Monday, October 28, 2013

Voted Off The Island

I'm loving that my class has tables this year.  It's so much easier to move students around and I like that the students can choose (at times) where they'd like to sit.  And, although I think my room is much louder with the openness of the round tables, I'm so glad I made the change from desks.  I think the room arrangement is better for learning.

Every Monday I move the students around to new tables.  I let them write their name on the table with a dry erase marker, as it easily washes off.  The kids love that.  The first time I told them to get a dry erase marker and write their name on the table, they just couldn't believe it.  Several wouldn't do it until I ambled over to them, put the marker in their hand, and said, "Go ahead!  Write on the table!  I insist!"

Of course, I clarified soon after that writing on the table would be reserved for infrequent times when I instructed them to and not just when they felt like it.  But today, during math while students were measuring things at their tables, it was a perfect time to tell them to write their answers on the table.  This time, it was much easier for most of them.  Probably due to the fact that it was now proven that it would, indeed, wipe off easily.  

At times, when the numbers are uneven, I need to move a student to another table to even out the numbers.  Today, was just such a time. It's great because, since they don't have their own desk, stuffed to the gills with junk all their important stuff needed for 3rd grade, they don't feel so tied down to a particular place in the room.  I asked a table with two girls and one boy to decide which one of them would move to another table of three students to get even numbers for a partner activity.  I didn't even notice one of them move as the activity had started and the kids were already busy talking and organizing their materials.  

As I scanned the room to check for engagement, I noticed the boy who had moved to a different table.  He didn't look too happy at the moment.  I headed over to the table.

"I don't know why I was the one that had to move to a new table," he began as soon as I was within earshot.  He put on a sour look.  "They just decided it was me."

"Looks to me like you got voted off the island," I told him, smiling. "It happens."

He smiled and his partner at his temporary new table laughed.

And life went on.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Hand Over The Chocolate and Nobody Gets Hurt

I admit it.  I love chocolate.  I would eat tons of it every single day if I could do that without expanding my waistline.  Thank God I have some self-respect and will power and usually only allow myself chocolate in moderation.  Unless it's Halloween.  Or a Friday.  Or a really bad day at school.  Or a really good day at school.  Or a Saturday.  Or a holiday.  

OK, so I guess pretty much any day is a good day for chocolate.   Bottom line is chocolate makes me happy and keeps me in a positive frame of mind.

With Halloween nearing, I feel myself being drawn to the bags of mini candies every time I stop by the store to pick up random items or fill a prescription.   Actually, I've successfully bypassed them up to now.  I even held off and didn't stop for chocolate/candy during my weekend drive back and forth to Chicago to visit my daughter.  Usually that long road trip merits some candy of some sort to help pass the time in the car. Yes, I'm that person singing loudly in the car while eating licorice or peanut M & Ms.    But with Halloween looming right around the corner, I told myself I would wait for that special day.

It doesn't help that my husband is a regular at Costco.  By the first week of October, he normally has already purchased the enormous fifteen pound bag of candy filled with  So when the first week of October passed and I didn't see evidence of the "bag 'o chocolate candy" I tried to casually ask him what was going on.

Me (in a slightly anxious voice):  "So, I haven't seen the big bag of Halloween candy anywhere yet..."  

Husband (nonchalantly): "I haven't picked it up yet."

Me (now with panic in my voice):  "Well, don't you usually have to get it by now?  Before they run out?"   Thinking to myself: OH MY GOD... WHAT IF THEY RUN OUT??

Husband: "I'm stopping there tomorrow so I'll get some then."

[The next day]

As my husband was unpacking his purchases, I noticed there was, not one, but two big bags of candy on the counter.  Now, seriously, I'm really not going to be able to possibly eat one fifteen pound bag all by myself.

But I guess I could give it a try.

Me:  "Two bags?  Why did you get two bags?"  

Husband (smiles): "Because I know you love chocolate and I don't want you to run out." 

He's like my pusher.

Me:  "Ha! Ha!  Very funny! Well I hope you purchased me some big XL sweat pants too, so I'll have something to wear after I eat all this candy!" 

I'm acting all huffy, as I head to the drawer to get some scissors so I can open the big bag and get started on the pounds of candy.  This might take a while. 

Now, I'm not proud of this, but just last year, I instructed my husband to hide the candy somewhere after he brought it home and not tell me where it was no matter how much I begged him.  I told him it was for my own good and that I would only eat candy when I handed it out on Halloween. 

Desperate, the next day when I got home from school, I called him at work to get him to tell me where the bag of candy was hidden.  He told me he forgot where he put it.  When I texted him multiple times telling him I was just kidding and really needed to know where he hid it, he ignored me.  He wasn't going to budge.  Can you believe the nerve?   So, the next day after I got home from school, for forty-five minutes I searched every inch of our basement until I found it.  He had cleverly placed it inside a suitcase inside another suitcase.  True story.

The scattered empty candy wrappers gave me away when he arrived home from work and naturally, since I was feeling guilty for eating so much candy, I totally blamed him for not hiding it in a better spot.  I guess this year, he figured he was not going to bother hiding it and getting blamed for it anyways.

When I looked for the candy after school today, it was nowhere to be found.  And my husband isn't answering his phone.

Let's just hope he gets home soon. Or someone might get hurt.

P.S.  I know this blog has nothing to do with classroom stories of positivity or keeping my attitude in check.  I'll get back on track.   As soon as I get some sugar.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Do Not Disturb

Starting today, teachers all around Michigan, began the annual state testing in their classrooms. Desks were moved apart, No 2 pencils were sharpened, and signs were posted on closed doors announcing that testing was in progress.  This is by far, a few days of each year that I hate the most.  

Do I think students should be assessed?  Of course.  Do I teach state curriculum (GLCEs) and check for understanding?  Yes, I do.  Do I feel I am doing a good job as a teacher?  Yep.   So, you ask, then why do I hate this test?  

A teacher's job is to guide and help students.  We help them with unknown vocabulary words when they are reading, we listen as they reread directions and try to problem solve, we ask them questions and get them to think.  We push them to work through problems but are there as a safety net when they need that little extra nudge or some outright help.   And then comes testing days.  The safety net is gone.  Ripped out from under them, leaving them all alone.  With a multiple choice test.

My students were talking about the test a little in the hallway this morning as they arrived.  Mostly they were excited because they had not had homework the night before and would have no homework tonight, due to the test.   A few kids were talking about me being there if they needed help.  

"I'm sorry, but with this test, I am not allowed to help you at all with anything on the test," I told the group.   

"But you can help me if I don't know a word, right?" asked one little girl, the anxiousness obvious.  

"Ahhhh.... not so much," I said.  "But let's get into class.  I'll explain to everyone what we're doing and how this all works.  No worries."  

And then I reminded all the little ones in the hallway to not bring in water bottles or anything else.   They would just need pencils and I had already sharpened many this morning.   "Use the bathroom and get a drink before we start the test," I directed them as they passed through the doorway.

They shuffled in, checked in for lunch and quietly sat at their empty tables.  None of their personalized little pencil boxes or cute little boxes decorated with stickers, stuffed with colored pencils and crayons.  Nada.

"Well, good morning," I began, in my most bubbling of voices. "I hope everyone did their homework and ate a healthy breakfast and got lots of sleep last night so you're at your best this morning!"  

Twenty-four little heads nodded up and down.   

"So, let's get started," I told them.  I passed out a perfectly sharpened No. 2 pencil and a test booklet to each student.  
"Please check and make sure your name is on the booklet," I told them.  "And please do NOT open it until I tell you too. And there can be no talking, no eating, no drinking, no getting up out of your seat, no leaning back in your seat, no playing with your pencil, no drawing on the test, no bubbling in outside of the bubble, no looking at someone else, no cell phones, no calculators, no dictionaries, no extra paper, no smiling, no crying, no sleeping, no cheating, no skipping questions, no asking questions, and no fun."   

OK, so I didn't really say some of that stuff.   But I was thinking it.  
I clicked on my mic and opened the 100 page administrator's manual to "Day 1: Part 1" and looked around the room.  Their eyes were focused on me.  Waiting. They looked as if they were secretly hoping I would channel all the answers directly to their brain and just make everything ok. They could sense the seriousness in my voice as I droned on with the directions from the manual.  And some of their eyes grew larger.  You see, in 3rd grade it is their very first state test and it's all brand new to them.  And scary. 

Every year at this time, I think of these little eight and nine year olds and how they must be feeling at this moment.  They looked so nervous.  They looked so little. 

And so it began.  After spending almost fifteen minutes on how to bubble in their birthday on the front cover of the test booklet, we finally moved on and they all began. "Just remember to do your best!" I reminded them as they turned to the first page.  They intently read the text and flipped pages back and forth as they carefully read and reread.  Their little tongues touched their lips as they painstakingly bubbled in their answers.  

As the clock ticked in the silent room, I heard a few little tummies growl.  I saw a few troubled looks and a couple of furrowed brows.  I heard several pencils tapping and one or two sighs.  As I patrolled the room, checking for correct bubbling technique a student here and there would catch my eye and smile weakly.  I returned each one with a big smile to signal my silent vote of confidence in their abilities.  

And, just like every year, a few little hands went in the air and when I walked over and whispered a hushed, "Yes?" to them, they pointed at a word and looked helplessly at me. 

"Can you tell me what this word is?" asked one.  

My shoulders slumped and I made a sad face.   "I'm sorry.  I can only read the directions to you again.  Just try your best. You can do it!" I coached as I patted them on the back and stood up.  

As I collected their booklets from this first test session, you could sense the relief in the room that at least some of this was over for now.  Now we could get on with our regular day of learning and talking and having some fun.  But first we needed a snack. 

When I think of our yearly state test, it makes me think of a whole lot of No. 2s.   

And I don't mean pencils.

        For a look at last year's blog about testing, click here:  Swirlberry With A Side Of MEAP

Friday, October 4, 2013

Can You Hear Me Now?

I'm blaming it on the round tables in my room.  The fact that it seems so much louder this year in my classroom.  By now, the fifth week into the new school year, loudness is usually not an issue.  By now, the kids know the signals for quieting down when the volume gets too much.  But every day, several times a day, I'm using every technique known to teachers to shush my class and quiet them down.   

A good teacher friend actually suggested the idea of the round tables allowing more noise to travel around my room.  I was perched in my doorway during lunch, watching the kids eat, and in all honesty, trying to get a little quiet in the hallway/doorway.  My friend passed by, and as us teachers usually do, I called her name so I could have a few precious minutes of adult conversation and simultaneously not have to watch the not so appetizing table manners of a few little ones.  Case in point, one boy trying to shove the entire hot dog into his mouth at once while three others looked on with a combination of intrigue and disgust.

So, after heading over to the hot dog eating boy and quietly telling him there was not a hot dog eating contest today, I scurried back to the doorway before my friend could disappear.  It helps that this teacher friend's darling little boy is in my class.  It was a win - win.  I knew I would get a few good minutes of conversation from her and she could check-in and see her child.

"Is it just me or does this room seem really noisy?" I asked her, throwing my hands in the air. 

She peeked in, scanned the room and made a concerned face.  

"Well, it is lunch," she said, trying to bail me out.  "Lunch is always noisy."  

But I could tell she was looking for an escape.  She wanted to go join her teacher friends in some peace and quiet.  But I wasn't going to let her get away so fast.

"True," I agreed.  "But my room sounds like this the better part of the day, it seems."  I shrugged.  "I will say, though, that they are almost always talking about what they should be during class - it's not like they are just talking to talk."

"Well, I think it's because of the round tables," she said.  She waved her arm back and forth in the air.  "There aren't any big desks to absorb some of the sound.  It's all open in here - which is great - but it may create more noise." 

"Of course!" I exclaimed.  "I think you're right."

I was buoyed by the thought that it had nothing to do with my classroom management and was more to do with science. 

We both looked across the hall into the fourth grade room with large desks grouped together around the room. Then we looked back into my room.  

"They really aren't talking that loudly," she continued.  "It just sounds like they are."  

At this,I was interrupted by a little one tugging on my arm asking for assistance opening a package.  Naturally, my teacher friend used this for a perfect escape and headed down the hallway, waving and smiling. 

I helped my little friend open her carrots, reminded two others to wash their table off, and smiled and nodded at another who was telling me a story about the macaroni and cheese she was eating.  

When the kids went to art after lunch and I sat in my still, quiet room, I thought about the noise level and the tables and kids.  Could it be that it really was noisier but it was due to the set-up of the room?  I know my class management is what it has always been.  I don't mind talking, and love a good discussion, but it's the volume this year that seems out of sync.  

Today, during chess, which is supposed to be a quiet game, I listened to the noise.  I walked around the room and as the volume seemed to increase, I sat in on conversations and watched the kids play.   

Here is some of what I heard:

"You can't move the knight there.  It moves on a diagonal!" explained one little girl.

"Check!" exclaimed another.  And then he followed up with, "But you can block me with your rook."

"I didn't like chess before, but now it's so fun to play!" said another, talking loudly.

"Can you help me?  Does a knight move like this?  Or like this?" asked another player.

And round tables or not they were all engaged.  And they were all talking about chess.

And even though it sounds like loud noise sometimes to me, I'm thinking that what it really sounds like is  learning.