Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Language Arts Centers

I have to say.... I've been really pleased with how my kiddos have handled the language arts learning centers this week. I'm leaning towards incorporating that into each week. I think that it probably helped that in Kindergarten, they did many, many learning stations and center activities. Plus, I have the upper level language arts students, so their abilities to work independently and in groups is higher than many of their peers.

I divided the groups up into four sections:

1. Reading (small group with the teacher)
2. Phonics
3. Grammar
4. Writing

I'm incorporating checklists as a way to assess student work in centers, and then quizzing the students on Friday on skills that they practiced and applied throughout the week. I organized the students into groups based on their social relationships, and made sure that in each group, there was at least one student whose reading fluency was very high. This way, each group has one student that can follow and read the directions to serve as a group leader.

It gives me a little bit extra planning and preparation, but overall, I think its worth the extra time on my part. The students seem to feel very confident in the skills they develop through the week, and proud of the work they do in centers.

I have one group at the reading rug (with me, usually), another at a circular table (the writing group), phonics at a square table, and the grammar group works at their desks. It really spreads the students around the room, and minimizes the interactions of students in between various groups.

On a side note, my kids are doing great as a class. They're really starting to get the hang of our classroom routines and procedures.... we're starting a new routine... a reader program for students to take home, and accelerate on their reading level at home. The kids struggled at first with how to independetly handle packing the materials and turning in, but... its day three and we're heading in a good direction. :) More on that later.

And on an unrelated (to education) side now, my allergies are in full swing, and I'm discovering the neccessity of 8 hours of sleep just to feel somewhat healthy during the day. Kids have a TON of germs. Thank goodness for hand sanitizer.

Have a great rest of the week, folks!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Weekends

So, its yet another gorgeous weekend in the mid-Atlantic, and I'm stuck inside working on student teaching homework. Let me just affirm, for those of you that only guess, working full time and going to school full time is hard work.
 
Anyways, I took a quick study break to peruse a few blogs... A friend of mine from college has an awesome blog about being a young military spouse and mom (check it out at http://www.exploitsofamilitarymama.com/ ), and she had this letter on her site, and I wanted to share it out there, too. Thanks to all our service men and women, and a big thanks to their families for keeping our nation safe!
 
LETTER TO A MILITARY SPOUSE …
While I have never had the pleasure of meeting you or your husband, I felt the need to write you and express a very deep feeling that I have in my heart.
I, as a person, am not brave. I do not tackle things head on, as I hate confrontation. I will travel 100 miles out of my way just to avoid a conflict. I am an American woman that has no idea what is going on in the military other than what I hear on the news.
I have never had to let go of someone so that they could go fight for people that they didn’t know, people that sometimes do not appreciate or understand what they are fighting for.
I have never had a sleepless night of worry because of a report that another bomb has exploded and I still haven’t heard from my husband.
I have never had to wait for months on end to hold the one that I loved so.
I have never had to tell my children that daddy wasn’t coming home tonight because he was so far away fighting for something that they aren’t yet old enough to understand.
I have never had to hold my head high and suppress the tears as I hear that it will be at least another six months of separation before my loved one gets to come home.
I have never had to deal with a holiday away from the one that I thought I would share every day of my life with.
And I have never had to feel the panic rising in my heart at the sound of a ringing phone or knock at the door for fear that it is the news that everyone is terrified of getting.
For the reasons listed above, I cannot tell you that I understand how you feel. I cannot tell you that you must be strong. I cannot say that you shouldn’t be angry, because you “knew what you were getting into when you married a military man”. I cannot say these things because I have never had to walk in your shoes.
What I can say for certain is that because of your unselfish acts of bravery and your husband’s willingness to stand up for those who see him as “just another soldier” – - I will never have to walk in your shoes.
I do understand that as a military wife you are expected to uphold a certain amount of control, but I never understood how you could do it, until now. I have figured out that you are not like other women. You are of a special breed. You have a strength within you that holds life together in the darkest of hours, a strength of which I will never possess. The faith you have is what makes you stand out in a crowd; it makes you glow with emotion and swell with pride at the mention of The United States of America.
You are a special lady, a wonderful partner and a glorious American.
I have more respect for your husband than I could ever tell you, but until recently I never thought much about those that the soldier leaves at home during deployment.
 Until this moment I could never put into words exactly what America meant to me.
Until this moment, I had no real reason to… until I heard of you.
Your husband and his military family hold this nation close, safe from those who wish to hurt us…but you and those like you are the backbone of the American family. You keep the wheels in motion and the hearts alive while most would just break completely down. Military families make this nation what it is today.
 You give us all hope and you emit a warming light at the end of a long dark tunnel.
 Because of you and your family…I am able to be me. I am able to have my family. I am able to walk free in this great land. Because of you and your family, I can look ahead to the future with the knowledge that life is going to be okay. Because of you and your family, I can awake to a new day, every day.
 I realize that you are a stronger person than I will ever be because of these things and I just wanted to take the time today to say thank you to you and your family for allowing me that freedom.
 I will never be able to repay this debt to you, as it is unmatchable. However, I hope that you know that no matter where you are…what you are doing…what has happened today…or what will happen tomorrow…Your husband will NEVER be “just another soldier” to me…. And you, dear sweet lady, will never be forgotten.
 You are all in my prayer’s everyday and I pray that God will bring you back together with your loved one safely. May God Bless You! (Author Unknown)

Anways, my first full week of teaching this fall ended fairly well. I'm starting to really get a feel for my students, and they (and I!) are quickly settling into our daily routines. Friday was a little bit of a rough day, since my kiddos really struggled to follow directions by the end of the day, but we muddled through.

Our school implemeneted a new language arts curriculum program this year--I think I've mentioned that before. It's a very challenging progrm, but since my language arts group is the advanced group, I think it's going to be a good program...eventually. Right now, I'm struggling with how it's organized in the teacher guide book. Since this past week was the first week of 'new' material for the kids, I decided to follow the organization and script in the teacher guide. BIG mistake. I was not happy with it. I felt that the program really jumped all around, and since we don't have all the components of the curriculum program, it was even more frustrating. So, I did some research this week, and mapped out a different way of teaching the same program.

We have 90 minutes for language arts (which is great) every day, so I've decided to divide it into three half hour segements. The first devoted to whole group spelling, phonics work, and the story selection. The second half hour into 4 small groups of three (more on that below), and the third back to whole group for grammar and writing.

My small groups are going to be four groups of three students. Each group will spend a day at a station doing the independent work, and on Fridays, we'll use that time for testing and writers' workshops.
The stations are:
1. Work with me
2. Phonics
3. Reading
4. Grammar
It'll be interesting to see how this goes. My grade partner liked the idea of dividing the class time up into three main segments, but her kids are not as ready for independent work, so I think she's going to hold off a little longer on doing small groups. I think that this is going to be a great way to make the language arts a bit better organized for my kids, but I gotta tell ya, I think that the planning part on my side is going to be a lot of work.

I'll keep yall updated on this language arts adventure this week! Hope everyone gets out and enjoys this beautiful weather... I'll be inside, working on homework... Sigh.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

New Student and Parent Night

Monday morning came around.... and about an hour into the day, my principal comes walking into my classroom with two women. She introduces them, and tells me that the one is a mother who is considering sending her first grade daughter to our school because she(the mother) is unhappy at the public school. So, I talked to the mom briefly (because of course, it's right when we're switiching back from language arts, and trying to get ready for snack), and invited her to look around the room. Fast foward to lunch--found out that the principal approved it, and the little girl would be there in the morning. In my class.

Hooray! I have sixteen children--eight boys, eight girls. Could not be any more perfect than that.

So, I delayed some social studies lessons on Monday afternoon, and talked to the class about having a new student, how to make her feel welcome, etc. We made cards. One of them was priceless! Absolutely adorable. See below pictures!
This is the front of the card...it reads:
"Welcome to our class Paige! Hi my name is Paige. do you want to be friend?"

This is at the bottom of the front page of the card... she drew a picture of the two girls (who have the same first name) playing together!

This is on the inside of the card... it reads:
"Do not be afraid. I want to be friends with you."

On Tuesday, when the new girl came to school, she was so sweet and fit right into the class. I could not be more pleased! :) She cried once--and that was when the two first grade classes switched for language arts. It was completely my fault, because I did not prepare her for the fact that she would be next door for language arts. But, my grade partner is wonderful, calmed her down, and the girl did great the rest of the day.

That night was Parent Night--oh the JOYS of teaching. I love working with the children, and I really don't mind interacting with and working with the parents on an individual basis, but as a whole..... oh boy. It's a whole other story. It's like the parents get this .... pack mentality. Oh boy. S-C-A-R-Y! Thank goodness my grade partner and I combined forces, and did the whole thing with all of the first grade partners.

In my opinion, it probably worked out better because we both have some of the same children, since our language arts program is leveled. And, we do so much together, I think it's great for the parents to see a collaborative relationship between the two first grade classes.

Most of the parents were terrific! I have six (out of sixteen) homeroom parents. How fabulous is that?! I really only had one parent that was .... combative, and I think I understand where the family is coming from. I don't appreciate it, but I at least understand.

Oh, did I mention that on Tuesday, in addition to having a new student, and parent night, I also had a FORMAL student teaching evaluation?! Yup. But, luckily it was mathematics, and she said I did great!

Today was another great day! A friend of mine subbed for the art teacher at school--thank goodness! If she hadn't, no planning period! Yikes! I really use that time. I can't imagine not having a planning period in the day. But, we also had a fun little surprise during the day. The preschool had a special critter visitor--well, visitors, since there were two of them. They came and saw us in our classroom, so we read a spectacular Eric Carle book about them, and each student got to examine the little sea critters. Who knew that hermit crabs could be so interesting?!
This was the book we read... it's a great book, too, for looking at the growth that happens in a year... great timeline!
Anyways, it was a wonderful day, especially now that its becoming cooler out. I'm excited that we're finally into the curriculum. :)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Observations

My observation today went really well! The supervisior from the University was so pleaseant, and had nothing but positive feedback for me. I was really relieved. She talked to me about my interactions with the students, and how I guide them to figure out the answer for themselves....as opposed to giving them the answer. She also mentioned that my classroom management showed comfort in the classroom.

I had mentioned my first informal observation to my mentor teacher at the school. She was so supportive, and checked back with me to see how it went. It's time like that that make me so thankful for the school environment that I teach in. I know that not every school environment is so supportive and caring. I'm so thankful for that.

The rest of the week went fairly smoothly. A few things that stuck out in my mind are:

a.) our first Mass was on Friday. I, of course, had the one student in the entire school to call out in the middle of the Holy Communion "When is Church going to be over?". I think my face turned bright red. But, as a whole, the class did really well for sitting still and quiet for a long Mass (over an hour long). That's such a long time for little six year old bodies to stay still.

b.) I had my first parent conference. Overall, it was a positive experience. I'm so blessed to have involved parents who care about their children and their education. Parents are starting to become less scary to me. I still would rather interact solely with the kiddos but.... I understand how much education is a collaborative effort between teachers, families, and students.

c.) My principal is wonderful. She comes around on Fridays to sign our planbooks. On mine this week, she signed "Rachel, you are a gift!". She's sweet, and so very supportive.

d.) I didn't remember from last year how EXHAUSTED I would be. I think it's going to be a long semester with all my classes at the university, my mentor teacher program through the Diocese, and my regular teacher stuff...oh yeah, and fnishing up wedding planning, and my part time job at the YMCA. Somewhere in there, I'd like to get back into working out. Whew. Busy busy bee. I went to bed on Thursday night at 8:45. And, I had mac n' cheese and a glass of red wine for dinner. Talk about comfort food. :)

e.) I'm already ready to be back at school tomorrow. I'm excited to plan for the week ahead, although, my nerves are still a little there because.... I have a FORMAL observation on Tuesday AND parent night is on, yup, Tuesday. Talk about a double whammie. At leaset, I only need to stress about one outfit that way. :) I know, I know... I'm always worried about the clothes.

Hope everyone had a wonderful weekend! I got much rest, and enjoyed a few football games, and some time wtih family and the fiance. :)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Second Week

Whew. First day back after a four day weekend.... What fun! Actually, it was a blast! My kids came to the door EXCITED to be at school! :) My dream come true. I got lots of hugs as kids came into the classroom.

And, to top it all off...my new to the school, uber shy girl talked A LOT today. Success. She had a very important job assignment this week-line leader. That seemed to help with her feeling a part of things. Plus, there were several points in the day when she sought me out to tell me something. So much improvement from last week when she would barely look at me, or raise her and then not say a single word.

We finally started getting into the curriculum this week. I taught actual math, religion, handwriting, and a little bit of social studies today (in addition to the language arts that I had already been teaching).

One thing that was so much better this week was the weather. Last week, we had 90 degree temperatures. In a building without air conditioning. Let's just say that the children (and of course, their teacher) looked like wilted flowers by the end of the day. It was S-O H-O-T. Of course we had beautiful cool temperatures over the weekend, and today was in the upper 80s, but it was a least a lot cooler than last week. As in, I didn't have beads of perspiration running down my face all day long. The poor children. I think that they thought that we didn't have lights in the classroom. I tried to keep it dark in the room so it would feel a little bit cooler.

But, I did have on my 'groovy' lamp....as one of my first grade boys called it. I think he might have an older sister. Haha. It made me laugh when he said it. I don't think he really had any clue what groovy meant, but he knew that it was something to say for cool. It was funny!

I'm a little nervous about tomorrow. I have my student teaching supervisior from the university coming in to do my first formal observation of the semester. Yikes. At least its on math class.... it's early enough in the day that the kids (hopefully) will be on better behavior and it's a fairly hands on lesson. Fingers crossed that it goes well!
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