Moved Classroom Today

June 29, 2007 at 8:03 pm | Posted in education, inner city, teachers | 5 Comments

It’s the last day of school today!

I finished hauling all my crap from my old room to my new assigned room today, with lots of help from my students (a waste of their time by the way).  Now, I begin to set up my new classroom for the new academic year, which begins next Thursday after the fourth of July holiday.  Just pause for a minute and consider the ramifications of the situation.

Holy heck but I have walls, tables, and floor space covered with boxes and random bits!

All the chairs are mismatched and too large for second graders.  (Ordered new chairs two weeks ago, cross fingers and hope they arrive in time.)

The tables are all at different height. (Must remember to ask plant manager to even out the tables.)

I don’t KNOW what’s that stuff under the sink!

Who left all this crap in my new classroom?  Mr. ____?  He left the school five years ago!  Why didn’t someone throw this out years ago?!

Somewhere in there, I must plan for the first two weeks of school so that my students can begin learning from Day 1.  I must set up my classroom to be an inviting environment for my students.  I must also not strangle people who left their stuff in the classroom and said they’ll be back sometime in August to get it out of MY classroom.  THAT’S RIGHT!  A teacher told me she “needed the vacation time” and will be back two months after my academic year started so that she can haul hundreds of pounds of HER STUFF out of my classroom, let’s not STOP to consider the needs of other teachers, never mind STUDENTS!

I was generous enough to pack most of her crap into boxes and had them dragged down to her new classroom rather than throw them away.  She still has one of MY closets full of her stuff and unfortunately for me, it’s the closet that has those useful, vertical drawers perfect for posters.   Have to purchase some kind of storage box for the posters now.

The school will be open on Saturday for four hours, Monday and Tuesday for six hours.  I shall make use of the available time to set up my classroom.

Insane Absences and Tardies

June 28, 2007 at 9:09 pm | Posted in behavior, education, elementary, inner city | 3 Comments

I’m doing my report card and, as I already knew, found insane absences and tardies.  Out of 66 days of schools, three of my students missed more than 10 days of school, one of whom had 15 tardies.  This girl is one of the lowest scorer, academically speaking.  Her mother pretty much shut me out because I pushed her and her older daughter hard last year.  She, my current student, made a lot of progress this year, but is still lagging behind her peers.  One of my friend said, “Third graders don’t make decisions about going to school.  They do as they’re told.”  Yup.

A half of my students had five to nine absences with some tardies hitting the twenties.

I consider this a “symptom” of how difficult my class was this year.  I could be wrong, but in my five years of teaching, I noticed that, generally speaking, attendance is a good clue to class’s achievement and behavior.  Last year, half of my students earned perfect attendance for the year.  This year, two of my students earned good attendance certificates.  Last year was the mellowest class anyone can wish for.  This year, my class ran off a substitute (just two weeks ago in fact).  The substitute pushed them out the classroom door 15 minutes before the bell rang and headed for the parking lot.  Some of my fellow teachers were laughing about it.   I cringed.

Back to the report cards.

How to Start the Mornings – Getting Students On Task

June 25, 2007 at 4:51 pm | Posted in behavior, best practices, elementary, inner city, strategies, teachers | 3 Comments

A teacher visited my classroom this morning at 8:10 and was very surprised that most of my students were quietly working at their seats, with two students hanging up their backpacks.  She wondered how I achieved this because she was used to her classroom.  Her students wandered around in the morning, chatting, sharpening pencils, putting away homework, while waiting for the lesson to start.  Then, it takes her just forever to get the students’ attention.

Very simply, the lesson started the minute the students walk into the classroom.  That’s how I get my students to start working immediately, with no time to wander around and chat.

Before Coming into the Classroom

I remind students how to line up quietly and walk quietly.  I may even make some small announcements to prepare the students for the day’s activities.

Coming into the Classroom

We walk in and stand ready to say the Pledge of Allegiance.  A monitor leads us.

Morning Activities

A list of morning routine activities is posted on the wall.  After the Pledge, the students immediately get started on their routines, usually without my verbal reminders.  Their first lesson is posted on the morning routines chart and is waiting for them at their desk.  This activity is usually an independent activity that everyone can do.  A homework monitor collects the homework from students’ desk.  I have a box of pencils already sharpened and waiting for the students.  I walk around and give a few students the “look” while I silently take roll.  By 8:10 we’re all working quietly and can begin our writing lesson for the day.

Students On Task

Beginning the day in an orderly fashion, focused on work, sets the pattern for the rest of the day.  My students are reminded by this pattern every morning that they are at school to work, and that time is precious.  I have very little trouble keeping my students on task and I believe it is because I don’t waste a minute of their day, starting with 8:00.

What Some Other Teachers Do

I find that teachers who are most aggravated by their chatty students not being on task are usually not prepared in the mornings.  Students wander around because the teacher is wandering around looking for materials.  Students don’t do work in the morning because teachers don’t have work for them in the morning, therefore they talk, which is a natural reaction.  This too sets the tone for the rest of the day.  Students will not be in the mental state to work.  It’s also about respect.  Students know you don’t respect their time if they’re sitting around waiting for the teacher for ten minutes.  Why should they then respect the teacher’s demand to be on-task and respect learning time?

The Remedy

Be prepared to teach and your students will be prepared to learn.

Inner-City Schools

Yes, I teach in an extremely low performing inner-city school.  If this is true about my classroom, then it’s certainly easier to implement in other classrooms.

How to Really Publish Your Students’ Writings and Drawings

June 23, 2007 at 7:16 am | Posted in elementary, free resources, investigation, Open Court, teachers, third grade, writing | 3 Comments

I discovered about a year ago. is a print on demand company.  You upload a pdf file to their server and can buy your beautiful, professional looking, retail ready book.  You can buy one or a class set or however many you want.  You can set your privacy option so that only you have the right to purchase your book.  You can also set it so that other people (like parents) can purchase the book.  (I would set that function to zero profit, or make it a fund-raiser for the school because keeping profit from your students’ work is kinda sticky business.)

When I first discovered it, I uploaded some gorgeous paintings my students made for the story “Picasso” in the “Imagination” unit of the third grade Open Court Reading program.  We purchased one book to be placed in my class library.  The kids went wild.  They love seeing their work in a real book.

I’m doing it again today.  I’m uploading some seriously amazing pieces that my students wrote as part of their investigation into storytelling.  They collected family oral histories and wrote the stories down, with beautiful illustration.  Unfortunately, we’re behind on the project, so the book probably won’t get here by our last day of school.  I will order two copies, one for their fourth grade class and one for my third grade class.

The students were very motivated to do their best writing and drawing for this book because, well, it’s a real book!  You can’t get more authentic and motivating than that!

I really recommend that teachers look into as one of the ways that students can publish their final drafts for writing, but also a way to publish Science projects, History projects, and anything else really.

Stealing to Make Up for Own Loss

June 21, 2007 at 3:36 pm | Posted in education, elementary, inner city, poverty | 2 Comments

At the end of the school day as students lined up to go out, I noticed one of my students (not one I spoke of before) looking furtive.  Another student came up to me to mention that A____ took J_____’s shoes.

Background Information

Our school has extremely high rate of poverty.  Every once in awhile, our school gets a large donation of shoes (thanks to the hard work of our attendance counselor) and every student receives shoes.  We picked up our shoes yesterday, but J_____ was absent yesterday and today.

The Conversation

So I gently asked A_____ to give back the shoes.  He did, though he seemed upset.  He’s never taken anything like this before.  I asked him why he took the shoes.  “I don’t know,” came the sad answer, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”  I asked him where his shoes were and didn’t he receive a pair yesterday.  “My uncle took them.”  Whoa!

The Uncle

Turns out, the uncle was near A____’s age and size.  The uncle went to another school so didn’t get a new pair of shoes.  He needed a pair, so the family gave A____’s shoes to his uncle.

Sigh.  Like I said, this is unusual behavior for him.  He just wanted a new pair of shoes like everyone else.  In fact, he wanted his pair.  He didn’t really want J___’s pair.

Luckily, I had an extra pair of shoes because one of my boys left the school.  I gave them to A_____ and told him that his family couldn’t give these to someone else.  The shoes were too big, but he could trade them for an appropriately sized pair at Payless Shoe Source.

Special Ed Student Committed Arsony Again

June 20, 2007 at 5:47 pm | Posted in behavior, Special Education | Leave a comment

For the second time this year, one of my special ed student (the same boy) set fire to school property, namely the restroom trashcan. He finds it fascinating.

He’s suspended for two days, pending a parent conference. He will be counseled of course.

It’s one week and two days from the last day of third grade.

His behavior in the classroom is extremely good. He used to be reluctant to do any sort of work, but now, quite often, he would beg to do a class assignment as homework because he enjoyed it that much.

Unfortunately, as soon as I’m not there, he’s a holy terror. When the cat’s away…

It took me months to get him to be on his best behavior consistently, without any promptings. My question is, what can I do to help him and students like him behave and make wise choices when I’m not around? I want independent students.


This is his latest writing sample.

“I had a fluffy dog.  His name is fluffy.  My dad cut his hair.  When my dad cut his hair, he was skinny.  I feel sad because my dog ran away.  When he was still here he popped a water balloon at me.”

What are we doing the last week and a half of school?

June 19, 2007 at 8:46 pm | Posted in education, elementary, inner city, teachers, third grade, Workshop, writing | 2 Comments

Aimlessmiss asked a very funny question. How do you plan to pass the time? – Meaning the last couple of weeks of school given that all major testing is done.

I laughed as I read her post.

Here’s my harried response:

7:30 Getting to school 30 minutes later than planned because I’m tired. First bell is 7:55. Sharpen pencils, lay out morning activities, review plans for the day, meet with teacher to plan for teacher End of Year party, etc.

7:55 Pick up students

8:05 Students working on morning activities, take roll, give tardy students firm look.

8:10 Writing Time – Students finish final draft of family/community story for oral storytelling anthology. Deadline is Wednesday to be sent to Lulu print on demand company in time to receive published copy following week before students graduate third grade.

8:40 Begin Unit 5, Lesson 7 of language arts lesson in preparation of Unit Assessment next Monday. Lessons move at break-neck speed until Workshop time, at which time, students scramble to finish final draft (with illustration), a thank you card for donorschoose donors, and the back cover of their Third Grade Memory Book while teacher meets with small groups of students, some of whom has just a few days to improve their fluency before they get a second chance at their End of Year Fluency Assessment. (Not really the End of Year Fluency Assessment. The EOY Fluency was two weeks ago, but they can replace that score with a higher score if they take the Unit 5 Fluency which is not required of everyone.)

11:00 RECESS – Prepare for math lessons. Give a good “talking to” to students who misbehaved and got more than a verbal warning.

11:20 Math – Small group review problems from recent Math assessment in preparation for retaking the assessment on Friday because students are appalled by their ridiculous low scores (15 out of 31 is highest score) and would like another shot at it. My students can be too motivated sometime. They like teaching their fellow students on the overhead projector though, so it’s fun for them.

12:30 LUNCH – whew! Eat lunch and watch as some students return to work on their writing, some to visit the listening center.

1:10 Workshop Time again! Gotta finish those thank you cards, back covers, and final drafts.

1:30 Enter six students who are dispersed from another class. Begin Science/Art project (Create cut out art on construction paper, leave in sun to fade, remove cut out to see the non-faded shapes and then decorate the faded/non-faded artwork). FUN! Rare chance to do this as this time is usually taken up with English Language Development lessons, but it is the end of the school year, so I think we can relax a little bit here.

2:15 Prepare to go home.

2:20 Teacher prepares class for next school day. Continue packing and cleaning classroom in preparation for moving to a new classroom on June 29. Oh yea, also mentally plan for next school year which starts in 2 and a half weeks.

This was my day today. I look forward to next week because it’s going to be party time on Thursday and Friday! I plan movies and independent art projects so I can clean up, pack up, and move stuff.

Romeo and Juliet – in Elementary School? Kissing?!

June 18, 2007 at 5:43 pm | Posted in elementary, third grade | Leave a comment

Yup, we had another great program today.  Shakespeare at Play visited our school and performed the abridged Romeo and Juliet, in full costume and full Shakespearean speak.  I was afraid the 500 kids in the assembly would get bored and become unruly, but they were quite captivated!  Goes to show, you can never know.

The fight scenes of course caused quite a ruckus with the kids.  and the kissing!

Hilarious!!  There were second graders up to fifth graders in the auditorium and they pretty much all went “EEEEWWWWW!”

My class held a Circle Time discussion afterward and one student, swear to God, said, “I don’t know if it was appropriate ’cause there were second graders in there and they could go home and tell their parents”  Another student said, “I don’t think it was appropriate at all, but I guess it’s okay because it’s a play.”

Makes me wonder how many times a day I use the word “appropriate”.

There was a huge disagreement as to the reality of the play.  One child called it “realistic fiction” while another said “fantasy”.  One child said the people didn’t really die.  Another child asked if Romeo and Juliet really kissed.  My students were becoming polarized at this point, so we plan to continue the discussion tomorrow.

Sucks that I will have to send these kids off to fourth grade in two weeks, just when I’m starting to see their growth!

Revised Workshop Time

June 15, 2007 at 7:18 pm | Posted in IWT, Open Court, Workshop | 4 Comments

workshoptime_exampleFor those of you who teach the Open Court Reading Program, you are familiar with Independent Workshop Time or Workshop. Workshop is designed to teach students independent learning and give teachers time to individualize instruction. It is a chunk of time when students have assignments that they must do and assignments that they may do once they complete their required assignments. There are many different ways of implementing Workshop, any of which can be done successfully.

Recently, after reading a book, the name of which escapes me at the moment, I’ve reconsidered Workshop time and I think, beginning next school year. I will implement a revised Workshop time. I find that the current Workshop time, with Must Dos and May Dos, all to be done in a single session or day is limiting.

The revised Workshop time is based on a menu system and looks something like this:

Entrees (Complete all) – produces tangible products

Side Dishes (Choose 2 or 3 or however many teacher wants) – produces tangible products

Desserts (Do any) – produces no tangible products

You can change the name entree, side dishes, and desserts to anything you like of course. Right off, Open Court teachers recognize that entrees are the usual Must Dos. Desserts are the usual May Dos. It’s the side dishes that makes things interesting.

Something else notable. These activities are not restricted to one day. Rather, they can be spread out through 3 or 5 days or an entire month, depending on the maturity and capability of the students.

What are the benefits of the revised Workshop?revisedworkshop_example

I can have larger, more intricate projects done during Workshop time for one thing. I can individualize menu, and therefore instruction, drastically. Students have more time to work on the bigger assignments, but have the freedom to choose when and how long they spend on each assignment, so long as they get it all done by the deadline. Some very motivated students may choose to complete their entree assignment first, then spend the rest of the week on side dishes and desserts. Some students might spend their time on desserts for the first few days but, that gives the teacher time to pull students who need help starting the projects into a small group to give them the skill or instruction they need to get started. Contrast this with the old Workshop time where all students must start the big assignments, and when they can’t do them, they do nothing and wait for the teacher to reprimand them or they become anxious or they just waste time and turn in inferior assignments at the end.

Share Time 

I’ve also just recently discovered Share Time and I don’t know why I didn’t think of this sooner.

Share Time is five minutes at the end of Workshop time, old version or revised, where students can share what they’re working on during Workshop. Students have a sign up sheet and consult with the teacher first before signing on or they simply sign on. They can share completed assignments or incomplete assignments or an interesting book or a paragraph they’re struggling with or whatever. Share Time is highly motivating for the students. During the last three weeks I’ve been using Share Time, my kids are not just on task during Workshop, they’re really focused on their work so that they can share quality work with the class.

I’m starting the revised Workshop Time next academic year (starting July 5). I’ll let you know how it turns out. Of course, it’s going to take a month or so to get it implemented, but time well spent I think.

Open Court 2002 Second Grade

June 11, 2007 at 12:05 pm | Posted in Open Court | 1 Comment

Wow!  What changes!  I used Open Court 2000 Second Grade a few years ago and what an improvement just in the “Getting Started” section.  I mean, reviewing capital and lowercase letters?  Who woulda thunk?!

I’m excited by these positive changes in the Open Court reading program and am looking forward to working with it next school year.

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