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Readin' + Writin' + 'Rithmetic + So Much More

I love teaching and would never want to do anything else. But sometimes I feel I'm being stretched in too many directions all at the same time. I'm here to re-evaluate, rethink, reflect, and rejuvenate, so I can meet the needs of my students in more effective ways.

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What's this NEW BLOG System?
by: J.Elaine, 03-21-2010

I'm not sure how all this works, but I just followed admin.'s advice and set up my new blog page. I figured it would just be a new format and all my old blog entries would still be there. Well, that didn't turn out to be true. Now I have this place to blog with multiple blog entries dating back to 2006, and the other blog page with 1 entry!!!! Is that crazy or what? So . . . I put a link to the old blogs on the new blog page, and now I'm putting a link to the new blog page here . . . on the old blog page. Are you confused yet?

Later . . .


Breathing Down My Neck . . .
by: J.Elaine, 03-22-2010

Here it is Spring Break, and here I am stuck at home sick as a dog. I keep reminding myself that being sick as a dog over Spring Break is better than trying to write lesson plans for a sub while being sick as a dog.

So now I find myself at the end of my week off, still sniffling and needing to write lesson plans for next week. It's an important week. It's the week before we start our big State TESTING!

I can feel it breathing down my neck.
--one week before we TEST Comm.Arts
--two weeks before we TEST Math
--three weeks before we TEST Science.

Since I'm addicted to ProTeacher and can't seem to get off the computer, I'm going to use this blog forum to plan how I'm going to make the best use of the time I have left before TESTING.

Here's my plan for this week -- communication arts saturation without stress or cramming.

Resource for planning - The Comprehension Toolkit by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis

Monday, March 22
Toolkit component, Determine Importance (Spotlight New Thinking pp. 2-13)
--Use National Geographic or Kids article, "At Home in the Arctic" to teach students how to use a Facts/Questions/Responses Chart.
--After teacher models, student pairs use "jigsawing" strategy by choosing a section of the article to read and take notes on their FQR charts.
--Student pairs share one Fact, Question, and Response from their charts at the end of the session.

Tuesday, March 23 Toolkit component, Determine Importance (Distinguish Your Thinking pp. 44-55)
--Use selected text from Time for Kids Magazine
-----1. "Can Kids Stop Kids from Smoking?"
-----2. "Western Roundup"
-----3. "Turn it Off"
-----4. "One Bad Bug"
to teach students that what the reader thinks is most important is not always the same as what the writer is trying convey.
--Teacher models by reading through a portion of the first article and sharing what she thinks is important.
--After lots of modeling, students choose between the other three articles for independent practice.

Wednesday, March 24 Visiting Author
If author doesn't show do Toolkit component, Determine Importance (Record Important Ideas - FQR Chart with historical fiction pp. 14-23) Use historical fiction trade book, From Slave Ship to Freedom Road by Julius Lester.

Thursday, March 25 - Practice Assessment Day.
Use textbook assessment to practice test taking strategies.

Friday, March 26 Toolkit component, Determine Importance (Construct Main Ideas from Supporting Details pp. 56-67)
--Use National Geographic for Kids article "Big Talkers" to teach how to use a Topic/Detail/Response chart.
--Teacher models using inferential or standard subheads to show that paragraphs that follow the subheads contain supporting details related to the topic.
--Student teams practice, by jigsawing the article using their TDR Charts.
--Students share out at the end of the session.

Okay, that covers just the hour/day I have for reading instruction. The lessons are long, but I think they can be engaging because the articles and trade books are high interest and plenty of opportunities are built in to allow students to interact, share, write, collaborate, etc.

Here are some comm.arts related things I am going to incorporate throughout the day:
-----poetry (read aloud)
-----writing (from another's perspective, literature response letter, persuasive paragraph, etc.)
-----review grammar/conventions using the SmartBoard and CD provided by publisher
-----review the twelve words (which relates to other content areas as well)
-----revisit figurative language

Now all I have to do is plan when to plug in these additional activities! Here's one thing I know for sure. I have to over-plan for this week because I'll be stressed if I don't. If I'm stressed, it will trickle down to my students no matter how hard I try to control it.

Does anyone else feel the way I feel. Every year at this time, I think of all kinds of things I could have/should have done. But on the other hand, I know I've done my best. I've studied new strategies and put them into practice. I've spent endless hours on PT getting ideas to make my classroom more engaging, my teaching more exciting, my organizational skills more efficient, etc., etc.

But . . . isn't it a shame that the BIG TESTS can make me feel all insecure, second guessing all my decisions, frightened that TEST results will be the deciding factor in judging my teaching ability?

I know some of you feel more sure of yourself than I, but I also know there are many of you who are finding yourself right out there with me in the same boat, hoping for the best!

Later . . .


Is It Just Me?
by: J.Elaine, 02-21-2010

Is it just me, or is this just the weirdest winter ever?

I'm sitting here at my daughter's house (about 25 mi. north of where I live). I came yesterday afternoon, and decided to spend the night because the weather was getting so bad. Since then, it has rained, snowed, sleeted, and now raining again. Their tree branches are coated with ice and gusting winds are beginning to bring down some branches -- some pretty good sized ones! Yikes!

I think it's way worse here than it is down the highway to my town, and I'm 95% sure their schools will be canceled tomorrow. I keep checking, zooming in on the radar for their town then my town. I'm wondering if our school will be canceled. Of course, my school canceled would me I could avoid going out in the icy weather which scares me nearly to death. Seriously. I had ablack-ice-spin-your-Jeep-around-three-or-four-times-go-off-into-a-ditch-flip-your-Jeep-upside-down-in-a-snow-bank incident about five years which makes me want to drive 10 mph anytime I see snowflakes or shiny pavement!

Here's the dilemna!
Do I brave the elements, risk my life, and the life of my sweet Jeep to go home?
OR . . . Do I wait to see if my school will cancel classes?
OR . . . Do I go ahead and call my principal to request a sub for Monday?

Decisions. Decisions. Go? Stay? Call the principal? Wait and see?
More days missed before TESTING? Ahhhhhhhhh!

The stress is just too much! I think I'll just go get my Snuggie and my granddaughter, snuggle up together on the couch, and let the FATES decide.

Everyone knows you can't fight the FATES!

Later . . .


Daily 5/CAFE Success!
by: J.Elaine, 02-16-2010

In the Beginning:
Last summer a group of teachers in our school started a Daily 5 study group, and I've spent many hours gleaning tons of information, recommendations, and advice from experts here on ProTeacher. I frequented the Peony Room where I learned about The CAFE Book which I bought and studied along with The Daily 5.

Recently I joined the Daily 5 and CAFE Group and the Upper Elementary Daily 5/CAFE Group. I'm like a sponge soaking up everything I can to help me implement D5/CAFE with my 5th grade students. It's been quite a journey since August -- adjusting D5/CAFE to meet the unique needs of 5th graders (adjusting to my teaching style as well!).

As a looping teacher, I had these same students in 4th grade. I knew they'd be a great group to "practice" on, but I also knew they'd be honest with me if they didn't like the changes I was making. We -- teacher and students -- have had a great time experimenting with the components of Daily 5 and the strategies of CAFE.

Last week I administered the spring round of DRA's with 15 of my students. Today, I worked with a group of teachers and our Literacy coach to score our assessments. It was so exciting to see how much my students had improved! They all went up at least one level in fluency and almost all passed comprehension at an independent level! Iespecially appreciate the fact that other teachers, our coach, and I graded together. Knowing that a team agreed on the scoring helped me know my emotions did not play a part in the outcomes. It was a happy day!!!!

In the End:
Here's my question: Do I think Daily 5/CAFE made the difference with my students?
Here's my answer: I don't know!
It could be all the time I spent studying and learning from our Literacy Coach and from all you wonderfully knowledgeable ProTeachers caused the jump in achievement. Maybe just taking the time to renew myself by reading, studying, and collaborating would have yielded similar success no matter what book I'd read and studied.

I guess there is no real way to know for sure, but for now, I am totally invested in implementing Daily 5/CAFE with my brand new 4th graders next year. I will continue to experiment with my "old" 5th graders this year. I will continue to ask questions, seek advice, use resources, and try ideas that I've learned in the past and will learn in the future from you awesome people here on ProTeacher.

I've said it before, but I want to say it again.




If you thought that last one was incredible -
by: J.Elaine, 02-10-2010

If you thought that last ARE YOU KIDDING ME tale was too incredible, just read on.
You are never going to believe what happened to me the last couple of days!

Tuesday was incredibly busy -- grades/midterms/meetings. I tried to get on PT several times but didn't ever have enough time to read or respond to anything. So frustrating!!!! I was into major withdrawal by the time school was out. I couldn't wait to get home and get online. I packed up my laptop, jumped in my little Jeep, and headed home.

I went straight to my office without taking off my coat or even going to the bathroom. I unpacked my laptop, started hooking up wires and plugging in . . .

I knew the battery had to be low because I'd used the laptop without the cord when the DARE officer was teaching my kids.

I thought, Quick! Seize the moment! Get online! Go to PT! Find out what's going on! Start to type to my friends . . . WHAT? . . .

Right before my very eyes, my computer died -- well not completely. It did come back up long enough to tell me that my battery was dangerously low and I should plug in my power cord immediately -- duh??

Okay, I thought the, Fates have spoken. Turn off the computer and go get some work done. So . . . I took the remote with me, went to my room, and went to bed for the night!!!!!!!!

Now time marches on, and it's Wednesday. I get up really early so I can get to school in time to check PT before school starts.

Hey, I got there in plenty of time, turned on my desktop computer, got on PT, read some messages, started to typing a wonderfully profound PM, clicked on Send . . .
. . . ARE YOU KIDDING ME? . . .
My computer stalled (or something) and up popped a message that said, Your message cannot be sent because the server (or something) is too busy (or something).

Who in the world ever heard of such a thing?
What have I done to offend the Fates?

I tried to send a PM again while my students were in PE. I typed another wonderfully profound PM -- almost finished -- just one or two more sentences -- you're going to make it -- okay, okay, okay -- you can do it -- Yikes! -- got to go get the kids! -- quick, just copy the message to send later -- done -- whew!

More time marched on. Now I'm home. I was getting ready to simply paste in my profound PM and . . . WHAT? . . . ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I copied the PM on the desktop at school, and of course I'm here at home with my laptop!!!!!

(Pardon me for a moment please. I'm going to throw myself down on the floor, kick my feet, and bawl. Waaaaaaaaaaaa!)

After 2 days and 3 tries, I finally got the PM sent. I'm sure the profoundness of it has been lost somewhere in the translation, but it has been sent!

I solemnly swear that every word of this account is true!
Just remember, fact is stranger than fiction.

Later (if the Fates will allow it),


Are you kidding me?
by: J.Elaine, 02-12-2010


I got up and ready for school as usual. The last thing I did before leaving was to open the blinds, out back first. OMG! It was snowing! I ran to the front to check -- and, yes it was snowing in the front too (duh!).

I thought, Yikes! I'd better get to school! (a 4-minute drive) So off I went -- 4-wheel drive set on Part-Time -- thinking, Everything looks so beautiful and peaceful?

Drove into the parking lot thinking, hmmm? -- not plowed -- hmmm?
Looked around thinking, hmmm? -- the earliest birds are not here yet -- hmmm?

Entered the building thinking, lights on -- nobody in sight -- hmmm?

Rushed up to my room -- turned on the computers -- ran up to write the date and assignments on the board -- thinking all the time, If I'd stayed off PT yesterday, I'd know what I'm supposed to be doing today! It's all because of NeeCee, Risa, and MiddlingAZ! $#%$%$##

Then, in my lightning-fast mind, I began to wonder if there was actually going to be school today -- Ha! Ha! -- Dream on! Then letting my imagination run with the thought, Wouldn't it be wonderful to have one more day to actually get ready for the week?

I ran to the computer -- brought up our district webpage -- clicked on "Wondering if this is a Snow Day?" button -- AND . . .




Now, I'm at school with an unexpected day to work, and I'm going to take full advantage of it!


By the way, we're never going to get out of school in this spring!
AND . . . t
alk about test anxiety! How are we ever going to get all our GLE's taught before THE TESTS??? (This question is for Risa, from the "Test Prep 4 State Assessment" Group.)


How much is enough?
by: J.Elaine, 01-10-2010

I'm just wondering if I even know how much is enough?

We've had no (as in zero--zilch) school days this week. Are four unexpected days off school enough? Teachers know there's never really enough when it comes to time. I know there isn't for me. I can always think of another thing that needs doing . . . IF . . . only I had more time.

Well, I'm here again today with more time. I've been working on literature units for Double Identity by Margaret Peterson Haddix and Trapped in Death Cave by Bill Wallace. A wonderful ProTeacher sent me a lit unit she wrote to try out on my 4 very high readers. When I return to school on Monday, I'll go with 3 new lit units all ready to teach. I can't wait.

I have 4 boys who are going to read Trapped in Death Cave. As I wrote the unit, I reread the book (for the 5th time!!!) and thought how much they were going to enjoy the dangerous action and suspense! I want them to be able to identify the mood of the story by noticing the words the author chose to create that mood. Bill Wallace always writes about family, friends, and loyalty. I'm hoping my boys will be able to articulate Wallace's message after they finish the book.

The 4 who will read Double Identity have their work cut out for them -- or maybe I do. The plot is a little complicated with loads of unanswered questions from start to finish. I'll need to be sure they are not missing any clues as the read without giving anything away. I think I chose the right book for them because my underlying goal is to challenge them.

I'm implementing Daily 5 and CAFE in my classroom for the first time this year. My students and I are in the second year of a 2-year loop. So coming into 5th grade they already knew how to pick a just-right book and read independently for extended periods of time. That was a great plus for me as their teacher. I always say that in the second year of looping we can just hit the ground running!!! It's wonderful!

Now for the first time, along with the components of Daily 5 and CAFE, I'm going to add back in something I love -- guided reading/discussion groups. Some people call them literature circles, book clubs, etc. I don't really think it matters what they are called. We all do our own versions anyway -- versions that are adapted to the teacher's style and the needs of the students.

Here are the components of D5/CAFE:
whole-class mini-lessons
meeting with individuals and/or small groups of students
(This where the guided reading groups fit in.)

D5 Choices include:
reading to self
reading someone else
listening to reading
working on words
working on writing

And then there's the BASAL . . .
As I balance all the components listed above with my guided groups, I need to make sure I include all the strategies/skills that are covered in each week's basal selections.

So now . . . How much is enough?
Is there such a thing as enough? The answers depends on the situations. If we're talking about time, there is never enough -- even though we all get the same 24 hours each day -- there just is never enough. Which brings me full circle. I am thankful for these days that offer me unexpected, extra time.

So . . . while it lasts, I'm going to take advantage of it and yes, even enjoy it!

Later . . .


Where does the time go?
by: J.Elaine, 01-06-2010

I'm always amazed how much time can elapse before I come here to blog. Last time I was here, it was sunny and probably about 90 degrees. Today, it's snowing and the temperature is supposed to dip down to 7 degrees. It's supposed to be 2 degrees on Friday, and that's the high!!! The low will be -10 degrees!!!

Our Christmas break was over on Monday, the 4th when teachers went in for a workday. The students were scheduled to return on Tuesday the 5th, but school was canceled due to road conditions and frigid temperatures.

So this is how it stands:
Tuesday no school
Wednesday no school
Thursday already canceled
Friday no hope of returning to class

Every time a long break comes to an end, I always think if I just had one more day off I'm sure I could be ready! Well, here I am with one more day and one more day and maybe even another one more day and the weekend days off, too!

Okay, so we're having a l-o-n-g extended winter break. What am I doing with these extra days off? I worked in my classroom yesterday trying to carve out a space for a reading/writing conference table. I'm always struggling with finding more space or finding ways to use the space I have more effectively.

Today, I'm working on lesson plans. That includes putting the final touches on a couple of literature units I'm wanting to begin as soon as we return to school. I've been doing Daily 5 and CAFE this year. Since I loop and trained my kids last year to sustain reading, we were off to a good start right away. Now, I'm itchin' to start up some good, old-fashioned guided reading/discussion groups. I am trying to make sure I cover all the basal stuff in these groups.

I worked hard over summer integrating my basal stuff with Daily 5 with CAFE!!!! (Yes, I plan to make that "yuck face " every time I say that b_ _ _l word.) I found out I can leave off the b_ _ _l stories as long as I make sure I cover the b_ _ _l strategies/skills in other ways -- mini-lessons, small groups, individual conferences, etc.

With all the extra time I find on my hands this week, I hope to have everything fine tuned and ready to go by Monday. If I can't do it with all these days off, I'll never do it!

I'm thinking this is a "put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is" kind of test.
Someone has given me this gift of time, so . . . I guess I'd better sign off for now and hit the books!!!!

Later . . . but sooner than you might think!


2 Attachment(s) I'm Merging: Daily 5+CAFE+Basal +++
by: J.Elaine, 08-06-2009

So here it is, the last day of July. I'm ready to get serious about school. I've gathered my resources. In fact I'm here in my office (at home) literally surrounded by resources:
The Daily 5 by the Sisters
The CAFE Book also by the Sisters
The Comprehension Toolkit by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis
Using Picture Books to Teach Writing with the Traits by Ruth Culham
Differentiating Instruction in a Whole-Group Setting by Betty Hollas

I've downloaded and printed my Missouri GLE's (Grade Level Expectations)
And I've downloaded and printed mega files from the wise people who share their expertise in the Peony Room and the Forget-Me-Not Room. My head is bursting with ideas and it's time to put something down on paper.

So . . . I'm ready to start merging! I've decided to blog about the process as it unfolds. Doing so will give me a record of my progress, and maybe it will give others a chance to comment and offer advice.

I have, in fact, already started the process. I used tables to organize all the strategies and skills that would be covered in each unit of my basal series. I called it Charting My Basal. I've attached the file at the end of this blog.

It was a time-consuming process, but I found it worthwhile in this way. As I was typing the information for each unit into the table, one week at a time, my mind was thinking about ways I could merge those things with everything I'd been reading from the Sisters.

Now, my next step is to take those tables and add the GLE's so I can be sure I'm covering all the state's requirements. I'm working on that today, and I'll blog more after that process -- hopefully today.

Later . . .


Sadness . . .
by: J.Elaine, 07-13-2009

When I got up this morning, I was all prepared to check my posts on the boards to see if anyone had replied and to check to see what new topics were being discussed.

BUT . . . I just responded to a ProTeacher post that immediately brought me back to the reality (and sometimes cruelty) of life. The person was pouring out her sadness about a young cousin who had died leaving behind a wife and children. Other people posted about young people they had lost. With tears in my eyes and incredible pain in my heart I responed about my own personal loss.

Tomorrow is the anniversary of my son's birth. But today I'm remembering that he was just 36 (leaving his 5 children behind) when he died in a hunting accident. My only son - gone in a heartbeat. I was at home preparing to send out parent notes confirming conference appointments when my phone rang with the message that my son was dead, and my life changed forever.

My son had a wonderful sense of humor. He was full of life and energy. He loved being outdoors -- especially in autumn. It was a lovely autumn day, and he was out preparing for one of his favorite activities -- deer hunting. Then it was over. I will love him and miss him forever.

He encouraged me to become a teacher in the face of overwhelming circumstances that indicated I'd never be able to succeed in college. He and his children were at my college graduation -- cheering me on!!!!

It was my 5th year of teaching when I lost him. I was in the 5th grade year in my first ever 4th-5th looping class. I had 27 students (and their families) who were there for me, especially when I was finally able to return to the classroom. I'm not exaggerating when I say I totally survived by leaching off their energy. I got through that school year because of their love and support.

I don't pretend to understand what God had in mind when he allowed my son to die, but when I stop to think about it I realize that God must have known I would not have survived sitting at home. Part of the "Plan" must have been for me to have my school support system to keep me going in the darkest time of my life. I am completely convinced that teaching saved my life.

Later . . .


So This is Vacation?
by: J.Elaine, 07-12-2009

It's July 11 today which means I've had 15 days of actual time off from school. Question: What am I doing with my time? Answer: Anything I want to do anytime I want to do it!!!!!!

I finished reading The Daily 5 book and started reading The CAFE Book online. This will be my first year to do D5 with my students, and I'm very excited about how it's going to work. The discussions here on ProTeacher are helping me make some crucial decisions about implementation. I can't believe how many people readily share things they've created. My files runneth over!!!!!!!!!

This will be my 5th grade year of a 4th/5th loop and I am anxious for my students to come back to find all the changes I'm planning for our literacy block. For many years I've used a Reader's Workshop approach -- independent reading and guided reading groups (according to Fountas and Pinnell). Then 2 years ago, our district decided to provide continuity for all elementary students by requiring K-5 to use the McMillan-McGraw Hill basal as the backbone of our literacy instruction.

After reluctantly starting to use the basal, I knew we'd never have time to do guided reading groups and independent reading and complete all the portions of the basal I thought we had to do every day. However, I was completely convinced that the most important thing for my students was to have time on-task for reading self-selected literature during an independent reading block. I gave up the guided reading groups, plugged in the basal stuff, and stubbornly held on to independent reading.

I taught basal lessons to the whole class knowing in my heart some of my students were missing the instruction they needed. In my old guided reading groups, I felt I could reach students if for no other reason than the fact that the groups were small. I reasoned -- it's difficult, if not impossible, to get lost in a small group. Without those groups, I felt I was failing my students, even though I was working harder than ever. Goodness knows, I was copying mounds of reading
comprehension worksheets, vocabulary worksheets, grammar worksheets, spelling worksheets, phonics worksheets. even poetry worksheets. I assigned them all to my poor students, and then I had to grade all those crummy things!!!!!!!!!!!

And still, I knew it wasn't enough, or maybe everything I was doing wasn't even the right stuff! Very discouraging. As a looping teacher, I knew that I was the last shot my 4th and 5th graders had at getting ready for middle school. What an awesome responsibility!

Then I heard about The Daily 5. My hope is renewed! My spirit is rejuvenated! I know I can help my students become better readers and writers. I am excited to try D5 with them. There are probably people who think I'm really not using my time off very wisely, but you know what? It's my time, my choice, my life. For those people who say, "You need to get a life!" I'd like to answer, "I have a life! This is it! I chose it, and I love it!"

In my next blog, I'd like to outline my D5 plans - organize my thinking - and get input from anyone who is reading what I'm writing.

Later . . .


Okay! It's officially summer!!!!
by: J.Elaine, 08-04-2009

Hello, Everybody!
It's officially summer . . . meaning I'm finished with summer school! Hallelujuah!!! I slept as late as I wanted yesterday AND today!!!!! Of course I don't want to do that every day, but for now it's feeling really good to decide when I want to get up instead of knowing that at a certain time I have to get up.

Yesterday my granddaughter came to stay with me while her parents and older siblings went to a ball game. The heat index was over 100!!!! We played on the computer, played Bunco (Gracie's version!!!!!!) and got ice cream sundaes. It was nice to relax and enjoy the time with her without thinking about what I needed to teach the next day!

I'm reading The Water is Wide by Pat Conroy right now. Has anyone else read any of Conroy's books?

I am going to start reading The Daily 5 soon, and I plan to air my thinking here on my blog. I'm hoping some proteacher friends will join in -- share ideas -- as I am thinking and planning. Right here at ProTeacher one summer a group of us read and discussed Guiding Readers and Writers by Fountas and Pinnell. That was the best book study ever! I'm still using strategies and ideas I learned from that book AND from other teachers who shared their knowledge and expertise.

Later . . .


Summer School -- Winding Down!
by: J.Elaine, 06-24-2009

Just 2 more days of summer school!
I've enjoyed working with my summer school students, but I am really ready for it to end. We were required to do academics -- reading/math -- for the first 4.5 hours, but the afternoon was more exploratory. My class did Mini-Society. We are having our last business session tomorrow morning. I'm hoping I can get my students to help with the packing and cleaning up. All the things I brought down to use have to be boxed up so the custodians can carry it all back up to my classroom.

July off sounds like heaven! I went to my granddaughter's coach-pitch baseball game on Friday and my grandson's baseball game on Saturday.
My personal goal for July: do a whole lot more with my family.

Believe it or not, I',m still labeling and leveling books. I'm also recording all the info on a spreadsheet as I go. It's hugely time consuming, but seeing all my labeled books on the bookshelves is extremely rewarding.
My work goal for July: level/label all the books I brought home from school today!!!!!!!!

My professional development goal for July:
read Worksheets Don't Grow Dendrites by Marcia L. Tate AND readExplicit Direct Instruction by John R. Hollingsworth and Silvia E. Ybarra
read/study The Daily 5 by the 2 sisters
read/study The Comprehension Toolkit by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis.

YIKES! I guess I'd better get started!!!!! August will be here before I know it!

Later . . .


1 Attachment(s) Classroom Library
by: J.Elaine, 06-01-2009

I can't resist starting with the sunny smilie. Here in MO it has rained day after day after day and has been all gloomy day after day after day. Well, I guess you get the point!!!!!

Today I am working on leveling my books for our classroom library. I loop with my students, and I want my 4th graders who just left to come back in 5th grade to a whole new and improved library. We've always organized the fiction books by authors' last names, but now I'd like to organize by genre.

Since we have tons of books, I'm finding the job more than a little challenging. I pulled out some books I thought would fit into a category I'm calling "Mysteries/Ghosts." But then I thought, some are scary ghost stories like Wait till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn and others are light mysteries like the Encyclopedia Brown series. I wondered, do I classify those as the same genre? And if I don't lump them together, won't I come up with way to many little meaningless categories? So, now I'm thinking I'll start with books I'll call "Adventure/Survival". That genre could include the Hatchet and all it's sequels, the Everest trilogy, and others like My Side of the Mountain.

The sorting by genre process does not come easily, but the leveling part is going well. We started leveling during the school year. I had students looking up book levels (according to an AR website). They would write the reading level and AR test point value inside the cover of each book. Then I could do a few at a time, putting colored stars and small labels (with book level and AR test points) on each book's spine. The stars and labels make the books look very nice, neat, and organized when they are placed on the bookshelf. My plan is to bring home a stack to do, return the finished books to school, and pick up another stack all summer long until all the books are ready!!!!!! Labeling is a mindless, brainless task that can be done while watching TV or listening to audio books, so I don't mind doing a few at a time.

I'm making some other changes in my classroom that I think will make our library more inviting. I'm still thinking all that through, and I'm hoping that blogging will help me organize my plans. I'm also hoping someone else might share what they're doing or have already done with their classroom libraries.

More Later . . .


Fountas and Pinnell and Daily 5
by: J.Elaine, 05-27-2009

I went to a meeting this morning to discuss the first 20 days of readers workshop as described by Fountas and Pinnell. We wanted to think about ways to help our students become independent readers so we could be free to work with small groups of students and individuals. I think we were successful. Several years ago I read/studied the Guided Readers and Writers book by F&P. I've been following their model ever since -- that is until we got a Basal program we had to use! Now we are trying to get back to differentiating instruction so we can meet the needs of all our students.

Hey, BTW! I was part of a study group that met right here on ProTeacher the summer I read F&P. It was headed up by Debbie Rondeau. Maybe someone's still out there who participated in that group reading and discussing!!!!

After lunch our group continued our work by discussing The Daily 5. I haven't read the book yet, but I am excited putting it into practice. F&P's first twenty days just goes right along with the plan to start the D5. Of course, I'm completely sold on independent reading (D5--read to self). As far as I'm concerned, reading self-selected books independently is the most important component of literacy development. However, I am looking forward to the structure I think D5 will provide me as I implement the other components.

More later . . .


Summer -- Aaaaahhhhhhhhh!!!!
by: J.Elaine, 05-30-2009

I hope this isn't too much of a shock to too many people, but I'M BACK!!!!!!!!!!!!! It's summer, so maybe I'll actually have time to blog.

I loop with my students, so on Thursday, I said goodbye to my 4th graders knowing they'd be back in the fall as my 5th graders. I love the summer between 4th and 5th grade. My brain just keeps on ticking away -- thinking about all the ways I can make next year better for my students. As I was working in my classroom yesterday, I moved our bookshelves leaving room for a reading nook. I want my 5th graders to come in excited to see that the room has been changed just for them.
Well, I guess you can see that I've not changed all that much since I've been gone. I still love my students, and I'm still an incredible nerd!!!!!

Now I'm here hoping to hear from you all. Tell me what and how you've been doing. I am going to a Daily 5 inservice tomorrow. If you've had some experience with D5, what advice can you share?

I'm hoping blogging will help work out some of the kinks in my thinking. What do you think?

Later . . .


Putting Things into Perspective
by: J.Elaine, 02-18-2008

Just minutes ago, I wrote my last blog entitled, "Life Goes On," and I am wishing I could take it all back right now. Immediately after posting my blog, I went to a blog on a friend's page -- JKB's page. Her husband passed away yesterday, and she had to make arrangements for the funeral today. My first emotion was shock and then my heart broke for her.

I couldn't help but think about the meaningless ramblings I'd just written in my blog while she was experiencing so much pain. I couldn't believe I'd written all about the meager changes in my life that I thought would be so difficult to deal with in the upcoming school year. Putting things into perspective, I can see how shallow my mindless babbling had been. I couldn't believe it when I thought about how I'd so casually named my blog, "Life Goes On." I guess I was thinking that even though things change, life goes on, but after reading JKB's post, I was horrified I'd chosen that title.

Yes, life will go on. My heart goes out to JKB and I will pray for her as she tries to figure out how to make life go on for herself and her family. My son died in a hunting accident, and I remember thinking I didn't really care so much if life went on. But it did. I remember thinking about how unfair it seemed that people kept right on living while we prepared to bury our son. And then they kept on living as I tried to figure out how to live without him. But life kept on going whether I was ready or not.

Putting things into perspective, I am sorry that I spent my time complaining about tiny little changes in my life when JKB (and who even knows how many other people) are preparing to live through serious situations that will change their lives forever.

Don't forget to pray for JKB.

Later . . .


Life Goes On!
by: J.Elaine, 07-29-2007

Hey, Everybody!

It's been a crazy year! I've had 3 surgeries on my knees. The last one was total knee replacement on June 20th, so I'm hoping I will now be able to get back to my old life -- before I hurt absolutely ALL the time.

But, guess what? Life goes on! We have our first teacher workday on the 13th + meetings + etc. to follow. The students come back on the 16th, and I have to confess, I am totally excited about getting back into the swing of things!!!! Anyone who knows me knows I am a self-professed nerd who loves school and teaching and students and . . . well, I guess you get the point!

I am ready to get on ProTeacher boards to see what people are planning for the new year.

Life goes on . . . . and things keep on changing. I pretty much like things to stay the same because I am not so comfortable with change. Let me just stop to think of some of the changes I'll face.
**A couple of teachers have moved on and a couple of new teahcers will be joining our faculty.
**New principal
**New assistant principal .
**New beginning and ending times for our elementary school day
**New communication arts basal series (I have NEVER used a basal. Most recently, I've used a Writer's and Reader's Workshop approach based on research by Fountas and Pinnell.)
**New common quarterly assessments which will take away much of the choice and flexibility teachers used to have concerning decisions about instruction (especially in math)

Those are some of the changes I know about right now. I'm almost afraid to check my email for fear of finding out about even more changes.

Well, now having said all that, I'll say this.
**I am excited to see my students and get the year started!
**I am anxious to get into the basal to see how it works, so I can figure out how I can keep Independent Reading going as we do all the required "book stuff."
**I can't wait to get into my classroom, so I can get it all ready for my students. I always try to make some big changes in arrangement since I have the same kids back again. I want it to be their new 5th-grade classroom and not just their old 4th-grade room.
**I am also anxious to see how much energy and stamina I'll have using my new knee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I'm hoping for a much more pain-free year.

Wow! I'm going to have to stop. I am getting myself all worked up. I may never get to sleep tonight just thinking about everything I want (and need) to do before my students come back.

That's all for now.

Later . . . . . .


by: J.Elaine, 04-30-2007

I've missed being here blogging. I'm going to try to return. I feel I never have enough time to come here to write, but reflection is valuable and time well-spent. So . . . I am returning to this friendly, safe place to think and write and reflect and plan and vent (if necessary).

We are getting ready for the BIG tests coming up, and we are working very hard. We lost 7 days of instruction because of snow and ice. That stresses me out more than just a bit. We are testing the end of March and the beginning of April with the expectation that we've taught everything that needs to be taught for the whole entire school year. I think I will just be thankful when it's all over with, so we can get back to "normal." And what is normal anyway?

More later . . .


Nagging Thoughts & Guilty Feelings
by: J.Elaine, 11-09-2006

For some time, I've had a nagging thought lurking in the back of my mind. I have lots of nonfiction books in my classroom library, and I keep trying to get the nerve to open up that section for students' self-selected reading. I've always thought independent reading books should be novels, chapter books. But lately, I've been feeling guilty because students rarely have time to enjoy them. I think I'm afraid students will simply browse through books, looking at pictures, but not actually reading. I want my students to write response letters to me, telling me what they were thinking as they were reading, and I'm not sure how that will work when they are reading nonfiction.

So today, I decided to have Free Read Friday. I liked what I saw. Some students were in pairs reading a book together while others were snuggled on pillows, into corners alone, reading silently. As I looked around the room, I saw students reading novels, animal books, historical books, almanacs, Guiness books, and magazines. One student came to ask how long 30 feet would be, and I sent him out to the hall to count off 30 tiles to see. When he came back, I asked him why he wanted to know that measurement. He told me he'd just read about an animal that was actually 30 feet long!!!! Toward the end of reading time, I asked everyone to bring a book they'd been reading and come join me in a circle for a sharing time. Each student got a chance to share something interesting they'd read. I was very well pleased with the outcome of our first Free Read Friday. Next week, I'll start the Free Read session by reading aloud a nonfiction picture book. Even though I'm still a little reluctant about opening the nonfiction section of our library during our regular Reader's Workshop, I feel it was time well spent and am excited about trying it again another day.

I just purchased a Debbie Diller's book Practice with Purpose, Literacy Work Stations for Grades 3-6. I am thinking of using literacy work stations a couple of times a week. I still feel the best way to improve in reading is to read, read, read, read, read, etc. So, I'm struggling with just the right mix for my students. I want to provide time on-task for reading, and I want to make sure they are getting the instruction and practice they need. I'm certainly not looking for assignments that just keep students "busy" during Reader's Workshop because my students are capable of reading for 30-40 minutes, so if they aren't meeting in a discussion group, they are engaged in reading self-selected independent books.

Ah, decisions! So much to think about--so much to do--so little time!!!!

Later . . .


I Shouldn't Be Here!
by: J.Elaine, 10-31-2006

Okay, I admit it. I shouldn't be here. I have one hundred and one things to do right now, but I am sitting here blogging instead. I guess I just need to a place to sort out some thoughts.

Yesterday, my principal came in just minutes before my students were due to arrive to tell me that a parent of one of my students had called and was coming in to talk to him about me. The parent said I'd said something in front of the whole class to embarrass the child and they had decided they wanted her moved to another classroom. Now I've searched all my memory banks and can honestly say I can't imagine what in the world I could have done to this child to cause this sort of reaction. I was devestated. He might as well have called a sub and sent me home. He told me the child was to go to another class for the day, but she came into our room anyway. She seemed fine. I didn't know what I was supposed to do because he said she was NOT to come into the room with me.

Well, today, she came and was happy just as can be. She was all smiles and hugs. I couldn't quite figure out what was going on or what was going to happen. I care very much about this child and would want her to be all right no matter what. I was beginning to think everything had worked itself out. Then, my principal came by this afternoon to say he and I needed to get together to go over the things the parent written down about me. I guess they brought it in and gave it to him this morning. He said we'd look at the "letter" together TOMORROW!!!! Well, I don't do these kinds of things TOMORROW!!!! I need to do these kinds of things RIGHT NOW!!!! Men don't necessarily understand that concept, but I went through an extremely stressfull day yesterday, survived today even though I didn't have a clue what I was supposed to do with/about the child, and now I've got another day to look forward to and dread.

Here's the real deal. Teachers work harder than anyone on the outside can ever imagine or appreciate. I work hard. I try to meet the needs of all my students. Actually, I love my students and give myself to them unconditionally. I study/work/over-prepare to make sure kids have fun at school while they are learning. I just wonder what more can be required. What did I do to cause a parent to write a whole "letter" filled with complaints about me? I am troubled beyond belief, yet I have to prepare myself to go into the classroom tomorrow ready to take on any challenges that may come to me.

Tonight, I need to let it go and allow myself to get a good night's sleep. I know from past experience, that's the absolute best way to prepare for a difficult day -- sleep, sleep, sleep. And then that brings me back to the one hundred and one things I still have on my To Do List, and none of those things have anything to do with sleep!!!!!

Later . . .


Another field trip down!
by: J.Elaine, 10-19-2006

In fourth grade, we study state history, so our major field trip is the one we take to our state capital. We went on Thursday this week. It's no exaggeration to say that the trip was an endurance test, but we made it!!!! Now, my students have the experience and memories to hang their new ideas on. When we talk about the cost of the capitol building, they know what all the marble walls looked like. When we see photos in our textbook of the dome, they can remember what it looked like as we approached the city from out on the highway. When we talk about the famous artist who painted the mural in the Thomas Hart Benton room, they can visualize the brilliant colors of the historic depictions. It was a good day no matter how tiring. Since I loop up to 5th grade with my students, I only go every other year, so I'm done with it now until the year 2008!!!! Fifth grade? Well, that's DARE Camp, but that's a whole other story!

In the classroom, we've finished 2 units of study, one in science and one in social studies, and tested. We are ready to move on. We've started a big writing project that will run throughout the school year as we work our way through the writing process all the way to publishing REAL hardback books. We were invited to participate in this process by a teacher across the hall who wrote a grant to fund the project. So, I guess my point is this. It's almost the end of first quarter, and we are off to a great start, BUT . . .

What things do I want to change and/or do better? Well, let's see. How much space do they allow me here on my blog page and how much time do I have to type? I have so many things I'd like to do better. Reflective decision making brings me to the realization that we have so much to do and so little time. The most important thing I'd like to "fix" is tightening up so that less time would be consumed by transitioning from one content area to another. My students are generally cooperative and try really hard to do what I ask, but we (not just them) use too much time moving from one thing to another. So . . . that's my goal for this next week (and the weeks to come). I want to plan so thoroughly that no time is wasted on trying to figure out what's coming next and no time is wasted in giving incomplete instructions that require regrouping and re-explaining what I really meant to say.

I guess what I want to do is think through every situation and plan for any and all loop holes. Well, we'll see what happens. I'll come back here to reflect and regroup again as soon as I see how everything is going. I'm willing to bet that, by then, I'll be thinking of other things that need tweaking a bit here and there.

Later . . .


I am a Survivor!
by: J.Elaine, 10-04-2006

I am a survivor! We had open house, and I'm still standing! We had our first field trip which required walking straight down a long hill and climbing a couple of winding roads straight up! And that was just when we walked in. We had those same hills -- of course in reverse -- on our way out, and I'm not only still standing, I'm still walking!

Now, it's back to the everyday business of education, meeting Grade Level Expectations (GLE's), getting test scores up, etc., etc., etc. I went to a conference one day a week or so ago, and the all-consuming message was this. If it's not a GLE, don't waste time doing it. Every minute of every day must involve students and teachers actively engaged in learning that is tied to the GLE's. Now, I'm all about learning. I'm serious about meeting the standards. I'm not looking for the easy way out. I waited a long time to get into the classroom, and I am dedicated and committed to doing the absolute best job I can possibly do. But there are things that must be accomplished in everyday classroom life that does not necessarily look and sound like students and teachers totally engaged in learning.

I understand someone will be doing a three-minute walk through in each classroom sometime soon. In those three minutes, an administrator expects to see the active engagement I described above. Well, what if it just happens to be the day and the moment in time for the spelling test. It appears this activity is judged students engaged, teacher not engaged!!!!! What if it's self-selected independent reading time? It appears this does not count for much of anything at all, even though research has shown the top ten ways to become a better reader is to read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, and read.

The conference presenters described a senario and proposed a different plan independent reading. They told about a classroom they'd observed where students read for AR 20-30 minutes each day. That teacher did not get a very good rating for active engagement. They suggested that students do a little activity before and after reading. This of course shortened the silent reading time to about 15 minutes. Well, now problem solved!!! Right? The evaluator will walk in and see active engagement!!! Right? Not necessarily. What if the evaluator comes in during those middle 15 minutes Will it not look and sound exactly the same as it did before the intervention? So now what will happen to that teacher's score? How harshly will he/she be judged for not actively engaging her/his students again?

Last week, I was a nervous wreck every time I heard someone come into our room. It's not like my students have a stack of worksheets on the corner of their table to work through while I sit back at my desk grading yesterday's stack of worksheets. I work hard trying to make sure I'm doing a good job for my students. It bothers me just a little bit that a three-minute snapshot of what's going on at one specific point in time will determine how I am judged as a teacher.

Well, what can I do about it? Nothing, except what I'm already doing. Working hard to do the best, most effective job that is humanly possible which is what I want to do anyway. So, I guess I'll try to lighten up. I have a great group of students, so I don't have to worry about that. I have much to be thankful for. Besides that, I have a little trick up my sleeve for making any humdrum activity turn suddenly exciting!!!!!! Just kidding (sort of)!!!!! Hey, I am trying to get happy about a situation I cannot change, so work with me

Whatever the case, I will survive!

Later . . .


Reflections . . .
by: J.Elaine, 09-27-2006

After-School Study Club? It's Amazing!

It's Friday, and it's been a long week. I'm signed up for a conference on instructional strategies tomorrow, so it's not over yet!

I'm really not complaining at all. We started out after-school Study Club this week. I sent the note home Tuesday, and couldn't believe it when 9 students returned their permission slips to stay the following day after school. Today, 2 more brought in notes with parents' permission to stay, so if everyone who has permission all stayed on the same afternoon, we'd have a total of 11 Club members! Actually, I still need to contact the parents of 2 students who really need the Club to be successful, so add those 2 and we'd have a grand total of 13 members!!! Now, remember, I only have 22 students. Absolutely incredible!!!

It's amazing to see those kids get so excited about staying after school to work on school work! Who would have thought it? This afternoon, we worked on next week's geography and language just to get a head start. They couldn't wait to get home and show their parents they'd completed assignments that weren't even due until next Friday!!!! I told them if they continued to work at their current rate, they'd be doing high school work by the end of the year!!!!!

You see, that's why having Study Club is so important. Forget test scores (even though I'd bet they increase) and even forget about getting assignments turned in on time (even though they will). It is really all about the way these kids feel about themselves. Some of them go home all defeated because they have some leftover work from that day, and then they return the next day defeated because they know I'm the big, old meany waiting at the door to demand homework ON TIME!!!! Now, these same kids can fly out the front door of the school to meet their parents feeling like they've accomplished something big AND they have! Call me crazy, but I think that's a total win-win situation.

Even as I sit here and type, exhaustion is threatening to take over my body, but in my spirit I am soaring! As I look back over the week, I see that I didn't get everything in my plan book accomplished, yet I feel successful. I have so much to do to get ready for next week -- midterm already -- but for now, I'll take a moment to bask in the joy of the wonders I've seen this week.

More later . . .


The So Much More Part
by: J.Elaine, 09-11-2006

So Much to Be Thankful For . . .It was only a 4-day week, but what a week it was! My students are absolutely wonderful. I tell them they are my class from heaven, and it's really true. We have practiced routines and procedures, and it's incredible to watch them enter the room, and do just exactly what they are supposed to do. My students come to the classroom at 8:20, but school doesn't actually start until 8:40.

Some of the things students do during those first 20 minutes are:
*Write assignments in their agendas, and bring them to me to sign and check for parent signatures.
*Sharpen pencils.
*Take restroom/drink breaks.
*Take their Safari Journals to their journal managers to get stamped.
*Turn in their homework to their homework managers. Managers put papers in alphabetical order, paper clip them together, make a note of any missing work, and put the stacks on my desk.
*AND finally be in their seats ready to learn by 8:40, so we can start math as soon as I post attendance.

Now, I think that's an amazing amount of work to accomplish in 20 minutes! When we first started practicing, it took us as long as 40 minutes to get everything done. We have now fine-tuned things so that we are finished and ready to start math almost on time!

Now, here's the So Much More part . . .

I said I have the class from heaven, and I meant it. However the personal lives of some of my students are far from heavenly. This is just my thirteenth year of teaching, so I really don't know what it was like 20-25 years ago. I just know I'm seeing kids who need way more than just the basic 3-R's and a little science and social studies thrown in for good measure. Here on my blog, I don't feel I can write in general enough terms to make sure I'm not crossing the lines of confidentiality, so I'll just reiterate that some of my students live in homes where day-to-day survival is the top priority. Forget signing agendas, doing homework, snuggling and reading together, performing basic hygiene procedures, sitting down together to have dinner and discuss the day's event, having a regular bedtime with a loving parent to say goodnight and give a hug and a kiss. Those kinds of things that most of us just do withouth giving them a second thought are often nonexistent in the lives of some of our students.

So then what happens when a child, who's barely survived the night at home, arrives at school? He or she is met at the door where a caring, well-meaning teacher, who is interested in the academic growth of the child asks, "Did you do your homework?" OR "Where is your agenda?" OR better yet, "Why didn't you get your parents to sign your agenda?" And the topper of all, "Okay, I guess you can just stay in a recess and get your late work caught up." I am ashamed when I see I am writing things I've said as I've greeted students in the morning. I hurts me when I think about it, but I can't go back and change any of those old behaviors. Right now, I can only decide what will happen from now on.

I'd like to blame the pressure I feel to drag students along, force them to keep up, push them beyond their tolerance levels on the all-mighty decree to INCREASE TEST SCORES. But, I have to take responsibility for my actions. I am the one who sets the tone for the day for everyone who enters into my classroom. I've already changed the way we start our days. My students and I meet and greet each other at the door every morning without mentioning homework (unless someone's excited about completing theirs!), agendas, journals, etc. Next week, I am starting an afternoon Homework Club for students who want to stay for an hour and get their homework completed with me before going home. I'm looking for more ways to impact the lives of my students.

I'm hoping I can do the "Readin', Writin', 'Rithmetic" part without neglecting the "So Much More" part. We will see.

More later . . .


Book Study
by: J.Elaine, 09-04-2006

We had the first session of our book study this morning. The conversation was lively (to say the least) since several of us having very differing philosophies about teaching reading. I said all the things that were on my heart and felt better for having spoken up. Sometimes I just sit back and stew about things, gripe about things to my friends, and get myself all in a lather when I should just speak up right on the spot. Now, will anything I said make one bit of difference? Who knows, but at least I know I tried. It makes it easier to speak my mind when I'm fighting for what I think's right for kids.

When I got to my classroom after the meeting, I was feeling a little defeated because I just feel our school is heading in the wrong direction in literacy instruction. But . . . my students were waiting patiently by the door because they knew we had to say our "good morning" greetings to one another before going into the room!!!!!! Here it is the 2nd full week of school, and my little sweethearts know just what to do. I'm serious when I say I was touched by their behavior. Then . . . a little girl handed me a card that said, "Happy Labor Day. You are the best teacher." I thought I'd just break down and cry. About that time another little girl handed me an envelope that I thought might be her book order. When I opened it, I found a wonderful little paragraph she'd written to tell me all the reasons she was happy about being in my classroom!!!! I just couldn't believe I could be so blessed!!!!
You know I say it often, but I never get tired of reminding myself how fortunate I am to have the awesome opportunity to teach.

More later . . .


Theraputic Ramblings!
by: J.Elaine, 08-30-2006

As incredible as it may seem, we are having our first inservice on Friday, September 1. Some teachers haven't even started teaching yet, and here we are heading off to an all-day meeting. I'm not complaining, though, because we will still have a 3-day weekend to look forward to. Actually, I like having shorter weeks to get the school year up and running. It just makes it easier for the students to get used to a regular routine after being kind of loose all summer long.

As I blog, my mind races ahead of me thinking about how things are going in my classroom. The other 4th-grade teachers in our school don't actually grade math homework. They go over it in class, give points for completion, and take grades on in-class assignments/quizzes after 2 or 3 lessons. So far it has simplified my life greatly. We took our first little quiz today, however, and many students did not score very well. The good thing about it is that it gives me a chance to see where certain students need extra help before we get all the way to the test. I am going to pull together some small groups tomorrow to do some reteaching. The challenge is always how to keep the others meaningful involved and challenged while working with the small group.

We are having the first session of a new book study our principal is heading up. The book is called Literacy: Helping Children Construct Meaning by J. David Cooper, published by Houghton Mifflin. I can't help but wonder where he got the idea to choose this book. It is actually a textbook that you'd see in a college literacy graduate class. There are many pages and chapters that are devoted to stages of literacy development, a partial history of reading and literacy, schema theory, and many, many more pages written about literacy in primary classrooms. Now, keeping in mind our school has only 4th and 5th graders, I'm again wondering why he picked this particular text. We are supposed to read to page 79 in a text that has 564 pages total. I love book studies where we are able to read relevant material and are allowed time to discuss what we've been reading. But . . . I just can't get very excited about this book study. I greatly fear that those of us who are Fountas and Pinnell, Caulkins, Routman, and Robb followers will find this book study troubling at best. I am optimistic enough to hope I'll be pleasantly surprised as the study unfolds, but . . . Too many buts.

I have to say that I find it very theraputic to be able to lay out my thoughts here on my personal blog page. That alone is a pleasant surprise!

More later . . .


Where Would We Be If We Were Not Teaching?
by: J.Elaine, 09-03-2006

Today, I looked at my students as they were leaving and couldn't help thinking how truly I blessed I am to be doing a job I love. When I decided to go to college (after many years of staying home with my children and even my grandchildren!), I felt a little foolish. Many people encouraged me, but some people told me I was just a little too old and had been out of school just a little too long to expect anything other than failure from my efforts to follow a dream I'd had since childhood. But, I plunged on ahead. It was hard because I was just a little too old and had been out of school just a little too long, but guess what? I did not fail! I am a teacher today because I didn't let those few stop me from daring to believe I could achieve!

Now, the question is: Where would I be today if I'd not become a teacher?

In the thirteen years I've been teaching, I experienced a dreadful, life-changing event in my personal life. The most difficult thing I've ever had to face was the death of my son. He died in a hunting accident -- alive one minute and gone the next. It happened in my fifth year of teaching and in my second year with my first looping students. The love and support of those wonderful children and their caring parents made my life bearable. I leeched off the energy of my students. I lived to teach them. I found my purpose in serving them. Where would I be if it were not for teaching? I thank God I'll never have to know the answer to that question.

I just read a post written by JKB that got me thinking about all this. She talked about personal challenges and how they sometimes cause us to delve more deeply into and derive more pleasure from doing the professional things we love. To the outsider we teachers may appear to be a tad driven, a smidge obssessed, a teeny bit overboard. But, think about it. Where would we be without teaching?

More later . . .


Worked all Weekend
by: J.Elaine, 08-28-2006

It's the end of Sunday, and I'll be back in the classroom with my students tomorrow morning. I've worked all weekend long just trying to be ready for the week. I worked last weekend, too, just trying to be ready for the first full week of school. And of course, I worked three weeks ago - all week plus weekends - just trying to make sure I would be ready for the beginning of school. I tell myself it will all slow down soon, but I don't believe it. I work to get ahead but never do. Is it just me, or does this job consume you and your life? Is it worth the energy I invest?

The time I've given today seems to be time well-spent. We go to the computer lab tomorrow, and I've bookmarked a page I found here on ProTeacher. It's the Mrs. Renz class website. She has a whole poetry unit posted for all to see and use. I'm going to use her examples of acrostics, and then go to one her links where my students can write an acrostic online and print it out. The next day, the next step in the lesson is to read the picture book, Don't Laugh at Me, and listen to the CD of the song. After some discussion, my students will write their rough drafts of a RESPECT acrostic, and then they will do their final drafts on the Acrostic website next time we go to the computer lab. Is that just the coolest thing ever? A whole complete writing lesson! See, if I'd not spent the time, I wouldn't have this wonderful activity planned.

So, even though I'm feeling rather tired and a bit sorry for myself for having spent my whole weekend working on school, I have to admit, I am excited about the lesson plans I've prepared for the week. There's a holiday coming up, so I know I'll take some time out for family and friends. That's important to me, too. And besides, everything will slow down soon -- won't it?

More later . . .


First Full Week
by: J.Elaine, 08-27-2006

I just finished my first full week with my new 4th-grade students. These are children who will be with me for 2 years. What an awesome responsibility! I am their last shot at getting ready for middle school. I am constantly reflecting on what's happening, thinking about ways to make instruction more effective. I am interested in meeting their social and emotional needs, as well as their academic needs. I am just like most teachers. I am consumed with the love of teaching.

Today, my students worked through the scientific method by testing 4 different kinds of paper towels for their wet strength by dropping pennies, one at a time, into suspended wet paper towels. It was hectic, and I thought of at least a dozen ways to structure the activity differently so everything would run more smoothly. It would have been so much easier to just get out a textbook and read about the scientific method -- no equipment to gather, no clean-up afterward, not so much noise, etc. But, the end result was that we all had fun while learning was taking place. Even though I'd change many, many things if I were to teach this lesson again, I feel like we experienced success.

Another exciting thing that happened today was that my students got to finally get their handhelds into their hands! Even though we are not completely ready to start using them for instruction, we charged them and I beamed them some math practice games. They were thrilled! The end-of-the-day chaos was reduced to sweet silence as they "played" a math facts game. What a way to end the day on Friday the first full week of school for the year!

For the most part, my students are wonderful! However, here are some challenges I see I am going to have to face with them this year. Students who have trouble bringing materials back to school are beginning to surface. I hope I can find ways to encourage them to accept responsibility for getting their things to and from school without getting over into a nagging mode. We have very little homework, and I expect what we do have to be completed and turned in on time.

As I blog, I can examine what's working or not, and maybe resolve some of the issues that my students and I will face this in this school year. I am expecting great things in 2006-2007 with my terrific kids -- the class from heaven!!!!



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