Prospecting For Treasure

Always prospecting for the next treasure of an idea.

March Reflections

I just completed two days of parent-teacher conferences.  I’m happy to say I had the opportunity to speak with all of the families of my students.  We are lucky to have great parent support in our school, so this is not unusual.  As I prepare to visit with the families, I can’t help but reflect, not only on how the kids are doing, but also on how I am doing in teaching in the most meaningful way possible.  This is even more important this year, since I have tried so many new approaches, mostly through technology.  While it’s nice to feel I am being more  innovative, it’s imperative to be sure that I am meeting my academic goals, and not just providing a lot of electronic fluff.

We just completed a project using  The kids had a ball creating digital books on Storybird.  They worked in partners, with some students teaching others how to use the website.  They select a picture to use, drag it onto the page, and then write.  It’s a great website, but I was disappointed by the quality of the writing.

Even though I modeled a book for them, and talked with the kids about writing a real story, most wrote one sentence per page.  Some were funny, but I didn’t see that they were really telling a story, and I certainly didn’t feel that they were doing anything to improve their writing.  I want them to be writing much more developed stories by the second half of fourth grade. I am also frustrated that they are still not self editing, even with the simplest things like capitalization and ending punctuation. 

I had some frustrations with the website itself, as well.   Some of the kids were working on stories that, for some reason or other, would not save.  We could never figure out why.  This was frustrating, because there were many instances of lost work.  Sometimes we were able to resolve the problem, but other times we just had to abandon that digital book.  This website also has some very tight standards as to acceptable content.  We had two digital books that were not accepted, and I’m still not sure why.

I have a couple of ideas which I hope will help solve some of these problems.  I set up student blogs through, which the students will begin using after spring break.  I got this idea from Lee Kolbert (@teachakidd on Twitter).  She has some great ideas on her GeekyMomma’s Blog.  I think we will do some work with the old Daily Oral Language approach.  I’m also thinking of printing off some of their blog posts and having them proofread and edit.  Anybody out there have better ideas?  How do I get them to recognize and correct their own errors?

Later in the year we will make another try with digital storytelling by using the website  This website has lesson plans to spur character and plot development.  I hope that by developing and writing a story first, the kids will do some better quality writing.

For now though, I have the next ten days off!   I will go into school sometime during this time, and now that the snow has mostly melted there will definitely be yard work on the agenda.  Mostly I’m going to enjoy spending some time at home.

March 12, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 1 Comment

Puzzle Parties and Other Classroom Celebrations

This was my student teacher’s last week before he moves to a different grade level in a different school district.  I wanted to give the kids an opportunity to have a going away party for him, but my district and school are pretty strict when it comes to time allocation.  We are permitted just two real parties each year, a fall party and a Valentine party.  For this reason, I always look for an academic connection so I can justify time spent.  I believe if you put the word party after any word or phrase, it gets the kids interested.

Puzzle Parties

On Thursday we threw a Puzzle Party.  With the prevalence of video games these days, many kids have little experience putting together an old-fashioned jigsaw puzzle.  Putting together a puzzle involves many thinking and problem solving strategies, so before we began, we discussed some of these.  The kids who sometimes work puzzles with parents or grandparents help to teach the others about finding the straight edged and corner pieces to assemble the frame.  They know about categorizing and sorting pieces according to color and details.  They teach the others about using the picture details on the box as a reference to guide them in constructing the puzzle.  We review the geometry terms; slide, flip and turn, and talk about how this applies to puzzle solving. These are important problem solving skills that adults often take for granted, but we learn them through experience.

We used 100 piece jigsaw puzzles, and students worked in groups of three or four  to put them together.  it turned out that a couple of the puzzles I bought were I Spy puzzles, so the kids could play a game with it once it was put together.  We  worked on either desks or the floor, wherever people were most comfortable.  Our wonderful student teacher, Mr. Lillie, brought the kids juice boxes and cookies, so it really did turn into a party.

Improve Fluency With a Poetry Cafe
Before our Puzzle Party, we had a  poetry reading.  I like to use poetry to build fluency.  I have collected many poetry books over the years, and the kids enjoy reading them.  This time students partnered up and selected a poem to practice and then present to the class.  The kids like doing this, and it builds important fluency skills in reading.  On Thursday we just did a quick reading of  poetry, which in itself is a celebration of their reading.  Sometimes we get fancy and have a Poetry Cafe.

During the week before the cafe, students read, select and practice poems  they want to share with the class.  They can also write their own.  Students may read by themselves or with partners.  We push desks together to form tables, and I picked up plastic tablecloths from the dollar store to create the cafe atmosphere.  Juice boxes help with this too. 

We applaud the readers by snapping our fingers beatnik style, and praising them,  “Cool Man!!!”  One time I even borrowed bongo drums from the music teacher, but you do not have to get this silly.  It’s fun and educational, however you decide to do it.

Reading Parties

Occasionally I throw a Reading Party for the class.  This may not seem very exciting, since we’re reading all day, but the kids enjoy them.  For a reading party, the kids can bring a blanket or throw and pillows.  We push all the desks back to make room on the floor.  They can bring anything from home that they want to read, as long as it is school appropriate and they have their parent’s permission.  There isn’t a whole lot of reading that gets done, but sports and entertainment magazines, along with books  like  Guinness Book of World Records and even comic books are acceptable.   The kids have fun looking at them together.  Sometimes I either provide a snack or allow the kids to bring a snack from home.   

These are just some of the ways that I try to celebrate the learning we are doing, and reward our class for hard work.  What kind of classroom celebrations have you tried with your class?  I’m always prospecting for new ideas.

March 7, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment