slide, behind the bushes, by the tennis courts, behind the other bushes, near the kickball field, near the soccer field. It was a very large playground space, so there were so many places that they could be hiding. I looked and looked and looked, but I just could not find them.

By this time, the playground was starting to fill up with other students, and I was starting to get nervous. I was always able to find them. The playground was big, but I had been going to that school since second grade; I knew all of the good hiding spots. School was about to start. What if I couldn’t find them? Where could they be?

Then, I heard them. I looked over the swing set and felt relief wash over me. I found them, hiding in plain sight. They had been swinging on the swings the whole time, right under my nose. It was so nice to see them. As I ran over to join them, I had to admit, it was an excellent hiding spot.

So, there it is, a small peak into a small moment of my life. I’m excited to see what I can do with this story once I start revising and editing it.

Visit From an Old Student

Yesterday, I had a student from my class last year come back to visit me. Since I teach fifth grade, all of my students move on to middle school at the end of the year. I teach at a small, private school, so the students tend to spread out quite a bit; last year’s class went to six different middle schools.

It was so nice to see her. She loves her new school, is making friends, and is on the volleyball team. She seemed more grown up but also the same student that I got to know last year. It was fun to hear her talk about her classes and her teachers and her locker. She has seven different schedules, so it’s hard for her to remember what she has each day. The school day starts thirty minutes later this year so the teachers are having a hard time remembering the new schedule too. She told me about her first volleyball games and how she decided not to try out for the play (which she is now regretting).

I loved hearing about her new life in middle school. I left with a huge smile on my face and a light, happy feeling. #teacherlife

Thoughts in My Head Right Now

My brain is a jumble with teacher-thinking things. Here is a cross-section of my brain right now:

  • How do I help my tutoring student who doesn’t know that 265 is between 260 and 270?
  • My coworker gave me some good ideas for my third unit on economics.
  • Did my students learn anything today?
  • I’m excited about doing my first PenPal Schools project.
  • How often should I get them to post messages to their pen pals?
  • I can’t believe my principal is letting me use PenPal Schools.
  • Am I going to get all of the parents on board for this project?
  • Order of operations went surprisingly well today!
  • Why did some of my students not do all of the corrections on their math tests?
  • I need to write down those ideas for my economics unit.
  • What was so tricky about that one word problem on that test?
  • I don’t think I was intentional enough with my lesson on revising in writing.
  • Why are some of my writing lessons so magical and some so droopy?
  • I have had three successful guided reading meetings in three days!
  • Why does that one student think “I don’t know” is an acceptable answer to an open-ended question?
  • We are almost finished with our read aloud book.
  • What am I going to read next?
  • I was thinking about The Watsons go to Birmingham–1963.
  • Where is my copy of that book?
  • I need to order another copy if I can’t find mine tomorrow.
  • What does the summative assessment look like for this unit in math?
  • I think I did a good job helping one student with order of operations today.
  • What kinds of summative assessments will my students create at the end of this unit?
  • The unit is over in less than three weeks!
  • What have they learned?
  • I think it’s time to try something new with history.
  • Have them learned enough?
  • There is so much more that they could be learning about.
  • Why don’t I have more time for science?
  • I like the way our science labs are going on Fridays.
  • Which picture books should I use to get our narrative writing unit started?
  • Friday afternoons are a good time for science inquiry.
  • Should I do a short series of picture books in between chapter books for read aloud?
  • I like reading picture books with my class.
  • Which human rights activity do I want to do tomorrow?
  • I like reading chapter books with my class.
  • Would the speech bubbles be better tomorrow?
  • Read aloud is so relaxing right after lunch.
  • Or would the maps be better tomorrow?
  • I still need to cut out those speech bubbles if I am going to do that activity tomorrow.
  • Which student should I meet with tomorrow for guided reading?
  • I need to remember to get them to share examples of equality and inequality that they learned from their research today.
  • How will the distributive property go tomorrow?
  • I miss my class from last year.
  • Will we have internet tomorrow?
  • I like my class this year too.

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Small Victories

At the beginning of the year, the speed and smoothness of our transitions always annoy me. They are not fast, they are not smooth, they take up too much of our learning time, they aren’t automatic.

It’s hard to remember that this is always how it is at the beginning of the year.

For me, the perfect transition starts with the timer going off (from whatever they were working on, whether independently or with a partner/small group) to them checking the board for instructions to them getting the materials they need to them getting where they need to be, all without me saying anything.

Needless to say, this takes lots of time and practice.

Today, we had a little victory with one particular transition. We had a really good transition from math to spelling to independent reading. My students are definitely getting better with transitions in general, looking at the board and stopping when the timer goes off. We came to the carpet quickly for them to choose how they were going to practice their spelling words; then I released them individually as they picked one. As they finished practicing their words, they put away their spelling words and got a book to read independently. Yay!

Soon, I won’t even need to “check in” with them before spelling, and they will move directly from math to spelling to independent reading. Hooray for small victories.

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Poetry and Figurative Language

What is poetry? This is always an interesting question to ask students and hear their responses. They often think there are a lot of rules, so we try to write (and read) poetry that is more free verse. We put that to practice today.

We have been reviewing different types of figurative language, and I wanted us to practice putting some of this figurative language to good use in a poem. So this is what we wrote together:

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I particularly love the simile at the end of the poem: Like a limousine (pardon my incorrect spelling in the photo), long and taking you places. I just love the idea that my students think about school as a medium for getting them to where they want to be in life, even if it feels long sometimes. At least limousines are stylish; better to be in a limousine for 12 years than in a regular bus or van. Hop on board, class!

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