teaching

If A Picture Paints a Thousand Words, This One Fits With Testing Today

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We used to pass out #2 pencils and Scantron sheets.

Now we give laptops, log in codes and headphones. To 8 year olds.

Of course the headphones have not been put back into their proper Baggies. Of course three of them are tangled almost irretrievably. (See the photo of my lap, left.)

I miss Crayolas and paper and newly sharpened pencils. I thoroughly enjoy teaching cursive, and holding read aloud time after lunch, or Social Studies discussions about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Chinese New Year.

But this morning one of my special education kids, practically the brightest student in my class, typed something different from his password. Instead of BKM4BP, he typed, “Die, computer, die.”

It was the perfect bit of comedic relief I needed. I burst out laughing when I read it, and he looked at me in surprise.

“That is exactly how I’m feeling right now,” I said, and he laughed, too.

And then he went on to produce the third highest score in the class.

Short on Patience, Short on Time

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If you had any idea, even vaguely, of how hot it’s been in my classroom this week then you would understand why I haven’t put up a post since Tuesday, let alone visited any of yours.

I’m sorry.

The pencils above give a pretty good indication of how things are going all around. The dear children in my class are driven to distraction with the humidity in a corner room, closed off to any possible air circulation with windows that don’t open for everyone’s “safety” in a school with no air conditioning whatsoever.

The children have been sharpening their pencils in between my lessons. When I saw them, I had to laugh. “Hand them over,” I said, “so I can take a picture.”

Needless to say, there’s not been much reading Chez Bellezza. Taking baths and going to bed at 8:30, yes. Reading from my stack of glorious books? Not so much.

But, it’s Labor Day Weekend. And I’ll be free of Labor for at least three days. Surely in that time I can post on the books I’ve received this week: The Mathematician’s Shiva by Stuart Rojsyaczer, River by Michael Ferris Smith, and We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas. Surely I can come by to see what you’ve been doing while I’ve been sweating.

The First Day of School

This is the school district’s plan for keeping cool as we have no air conditioning.
But it doesn’t rob me of the joy of fresh pencils ready to write new ideas,
glue sticks and
64 fairly sharp crayons for art projects.
This Granny Smith is not for the teacher, but for a project later in the day involving paints,
and all my ideas are being recorded in this Moleskine binder with my Rhodia pencils made of linden wood.
I can’t tell you how excited I am for a brand new year. Teaching never, ever
gets old.

My Third Graders’ Favorite Read Aloud Of 2014

I have read so many wonderful books to my class this year. We have touched on every genre, from my personal favorite, Flora and Ulysses, to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s biography. But the hands down favorite, even of my beloved rapscallions, is this piece of historical fiction from Laura Ingalls Wilder.
“What do you like about it?” I asked them, as I was truly surprised it was their favorite. (Even though it’s been one of my favorites for over thirty years.) And so they told me:
 
“I think it was cool how they were able to survive all the dangerous things that happened to them.” ~Natalie
 
“I like that it had a different ending than most books.” ~Zion
 
“It doesn’t tell you where they end up. You have to read more to find out.” ~Robert
 
“I loved it because it was full of action and very descriptive.” ~Cole
 
“I liked it because like Cole said, there’s a lot of action. And, my favorite part was the scream in the night with the panther screaming, and then the Indian shot it.” ~M. J.
 
“I like the prairie fire because everybody was panicking and getting water.” ~Michael
 
“I liked how Pa was so brave to go out at night when it was so dark and the scream was right under his feet.” ~Katherine
 
“I liked when Mr. Scott fainted down in the well, and Pa went down to get him when all the water was coming up.” ~Emily
 
“I liked when she talked about her life. Other books talk about other people’s lives, but she talked about her life. She’s telling it like she’s living it right now.” ~Michelle
 
“(I learned to) never give up no matter how bad it is.” ~Erjon
 
“If you’re complaining now, look at the people in the past.” ~Romaan
 
These smart children of mine. They know that a good book is beautiful writing, an interesting story, and lessons we can take away with us after reading it.
 
And to think they’re only eight years old.

Remembering Back-to-School Days

As I prepare to go back to school, the time of year which always marks a new year for me more than January 1 ever will, I find myself recalling the joy I felt in going to school as a child. It helps bring me to a more optimistic mindset, a point of view which cherishes the simplicity and the love my parents showed in helping with the preparation.
After the shoes were bought at Oak Brook shopping center, where seemingly thousands were tried on to fit my troublesome feet, the box was transformed into a school supply box. My mother covered it with yellow flowered contact paper, and my father cut a slit into one end through which the ruler could protrude.
Inside went the standard box of 16 crayons. “That’s plenty,” said my mother, “sixteen are more than enough,” as I would beg for the 64 count box. Crayons were not an item on which we could  be extravagant, but scissors were. “She’s going to have them for at least five years,” said my mother, “we are going to buy a quality pair.” No kid-friendly scissors for me, with a gently rounded tip and plastic handles. Instead, I had stainless steel sharper-than-sharp scissors which could easily cut through anything. To that end, my father saved a cork from one of his wine bottles into which the ends of the scissors could be stuck so that they would not hurt little fingers.
There were no glue sticks, then. Instead we had pots of glue with a little paddle attached to the lid with which to spread the paste on one’s project. Or, I had mucilage: a clear, brownish liquid which always formed a crust on the rubber tip of the bottle. Sometimes, the old dried glue would adhere to the paper along with the fresh, and the project would have a hidden lump. I hated that.
Perhaps one of the best parts of all were the brand new No. 2 pencils. After supper, my father would sit with his pocket knife (ever sharp, ever ready in his pocket) and whittle the ends of the pencils until they were sharp enough to write with. I liked it when he sharpened them, because the lead was exposed much more than if had they been put through an electric sharpener; it seemed to me I could write endlessly without needing them to be re-sharpened.
Finally, there was a square of oil cloth. By the end of the year, it would crack along the folds made so that it could fit into the school supply box. But mine was a cheerful red and white gingham pattern, and out it would come before Art so that my desk was protected from clay. Stray crayon marks. Mucilage crust.
What are parents buying today for their children? Little hand-held calculators. Dry erase markers. Colored pencils, crayons and scented neon washable markers. Instead of oil cloths there are disposable baby wipes. It’s a different world, and I try to embrace it.
But, a piece of me wants to take my black Ticonderoga pencils over to my parents’ house and ask my father, “Will you sharpen these for me? Just like you did in 1967?” And ask my mother, “Will you cover my shoe box and make it pretty like you always did?”
I’m sure they would.

Preparing for Poem In Your Pocket Day

I loved the idea: put a poem in your pocket and share it all day long on April 18. Share it in the classroom, in the hallway, in libraries, bookstores and offices. Just pull out the poem you have in your pocket, hopefully one of you favorites, and read it out loud.
Today I showed my children how to fold an origami “pocket” and told them they could decorate it however they wanted. I love opening doors to them, inviting them to “color outside the lines” as no teacher ever told me. But, I digress…
When they saw the pocket I made, they suggested I add color:
But, the pocket is not the important part of this project. The important part is to decide what poem one ought to choose. I considered using a kid friendly poem by Jack Prelutsky. My son and I used to love Captain Conniption and As Soon as Fred Gets Out of Bed.

Yet I felt that I wanted something a little different for grown ups. Something for us book lovers. Which is why I stuck in this little poem by Edgar Guest:

What poem would you choose? If you were going to participate in national Poem in Your Pocket Day? I’ll let you know what the children have chosen in a few days.

Quotes For Readers To Live By From A Third Grader

This morning, Matthew was telling us all about his medical procedure yesterday which was the reason he was out of class. Fortunately, he said, he had his emergency book.

“Matthew,” I asked, “what is an emergency book?” (Knowing full well, as I, too, carry one.)

“Pretend you’re going somewhere super boring and you only have two books. An emergency book is the second book you have in case you finish your first book and you have nothing to do. If you have a long book, such as Valeria is reading, you don’t need an emergency book. My emergency book is Middle School, The Worst Years of My Life,” he replied.

Something to remember the next time you’re somewhere super boring.

The Strange Case of The Origami Yoda

I’m always on the lookout for a new read-aloud for my third graders. Usually, I like to introduce them to classic literature no one else reads them such as Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio. Or, Edith Nesbit’s Five Children and It. But, knowing my great passion for origami they begged me to read The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger, and I have to admit that I enjoyed it almost as much as they did.

The strange case is that Dwight, an awkward and nerdy middle school boy, has an origami Yoda finger puppet which has a unique ability to give exactly the right advice when needed. So the strange case involves answering the question, “Can Origami Yoda be real?”  Each chapter is a little scenario where Origami Yoda saves the day.

For example, when Kellen accidentally leans across the sink in the bathroom he discovers that only the front of his pants is wet. It looks, unfortunately, as if he has wet himself. But, the Origami Yoda puppet on Dwight’s finger advises him to wet all of his pants before going back to class. Then the one spot is no longer conspicuous. This is the stuff that children love. It is too funny for words. Plus, what if Origami Yoda is real? At the end of the book, after reading many accounts of Origami Yoda giving sage advice, the reader must decide.

I can’t answer that. I can only show you the finger puppets which my third graders made, holding them up in all the appropriate places when Origami Yoda speaks

And, I can leave you with the suggestion that if you have an elementary or middle school child, “Read this book you should.”

(p.s. My favorite Yoda quote? “Do or do not…there is no try.”)

In Which I Cry With My Class Because Of A Poem

MY SKY

We were outisde
in the street
me and some other kids
kicking the ball
before dinner
and Sky was
chasing chasing chasing
with his feet going
every which way
and his tail
wag-wag-wagging
and his mouth
slob-slob-slobbering
and he was
all over the place
smiling and wagging
and slobbering
and making
us laugh
and my dad came walking up the street
he was way down there
near the end
I could see him
after he got off the bus
and he was walk-walk-walking
and I saw him wave
and he called out
“Hey there, son!”
and so I didn’t see
the car
coming from the other way
until someone else-
one of the big kids-
called out
“Car!”
and I turned around
and saw a
blue car blue car
splattered with mud
speeding down the road
And I saw Sky
going after the ball
wag-wag-wagging
his tail
and I called him
“Sky! Sky!”
and he turned his
head
but it was too late
because the
blue car blue car
splattered with mud
hit Sky
thud thud thud
and kept on going
in such a hurry
so fast
so many miles to go
it couldn’t even stop
and Sky
was just there
in the road
lying on his side
with his legs bent funny
and his side heaving
and he looked up at me
and I said
“Sky! Sky! Sky!”
and then my dad
was there and he lifted Sky
out of the road
and laid him on the grass
and
Sky
closed his eyes
and
he
never
opened
them
again
ever.

~Sharon Creech

An Origami Kiss for Valentine’s Day

Last year, I gave each of my students a Valentine bookmark. This year I’m giving them a kiss. If you want to give your Valentine such a kiss, here are the directions:

Fold a sheet of square paper diagonally, with the color inside.

Fold the triangle into approximate thirds along the bottom so that the overall shape resembles a house.

Fold the outermost point up to the top point of the flap. Do this on both sides.
Fold each point straight down. Do this on both sides.
Make little triangles off to the sides,
then fold each point sticking over the edge into a tiny triangle of its own.

Now carefully unfold the entire sheet of paper, but don’t press it flat. You’ll need the creases for subsequent folds.
Find the little triangle at the top of a corner and fold it down.
Now fold the sides down on the existing creases. This can be a little tricky, so play with the folds gently until you have them just right.
Do this on both sides.
Turn the paper over, and fold up on the horizontal line. Do this on the opposite side as well.
Pinching the two “lips” together, fold the whole thing in half while keeping them tucked inside
like this.
Leaving it slightly open, fold one point in.
Then, do the same for the other side.

Fold in half again on each side.
You’re done! By gently opening and closing the card, you can see the lips give a kiss.
Such a fun valentine!