Wednesday, September 4, 2013

When In Doubt, Throw It Out

One of the best parts of being a teacher, is the beginning of every year when you get to meet and know a bunch of new little kids. And, even though you miss the ones from the previous year, it's quite refreshing to acquire a whole new batch of personalities. Challenging, but in a very good way. 

So, here it is, the 2nd day of school and I'm getting to know the kids little by little.  The shy ones.  The sensitive ones.  The bold ones and the social ones.  The perfectionists and the silly ones.  The nervous ones and the self-assured ones. 

On the other hand, they are also getting to know me.  I tell the kids right off the bat, that I am three things:  Friendly, fair, and firm.  And definitely not in that order!  They look at me funny when I try to make silly jokes.  They laugh when I laugh and quickly get back to business when I frown.  They try very hard to live up to my expectations, be it challenging them to follow three directions in a row without a reminder, or asking them to spend some more time thinking and wondering.  So far, I'm quite impressed with these little ones. 

Today was our first full day back in school.   There was some more time spent with procedures and what not, but the majority of the day was spent on digging into some of the curriculum with a sprinkle of getting to know each other better by having a little fun.

The morning flew by and I was proud of myself for successfully being able to identify each new face with the correct name (sometimes this can take several days).  After lunch we headed to computer lab, where they settled in and, with very minimal help, got busy. I was seriously impressed.  It felt as if we had been in school for months (in a good way!)

After an uneventful recess, which in 3rd grade, at the beginning of the year, is a small victory in itself, I paired the students up for Think-Pair-Share and we gathered on the back carpet.  I asked the students to form a circle and watched as they worked together to organize.  

"Hmmmm..." I started.  "Great job on the circle, or oval, or whatever shape you made."  They giggled.  I sat down between two boys.  "OK if I sit between you?"  

At this, several others moaned and sighed and said they wanted me to sit next to them.  Talk about a boost to my ego!  So sweet!

"Well, we have a long year ahead of us, so not to worry - I'll sit next to each of you at some point, I promise," I assured them.  And we carried on.

One of the things I like to do in the beginning of the year is let students practice listening skills.  So I gave them a question and instructed them to ask their partner and then listen carefully to the answer.  If I called on them, they had to tell what their partner said.  Trust me, it's harder than it seems.  I'm sure many adults would be incapable of doing this same activity.   I also ask them to always use their partner's name or the name of any person they are referring to or agreeing with.  Usually within a few months, they are all joining in and having some great discussions.    

After calling on a few students, who successfully repeated in great detail what their partner had said, I called on one of my quieter students.   He cleared his throat.

"Well, my friend, [student name], explained to me that he would like to travel to Hawaii because he would like to learn to surf and he likes warm weather."

Wow.  Just wow.  Did I tell you it's the second day of school?  And instead of using the words, "My partner [student name] said", as I had modeled, he ad-libbed with "My friend explained"  .....  wow.  

So, naturally, I complimented him and all the other kids on their turn used the phrase, "My friend" because they thought he had just discovered the magic words to make your teacher happy for the whole year. (smile)

Shortly after, I had the students work on a reading survey.  I told them they could sit anywhere around the room and to think about the questions, and take their time.   Of course, within five minutes, the inevitable "I'm done!" rang out across the classroom.  Even though I have already asked multiple times that students not declare to the world, "I'm done!" when they are finished with something, it's a hard nut to crack.   It's like it's built into their little school brain that they must announce the words, "I'm done!" and then, if possible, follow their teacher around the room shaking the paper/assignment at them for emphasis.  I like to call it the "I'm Done Dance!"  

I casually walked over to the "done" student and pulled up a chair next to him.  He looked up at me over his glasses and pushed his paper over to me. His reading inventory was, indeed, neatly filled in with pencil. 

"My!  You are really quick with your answers," I told him.  "Let me see what your thoughts are about reading." 

"OK," he answered. "You can read it, cuz it's done." 

Great.  That's when I prefer to read things.  When they are done. 

I read each question aloud and probed further.  For example, when he wrote that his favorite place to read was "on an airplane" I asked him how often he reads on an airplane.  He countered with the fact that he reads every time he is on an airplane.  I smiled.   

But the best part was when we got to one of the last questions, which read, "When you don't understand something when you are reading, what do you do?"

I read his response: I look it up in the dictionary.

I asked him if it helped to look up a word in the dictionary.  

"Well, it's supposed to.  So I guess it does," he told me. 

He looked at me and I looked at him.  I arched my eyebrows.  "Well, can you think of anything else that might help you when you don't understand what you are reading?" I prompted.

"I could throw it in the garbage!" he announced.  

I couldn't help it.  I LOL-ed. Then he LOL-ed.  Every head in the room turned our way.  

I leaned in closer to him.  "That's an interesting approach," I told him.  "And you have a great sense of humor!  But, you don't really throw the book in the garbage do you?"

He laughed and smiled and his eyes crinkled when he smiled. I knew that instant that I was really going to enjoy this kid and I looked forward to more conversations to come.

I had noticed on his reading survey that he liked to read about hurricanes, so I went over to my classroom library and retrieved two books I have about hurricanes.  I approached his desk. 

"I saw that you like reading about hurricanes," I said.  "Here.  I think you might like these books I have about hurricanes.  But you have to promise me one thing."

I paused for effect.  

"If you come to a part you don't understand, please don't throw my book in the garbage!" I told him.  

He smiled, but he was already engrossed in one of the hurricane books, no doubt wishing he was on an airplane.


  1. Love it! There are many things I love about my job that I don't REALIZE I love about my job until my insightful teammate points them out! For instance, I like the energy of September, but I didn't really realize it was the challenge of all new personalities and quirks. So glad you are keeping up the blog this year!

  2. I keep thinking about this post. In my class the kids say "Did It!" all the time!!! For example, ff they are writing the number word for the day's date, I have to remind them not to say "did it" after every. single. letter. Now, even barely 2 Benton is constantly saying, "did it!"