Sunday, August 31, 2014

Teach Your Preschooler to Read #2

My three-year-old just finished Lesson 48 (in Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons by Engelmann). Each lesson includes picture comprehension. After the child reads the story (three or four sentences by this point), the child looks at a picture related to the story and answers a handful of easy questions. This story was about a cold man who got a goat with lots of hats and coats and socks, and gave the cold man a hat and coat and socks - so he wouldn't be cold anymore. One of the questions the book asks is "What would you do if you were that goat?" The child is supposed to respond, "I would give the cold man a coat so he wouldn't be cold." Here is how my three-year-old answered:

"I would put on my clothes and go outside and do gymnastics with my goat family. I always wanted to be a goat."

To hear my my three-year-old reading earlier this week, click here, and to read more about how and why I teach my three-year old to read, click here.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Girl with a Pearl Earring

I chose Vermeer as my public school 4th grade class' first artist, and "Girl with a Pearl Earring" as our first picture for picture study.

One of the (many) things that fascinates me about Johannes Vermeer's work is the way he used the same costumes and props in all of his paintings. If you look closely, you'll see that many of Vermeer's female models are wearing this pair of pearl earrings. Looking through a book of Vermeer's paintings (there aren't very many - fewer than 40 paintings are attributed to Vermeer!) is like playing I Spy or looking through Where's Waldo? Can you find the yellow coat with the fur collar? Can you find the lion head finials?

The way I do picture study, with a class of thirty (or thirty plus students), is to have the students look at a painting, pair-share observations with their "elbow partner" (the person sitting next to them - close enough to touch elbows with), then ask students to tell me what they see. I did something new this year. I split the lesson in half. One day, we observed, discussed, and - after we had done a lot of talking/oral composition - wrote about what the painting.

"Her eyes seem like they follow you."

A couple of days later, we looked at the painting again and I told my students they were going to draw Girl. Some students started to put their papers over their photocopies and I said, "Nope. Draw. Not trace."

This assignment was met with lots of groaning and whining. "This is hard."

"I know," I told them. "It took Vermeer months."

Having students draw a work of art really shows how closely they're looking at it. These four nine-year-olds looked pretty closely:

Friday, August 29, 2014

Why Writing Students Struggle

In my last post, I wrote about a progymnasmata-inspired lesson I taught on fable amplification. Elizabeth of Treasuring the Moments commented, "I'm intrigued with the thought that it will help kids that might be stumped at writing." This got me thinking...

Working with middle school (grades 6 through 8), elementary (grade 4), and college students, I have rarely encountered students who write easily.

One of the differences between public ed and Charlotte Mason ed (CM'ed) students is that public ed students are taught "literature" using basal readers. Now, there's nothing wrong with a collection of stories, as long as the stories are good. The problem is that stories are not chosen because they're good; they're chosen because the words in the stories have a certain number of letters and the sentences have a certain number of words, they teach specific vocabulary words, and they are different than the rest of the stories in the textbook. I can just imagine a meeting in which editors argue, "We can't include the story about the Inuit child. We already have a story about an indigenous child of the northern circumpolar region." CM'ed students are taught literature using the fables, fairy tales, and myths on which subsequent literature is based. Later, the CM'ed student is able to recognize recurring plots, character types, and themes. (CM'ed students also read the Bible and are able to recognize biblical allusions.) Public ed students don't have that foundation. 

CM'ed students learn to write before they are expected to communicate their ideas in writing. Public ed students must learn these two skills simultaneously. This week, I jokingly asked the kindergarten aide if the children were writing sentences yet. She said no, but they would be by November. Seriously. Five year olds are made to write sentences within three months of beginning their formal educations. As a result, some of my public ed 4th graders still struggle with forming letters. Their letter formation is not automatic. CM'ed students get to learn to write, get lots of practice writing other people's ideas, and then they learn to communicate in writing.

In public ed, students are required to write compositions, as opposed to writing because they have something to say. In an ideal situation, children would be so filled with great ideas that a teacher couldn't hold them back from their pencils and papers. I kid you not, I had to give an assessment a couple of years ago in which the prompt was "Imagine that you wake up to find an elephant on your doorstep. Write a story about your day." Seriously?! Some of my students live in apartments that would make this ridiculous scenario impossible. Some of my students would get hung up because they didn't know the meaning of "doorstep." Some of my students have never been to the zoo to see an elephant in real life. If I were given this prompt, I would fail the assessment because I just don't enjoy writing fiction. I don't believe students should be made to write fiction unless they feel inclined to. Charlotte Mason never required her students to write fiction. Why require someone to go on for five paragraphs when they have nothing to say? CM'ed students wrote what they had read in literature or history, what they'd experienced that day, news of the week, etc. Fiction writers write fiction because they must, they can't be held back, and they will write in addition to what is required.

Many students struggle to organize their ideas, so we teachers are to encourage students to use "graphic organizers" and "thinking maps" such as flow maps to help them. This brings us back to ideation. If a student doesn't have ideas to organize, a graphic organizer is useless.

Students struggle because they feel overwhelmed by the task. When I was teaching middle school, I had students write about what they did not like about writing. My students all said the same thing. They hated having to write a lot about something they didn't know very much about. When required to write about a topic, students will ask how long the composition must be. How many sentences does our paragraph have to be? How many paragraphs do I have to write? How many pages do I have to write? If a student is writing because she wants to write, because she has something to say, she will write until she's said it.

Students struggle because they don't know how to spell a word or they don't have the vocabulary to express themselves or because they don't understand mechanics. While fixing spelling is part of editing/rewriting, and students are supposed to put off worrying about fixing spelling until that stage, students do get hung up when they don't know how to spell a word. CM'ed students see more correctly written language - from transcription and studying dictation passages - than public ed students before they must write their own ideas.

Another reason students struggle is perfectionism. Their papers don't turn out the way they want them. The majority of 4th graders I've surveyed don't name Writing as their favorite subject. Why? Because Writing doesn't have a right answer. The winner tends to be Math. There's a right answer, and - in early elementary school - it's fast, not slow and tedious like Writing.

Writing takes time. It's a slow process. It requires the habit of attention, a habit in which CM'ed students are trained early. Public ed students are required to sit quietly and write for a long time, much longer than a CM'ed student. For district and state assessments, they must sit for an hour. CM'ed students (based on Parents' Union Schools timetables) - when they begin composition - write for half an hour and that's only once a week. PUS students in Class IV only had composition once a week too, but the time was extended to forty minutes. Contrast this with the teachings of Lucy Calkins who advocates the daily hour-long Writing Workshop.

I disagree with Calkins on two pretty big points. 1)Writing as a subject does not need to be given an hour of every day (and I LIKE writing - I like writing so much that I kept going back to school to learn more about it). 2)Elementary students should not spend an entire month writing one piece. Charlotte-Masonites will agree with me.

Calkins' "Writing Workshop" does not turn public ed students into lifelong writers. It's an admirable goal though.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Fables #2

Today I taught my second progymnasmata-inspired lesson. Last week, my students added dialogue to "The Goose that Laid Golden Eggs." Today, I read the same fable to my students in a variety of ways, and asked them to identify how I had changed, or amplified, the story.

I listed everything on lined posterboard, writing "Add dialogue" as number one...

Amplify a Fable
1)Add dialogue.

Then I read the story like this:
One day a woman going to the nest of her goose found there an egg all yellow and glittering. When she took it up it was as heavy as lead...
And I asked the students to tell me how I had changed the story.

2)Change the characters' gender.

Then I read the story like this:
One day a man going to the nest of his chicken found there an egg all yellow and glittering...

3)Change the type of character.

This could also be demonstrated by changing the man to a robot, or the man to an animal, etc.

Then I read the story like this:
One day in Los Angeles a man going to his apartment's patio, to the nest of his Goose - which he wasn't supposed to have because his lease said no pets - found there an egg all yellow and glittering...
4)Change the setting (place).

Then I read the story like this:
One day in the future a colonist on Mars going to the nest of his Goose found there an egg all yellow and glittering...

5)Change the setting (time).

Then I read the story like this:
One day a man will be going to the nest of his goose and will find there an egg all yellow and glittering... 

And also like this:
One day a man goes to the nest of his goose and finds there an egg all yellow and glittering.When he takes it up it's as heavy as lead and he's going to throw it away, because he thinks a trick has been played upon him. But he takes it home...

6)Change the verb tense. 

Then I read the story like this:
MAN: What's this?!
GOOSE: Honk, honk.
MAN: It's so heavy!
GOOSE: Honk, honk.
MAN: I'm going to throw it away. Someone's playing a trick on me...

And also like this:
A hungry man
holding a pan
went for an egg
from his goose named Peg... 

7)Change the genre.

I got to teach my students the vocabulary word "genre."

This is as far as we got in our half hour lesson. But I'm very excited about future additions to this list! (Ooh, fun! I get to teach in media res!) I'm also excited about teaching my class about the effects that changing one story element has on the rest of the story, including the story's meaning. 

One reason I like this activity is because many students have a hard time getting started writing. They don't know what to write about. This takes away that excuse. If a student still has difficulty starting, give them more limitations. Ask, "What if the man were a woman?" or "What if the story took place in L.A.?"

What if? 

For my first progymnasmata-inspired lesson, click here.

(Image by Milo Winter in public domain.)

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Tomatoes in the City

I've posted before about how living in the city looks different than those "living Charlotte Mason" in the suburbs and in rural environs. This week, we found this beautiful moth on our tomato plant. I tried to identify what kind of moth this is (if anyone knows, please let me know) using a moth identification website, but my search returned 400 moths, and I'm not even sure if the information I entered was correct.

Identifying a moth involves identifying its resting shape (arrow, parallel, tent, etc.), its forewing's main color, distinctive color, distinctive pattern, length, coastal pattern (how many dark transitions are there), and shape (angle, fringe, hook, etc.), hindwing shape (angle, fringe, tail, etc.), group, family, genus (there are a lot of moths!!!), and more.

My daughter and I found the moth while picking tomatoes. It looked exactly like a dead leaf, but then I saw it had legs!
See him in the lower half of the photo. He's staring right at you.
Our tomato plant was a huge surprise. About three months ago, my husband discovered it growing next to our palm tree. Yes, we have a palm tree. The only part of our apartment's little patio that is not paved by bricks has a palm tree. It was a selling point 10 years ago ("And look, you have your own palm tree."). How Southern California.
Our palm tree

Thursday, August 21, 2014

My Three-Year Old Reading

I've been using the book Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons with my 3 year old (3 years 3 months). Here she is reading a sentence from lesson 43 - and so excited about it.

This is how we got to lesson 43.

Periodic Eggs

One of the things I like to do the first week of school is to give students a group problem-solving activity. They get to know each other a little more, and I get to see who takes on what role in a group (who are the leaders? who works slowly? who needs to slow down? who needs redirection?). This helps me figure out how to group students for future activities.

In 4th grade, students study electricity and magnetism for physical science. (In California public schools, students study physical, life, AND earth sciences in the same year. There are so so many concepts to teach.) As a basis for understanding electricity, I teach my students a little bit about atoms. This lesson is an introduction to the periodic table of elements. Students organize these Faberge eggs based on the shape of the jewels, the number of jewels, and the number of rows of jewels.

The photo above is upside down to the viewer. The egg with one jewel is the first jewel and is in the upper left-hand corner. The number of jewels increases by 1 as you move down the first column. The number of jewels also increases as you move across the row. In the first row, there is an increase of 1. In the second row, there is an increase of 2 - 2, 4, 6, 8. In the third row, there is an increase of 3 - 3, 6, 9, etc. In the fourth row, there is an increase of 4 - 4, 8, 12, etc. And so on.

Tomorrow, we will read about the periodic table, take a look at it, and explore how our activity relates to it. Froot Loop atoms will be next week...

How one student turned in his homework...

Overheard Tuesday morning as student was pulling his homework out of his backpack: "I was wondering where I put that."

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Good News

The good news is that none of my students got injured today.

More good news: the teacher who was displaced is being "housed" at my school (at least until November), and will come into my classroom to support my challenging student, one-on-one. Today, Teacher came in after lunch. Student had chosen Charlotte's Web for his self-selected reading book, and Teacher suggested they read outside on the park benches under the wisteria. Doesn't that sound so much better than yesterday?

Good news #3: My end-of-day class meeting has been going very well.

When I was in teacher-school, no one told me about class meetings. Now, in my eleventh year of teaching, I am trying it out for the first time. I've had meetings before, but not like this. This is daily, and it takes time out of instruction, but good things are coming out of it.

Here's what I've been doing... Thirty minutes before dismissal, I pass out homework, and students clean up and move their chairs into a big circle. (We don't move the desks; we just work around them.) Twenty minutes before dismissal, we all sit in the circle and I hold a teddy bear (our "talking object" - something I thought was absurd, but now believe is absolutely necessary for a large group of nine-year-olds) while going over the incident reports in the class meeting folder. I don't name names. I just talk about situations. Then I open up the discussion to the class. I tell them it's time to get anything off their chest that they need to say, and that I want them to leave school feeling like it was a good day. I remind them that they can share something they really liked, they can say thank you to someone, or they can apologize to someone if they feel they need to.

Something happened yesterday. One of my students got the bear and said to my challenging student that he had hoped for an apology for something that had happened at recess. My challenging student had apologized for a different incident, but said that he didn't want to apologize to this particular child. I said that was fine; I want their apologies to be genuine. I also said I was proud of the boy who had expressed his disappointment because sharing his feelings was brave.

So, today, some of my students just shared their feelings. "I felt sad when..." "I felt angry when..." The sadness and anger was because - at recess - some of my students were sitting in the shade on the grass, and Group 1 had made a nest of leaves and Group 2 had made an ant house out of sticks, and both got destroyed. After the Nest students expressed their feelings, one student said that the first graders who had destroyed the nest weren't there, so there was no one to offer the Nest students an apology. This gave me the opportunity to teach students that we can empathize with each other and say, "I'm sorry that you feel sad."

I am so excited about this.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Day 2 the Second Time

Last week, I wrote about how my class size was small (18 students) and that I feared the fourth grade classes at my school would be reorganized. It happened Friday.

My original students were dispersed, tears were shed (theirs and mine), I was given another teacher's roster, and that teacher was displaced.

So, yesterday was like the first day of school all over again, and today was like the second. I feel horribly behind. This is amplified by the fact that our "specials" started this week. For example, yesterday I was supposed to have music (they have a singing class 30 minutes per week for one semester by a young guy with a guitar, but he was out sick) and art (9 weeks, 50 minutes weekly).and today my students had science lab. I've had very little time with my students, and what time I have had has been teaching procedures, my classroom management plan (which hinges on a daily class meeting prior to dismissal), and diagnostics in writing and math.

In addition, I gained a particularly challenging student who - after hugging me hello this morning - bit a child, tackled a second child and scratched the child's glasses, used his phone during class while lying to me about it, grabbed a child by the hair and pushed him into a tether-ball pole, and called a very sweet girl ugly. I'm a little bit tired.

Please help me be kind to this child. Please help this child be kind to others.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Teach Your Preschooler To Read?

"Reading presents itself first amongst the lessons to be used as instruments of education, although it is open to discussion whether the child should acquire the art unconsciously, from his infancy upwards, or whether the effort should be deferred until he is, say, six or seven, and then made with vigour." (Charlotte Mason, Vol. 1, page 199)
"In this time of extraordinary pressure, educational and social, perhaps a mother's first duty to her children is to secure for them a quiet growing time, a full six years of passive receptive life, the waking part of it spent for the most part out in the fresh air."   (Vol. 1, page 43)
"In the first place, it is not her business to entertain the little people: there should be no story-books, no telling of tales, as little talk as possible, and that to some purpose." (Vol. 1, page 45)

Charlotte Mason believed that reading lessons (and other formal schooling) should wait until a child was age six. This is one of the areas with which I disagree with Mason.

While I agree that a child should not be made to sit down at a desk in the early years, I do believe young children should be taught (gently) how to read. I disagree that some children learn "unconsciously," and I can say that having been an early reader and as the mother of an early reader.

When I entered kindergarten, I was four years old. This was in the early 1980s. (A few years ago, in the district where I teach, parents could not send a four-year-old to school. Recently, this was changed so parents can enroll their four-year-olds in something called "Transitional Kindergarten" or T.K. Kindergarten itself is no longer seen as transitional. I digress. T.K. is not a separate class. T.K. students are placed in regular kindergarten classes. If a child successfully completes T.K., the child can move on to first grade. If a child does not successfully complete T.K., the child repeats kindergarten as a kindergartener.) Within the first week of school, my kindergarten teacher told my mother there was nothing she could teach me and that I should be moved into the first grade. For legal reasons, I could not be placed in first grade until I was five years old, so on my fifth birthday - November 7th - two months into school - I moved into Miss Casey's first grade class.

This didn't happen by accident. I didn't just "unconsciously" learn to read. My mother taught me using flashcards and storybooks.

A very little child is capable of seeing the Golden Arches and making the connection that those Golden Arches symbolize McDonald's. If a child can do this, a child can read. (The image at the top of this post is an environmental print alphabet. Preschoolers learn to associate these symbols with what they represent through repeated exposure. This means, even if you aren't doing flashcards with your children, companies like Lego are.)

I did not, as my mother had done with me, start using flashcards with my daughter when she was an infant. However, we did do baby sign language (symbol = meaning) and my daughter was able to understand and use about 20 signs.

When my daughter turned a year old, her Tia Estela gave her a toy that stuck to the refrigerator (Fridge Phonics by LeapFrog) and played each letter's sound in a song. My initial reactions were:
  • Isn't it a little early for phonics?
  • What's the rush?
  • Ugh, it's battery operated. My child's creative growth will be stunted.
  • Maybe I can keep it hidden away until she turns two.
I was also grateful to Estela for the present. She's also an elementary school teacher, and an amazing one at that. I fell in love with Fridge Phonics.

So, through play, we started learning letter sounds. My aunt Barbara - a homeschooler - gave me a LeapFrog's Letter Factory DVD. (Battery operated toys AND T.V.?! What kind of parent was I?!)

I love that DVD. It's fabulous. A must-have.

Shortly after my daughter turned two, after my daughter knew all of the letter sounds, I started Consonant-Vowel-Consonant (CVC) words (cat, can, dog, dot...). And when she was 2 1/2, I bought Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Easy Lessons by Engelmann.

It was slow going at first because my daughter's attention span was short and I only wanted reading to be a pleasurable experience. Each lesson is broken up into about a dozen minilessons ("tasks") but the title Teach Your Child to Read in 1,200 Lessons probably wouldn't sell as well. We'd do three tasks and that would be that.

Now, my daughter is 3 years 3 months and recently, things just clicked. She completed a whole lesson and wanted to start another one (Mommy was the one who was tired and needed to stop). This is how it's been going for the past week.

So, my 3 year old is on lesson 41, having just read:
The cow sat on a little gate. The cow said, "The gate is hot." She said, "I hate hot gates." She said, "I will run now."
I like Teach Your Child To Read for the most part. But there are problems with it.

For example, when teaching the child sight words such as "said," the script has the parent telling the child to sound it out (lesson after lesson) and "That's how we sound out the word. This is how we say the word." The book does say to say, "It's a funny word." But I think the word should be introduced as a "funny word" (or, as my daughter says, a silly word). All that said, it's not a huge problem.

Another problem I have come across is that children are supposed to sound out "ow" words instead of learning that "ow" says "OW!" - the sound you make when you get pinched.

Teach your young child to read, if the child enjoys it. If not, go ahead and wait. Or, ask yourself if you're having enough fun with the lesson. Think of Mary Poppins:

In every job that must be done,
there is an element of fun.
You find the fun and
The job's a game.

(The above image was found on Pinterest in a Google search for "environmental print.")

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Carmen Suzy

A little over a week ago, I overheard my three-year-old talking to herself about someone named "Carmen Suzy." It seems we have entered the imaginary friend phase.

A little bit about Carmen Suzy...

ME: Where was she born?

DAUGHTER: Oh, in North America.

ME: How old is Carmen Suzy?

DAUGHTER: Oh, she's ninety-nine.

ME: Ninety-nine years old?!


ME: Ninety-nine is a lot of birthday candles.


ME: Where is Carmen Suzy?

DAUGHTER: Oh, she's at her family's house. She got a giraffe.

ME: A giraffe?

DAUGHTER: Yes. For her zoo.

ME: She has a zoo?

DAUGHTER: Yes, at her house.

ME: I see. It must be nice to have her own zoo.

DAUGHTER: Oh, it is.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

A History Diagnostic

This morning (Day 3 of school), I had students make a list of "3 to 5 events that happened before today." Here is some of what they wrote:

1)Dinosaurs were alive.

2)They used carriages.

3)George Washington was the first president.

4)A lot of people died in the World War.

5)I was born August 4, 2005.

6)Dinosaurs went extinct.

7)One time I went to Six Flags.

8)One time on Thanksgiving I got bitten by a spider.

9)Abraham Lincoln was shot.*

10)I learned how to do a backflip at Skyzone.

11)I was on TV.

12)Me and my mom went to Target to get supplies.

13)Robin Williams died.


15)Independence Day

16)John F. Kennedy got shot in the head.

17)World War II started.

18)The Civil War started.**

19)Abraham Lincoln was born.***

20)A big war was made because of slaves and after the war slaves never existed.****

21)Dinosaurs were born.

22)Dodo birds went extinct.

23)I heard that a famine happened in Mexico.

24)George Washington was born.******

25)I met a girl in our class in first grade.

26)The first black baseball player was Jackie Robinson.

27)When my mommy was little, she cut the ribbon for a park opening.
28)On the first day of school, you were my teacher.

*What the student actually wrote was, "Abraham Lincoln was shot at his daughter's play."
**What the student actually wrote was, "The Silver War started."
***What the student actually wrote was, "Abraham Lincoln was born in 1972."
****I assume this student is referring to the Silver War, I mean, the Civil War.
*****What the student actually wrote was, "I hear George Washington was born in 1976." This information was from a different student than the one who wrote Lincoln was born in 1972.
I also had a student write that George Washington fought in the Civil War and after being president for 8 years "he had to stop so someone else could be the next president."
So as you can see, there are some holes in my students' understanding of history. I'm going to take some of these events and make a wall timeline in my classroom. Then, we can work on filling in blanks. Rather large blanks. 


Today is the third day of school. I still don't have a full class, but I'm starting a writing unit anyway - Fables.

I started by writing the word "Fables" on the board, and then I read my students "The Goose That Laid Golden Eggs." My students narrated back the story, and I read a second fable - "The Hare and the Tortoise." Students narrated back the story, and I discovered that one little girl had been visualizing a hair not a hare. See how necessary narration is?

Then I asked students to think about what these two stories had in common. Here is the list students brainstormed:
They have characters we don't want to be like.*
Fables are not true.
They have lessons at the end.
They are short.
They have talking animals.
They have magic.
Animals act like humans.

*I taught students the word emulate.

With only a few minutes left before lunch, I asked students if they knew what it's called when characters in a story speak. No one did. So I wrote dialogue on the board. Then I read the first line of "The Goose That Laid Golden Eggs" to my class and asked students what an appropriate line of dialogue for the farmer might be. They liked this a lot.

Tomorrow, my plan is to have them create dialogue for the rest of the story. (The progymnasmata term for this is "amplification.")

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The First Day of School

Yesterday was the first day of school.

The maximum number of students I'm supposed to have is 30.5. That's right. Thirty and a half students. Don't ask me how that's supposed to work. Maybe one student is supposed to sit in the doorway between my classroom and my neighbor-teacher's classroom.

Yesterday, I had seventeen.

I was happy to be able to ease into the new school year. Teaching seventeen children procedures is much easier than teaching 30 (or 30.5). But I know more students will be added, and I don't enjoy not knowing when, or how many. I don't enjoy not knowing whether or not they will take the students I have already gotten to know away from me, give them to someone else, and give me a whole new set of students. It happened to two fifth grade teachers this morning. I don't enjoy not knowing what my new students will be like. Will they behave? Will they change the dynamics of my room?

With only 17 students, I can be certain that everything I teach, I will have to reteach, so I don't feel rushed to get into content. That's a good thing because the copy machine is broken. It has been since Monday - the day BEFORE school started. Here are two (of the many) things we did yesterday...

1. First Day of School Writing

So, on the first day of school, I started with an on-demand writing assessment. (This doesn't require photocopies.) A writing assignment the first day of school is a way to see what students' needs are, and I also like to compare them (the "before" papers) to students' final writing assignments (the "after" papers).

The prompt I give is this:
Tell me a story.
It has to be true.
It has to be about you.
It has to have a beginning, middle, and end.

You can tell a lot about where a student is writing-wise (and reading-wise) with an assignment like this. You can tell what they know about conventions, whether they know what a story is (as opposed to a descriptive paragraph), which students need a little more support getting started (there are different reasons for this - please don't believe anyone who tells you there's a single solution), which students read a lot (their writing will be more sophisticated; they'll use dialogue, onomatopoeia, similes), and more.

(If you ever wondered why you had to write "What I Did Over My Summer Vacation," I hope the above explanation helps.)

2. Classroom Management

I also taught my new classroom management plan. Last week, I decided to use Marvin Marshall's book Discipline Without Stress, Punishment, or Rewards.

Charlotte Mason didn't believe in rewarding children for doing what they were supposed to. Neither does Marvin Marshall.

Teachers in my district are supposed to post their Rules, Consequences, and Rewards on their classroom walls. When we are evaluated, this is one of the measures of a good teacher. A poster.

This year, my classroom "standards" of behavior are - from Marvin Marshall's website
  • Do my work
  • Have materials
  • Be where I belong
  • Control myself
  • Follow directions
My consequences are simple. I'm not doing a card chart with colored cards (tried that - disliked it a lot - students had to get up to change their card when misbehaving, causing an additional distraction to whatever they had done to warrant changing the card). I'm not doing names on the board with check marks, or a sticker chart, or a class store. If a student doesn't meet a standard of behavior, here are the consequences:

Consequences will be elicited from students as necessary, and directly tied to each particular situation.

How does this work? Well, yesterday when I asked a student who had jumped down the stairs instead of walking down what an appropriate consequence should be, he told me he should lose his recess. (I was thinking he should demonstrate the correct way to walk down the stairs, but what do I know?) I told him that his idea was one possibility and then I presented him with another possibility. He walked down the stairs.

If a student doesn't offer an appropriate consequence, you ask, "What else?" until the student has come up with something you're satisfied with. For example, if a student says, "Call my parents," you can ask, "What else?" and a student might say, "And write a letter of apology."

Because I must post rewards, here is what Marvin Marshall suggests posting:

Students will be encouraged to reflect on the satisfying inner rewards that accompany responsible and high level behavior.  Encouragement and acknowledgement will be given every day!

I did not use an exclamation point on my handwritten poster. I used a period. An exclamation mark was just too much.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Back To School

There are lots of posts about what to do the first day of teaching, but what about the first week?

On Tuesday, I start my 11th year of teaching. Every year, I have the same pre-first-day-anxiety that I had my first year. Maybe more. Definitely more. I liken the feeling to the nightmare where you show up at a place and people are staring at you, and - for the life of you - you can't figure out what they're looking at, that is, until you look down and realize you're not wearing any clothes.

I'd love to say, after having done this for 10 years, that I know what I'm doing. But every year is different. Every child is different. Every year there are different parents and different coworkers and different government mandates. And so, every year, I worry that I won't have solutions to the problems. The teacher will call on me and I won't know the right answer.

To help me alleviate some of my anxiety, I'm reflecting on what I need to do the first week of school. One of the things I need to do is help students transition from 3rd grade and summer to 4th grade and my classroom. Here are 28 things I've done (with the exception of the goody bags) to help students transition:
    1. Teach content the first day.
    2. Make a seating chart.
    3. Introduce yourself.
    4. Write and send home a parent letter.
    5. Hand out a syllabus.
    6. Give a homework assignment on the first day.
    7. Do a hands-on group science lesson.
    8. Teach procedures.
    9. Discuss good study skills.
    10. Teach students how to clean up.
    11. Teach students where supplies are and how to use them.
    12. Discuss safety.
    13. Talk about what students can do when they finish early.
    14. Give an interest inventory so you can find out about your students.
    15. Give a learning style inventory to help students find out about themselves.
    16. Share a list of online resources for help with basic skills.
    17. Hand out a list of good books for 4th graders.
    18. Give students a preview of the kinds of tests you give with sample questions and sample answers.
    19. Put in writing your policies about absences, late work, testing procedures, grading, and general behavior, and teach explicitly.
    20. Let students know when they can talk to you about topics that don't pertain to the whole class.
    21. Let parents know how to reach you (school phone number, school email address) and when you're available to conference.
    22. Hand out goody bags. (I never have, but some teachers do.)
    23. Explain what plagiarism is and that it is wrong.
    24. Discuss the importance of honesty.
    25. Talk with a different student every day about their personal interests. (With 30 students, this has to be done over 6 weeks.)
    26. Assign students to write about the important things that are going on in their lives. (The past three years, I've asked parents to write me a letter telling me what they think I should know about their children.)
    27. Talk about the difference between independent work time and group work time.
    28. Find out about students' time commitments outside of school (church, youth orchestra, etc.).

    Friday, August 8, 2014

    Field Trip - Nature Lab

    A mother-daughter pic. This is how a rattlesnake would "see" us.
    The Nature Lab at the Natural History Museum has so much to see. There are exhibits about newts, crayfish, bullfrogs, spiders, geckos, ants, turtles, rats, rattlesnakes, tarantulas, and more. Los Angeles has a lot of wildlife, but the buildings and freeways can make it a challenge to find. The nature lab has live animals, touch screens, and little holes to peek into that contain specimens. My three-year-old's favorite feature was the rattlesnake vision camera.

    (Rattlesnakes sense infrared thermal radiation, which means they can see radiant heat.)
    "Your House is Their House" shows how bed bugs and roaches are part of L.A.'s wildlife.

    Field Trip - A Day at the Marina

    Waiting for the WaterBus
    Today we met up with our home(pre)school group for a boat ride in the marina. We docked at Fisherman's Village and ate sack lunches (or, in our case, ice cream cones), and then rode back to Mother's Beach where we had parked.

    Walking along the shore with Daddy

    Tuesday, August 5, 2014

    Sew Much Fun

    My three-year-old using straight pins
    Last week, we went to a store where customers can design their own clothes. They have dress forms, baskets of scrap fabric, and a seemingly limitless supply of straight pins for little girls to play coutourier. My daughter spent an hour - AN HOUR! - pinning fabric to a form while I sat back at watched her practice her fine motor skills.
    The dress she got to take home was slightly less avant garde.
    The dress we were able to buy. (This is before it was sewn.)

    First she picked a "base" - a green dress. Then I told her she could pick 5 items to go on it. She chose a jewel, three patches, and a sequined ribbon. The store employee arranged the items - with my three-year-old's approval. (My daughter insisted the yellow ladybug go in the middle of the dress.)

    This fun experience could be replicated as a home birthday party. All it would take is a sewing machine, inexpensive t-shirts, and various accoutrements.

    Out-of-Door Life: Beach Balance

    Happy 75th Birthday Ito!

    At her Ito's (short for abuelito) cowboy-themed party in Central California

    Out-of-Door Life: In Her Grandparents' Backyard

    Helping Grandma Susan pick grapes

    Sunday, August 3, 2014

    Your Child is an Artist #7

    In Chapter 15 ("Let Him Do it His Way"), Zaidenberg writes that the three ingredients for creative growth are:


    "If a child insists on making a horse green, let him; your function as a teacher would be solely to show him that green may be made with yellow and blue pigment" (93).

    I love this quote. Reading it makes me teary-eyed. Before I began teaching full-time, I worked as a substitute teacher. (That was over a decade ago!) One of my assignments was in a preschool classroom, and the lesson plan called for me to sit at a kidney shaped table during centers-rotation and supervise four-year-olds paint pumpkins orange and cats black. (It was October.) I hated having to tell little ones who wanted to paint their cats orange that they couldn't. (There ARE orange cats! Chagall painted a cat GREEN!) But I was a rule-follower and I made sure all of those four-year-olds painted their cats black.

    I can add this example to the list of reasons why I'm happy to be homeschooling. This lesson taught nothing of value. I'm sure the purpose was to teach colors, but these children already knew the names of the colors, and even if they didn't, they would have learned them eventually. 
    "Encourage fearless exploration. Teach him to see cause and effect but let him find the Q.E.D.* himself and it will not necessarily be the same solution as yours. Do not force your mental heirlooms on him. Let him do it his way" (93).

    I'll let her do it her way.

    *Q.E.D.: an abbreviation for the Latin quod erat demonstrandum which means "which was to be demonstrated." Synonym for solution.