Sunday, February 20, 2011

Standardized testing is our Super Bowl

Part 1
9 days, 66 sharpened pencils, 297 healthy snacks and 33 peppermints a day and our state’s standardized test will be completed.  4th graders across Colorado will begin CSAP testing on Monday, March 1.  We are ready for the game to begin.

Standardized testing and I have had a rocky relationship.  Over the years I have tried to get better at viewing testing time positively so I can be a better example for my students. Isn’t attitude everything?  5 years ago I came up with a strategy that not only helped my attitude but created a fun experience for my students during testing season. Yes, I said fun.

Here is what one student said after testing was over last year; “Ahhhh CSAP is over?  I wish it was longer.”  Longer?  Are you serious?  9 days is a lot for anyone to take a test, especially a 9 year old!  See, here comes the rumble.  This coach needs to focus on getting the players through this game.  No negative thinking allowed!

So what did I do to make it fun? I started calling the state test the Super Bowl.  4th graders on one team and CSAP  on the other. I refer to the opposing team as the bad guys.  Of course we are the good guys.  My players are ready for the bad guys sneaky plays and ruthless shenanigans.

The Super Bowl is the game of all games for football.  Our Super Bowl is the game to show how much growth in learning we accomplished.  We learn strategies to outsmart the bad guys.  Students focus on being a team.  We even huddle up after some am cardio, form a circle, interlock our arms around each others shoulders and jump and chant motivational words to pump us up.  We believe in each other.  We encourage each other.  The sense of team takes the pressure off of self.

Creating test taking strategies is important to me.  Growing up I stunk at taking tests.  Stress clouded my knowledge.  This murkiness caused panic and I consistently did poorly. Perhaps, if I felt a part of a team or testing was a game, I probably would have performed better. State standardized testing is a fact of life.   As teachers we all strive to take difficult tasks and make them bearable for our students.  That’s what the Super Bowl is all about.

Coming soon to my blog: Part 2  Detailed list about pregame warm-ups

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Personal Libraries=Independent Reading

This weekend on Twitter, teachers were discussing independent reading. It inspired me to share a strategy and a story about how we use personal libraries.  At the start of 4th grade my teammate and I encourage our students to decorate a shoe box at home.  This box becomes the personal library.  Some of the boxes have looked like a sports arenas and others are wrapped in book covers.  Anything goes as long as it matches their interests.
After the decorating is completed the 4th graders fill the personal library with various reading material.  I tell them if they read it, then it is reading material.  This includes Nintendo game directions, comic books, magazines, articles, world record books and so on. The personal library is kept at school so our 4th graders always have items to read. As the school year proceeds, library books, book club novels, TFKs and more are added to the personal library.  Their collection mimics how most adults read.  Don't adults read various text forms depending on what mood they're in or what their purpose for reading is?  Kids also like this variety. 
So the personal library not only contains an assortment for independent reading, it also is an expression of the reader.  This leads into my best personal library story.....
New clothes, new materials and a chance for a new attitude.  Yes, it is the start of the school year.  As most years go I quickly discover who my most reluctant readers are. This challenge is one of my favorites.  Can I facilitate a love for reading in them?  Do they need to see themselves as a reader?  What is that magic book that will hook them?  What baggage do they bring about reading?
Eli fit the traits of a reluctant reader. Eli not only disliked reading he also was not fond of school.  Eli listened closely to my mini lesson on personal libraries.  His attention was focused and I could see the thinking pouring out of his ears.  Eli was coming up with ways to challenge this activity.  You know the look.  A bit of foxy mixed with mischief.  How could a shoe box filled with books (he doesn't want to read)  inspire him to read? He thought I was crazy.  He was ready to prove me wrong.  Before Eli went home for the evening I made sure to remind him to fill the box with text items that looked interesting.  It did not have to be a "book". The item needed to have text.
The next day,  Eli was the first to bring in his personal library.  As I greeted him there was a twinkle in his eye.  He was anxious and (to my surprise) excited to show me his library.  Was that excitement a glimmer of trust?  I think so.  Eli's collection contained a potpourri of genre and types of text: 
1. One comic book       2. A cheat book for a popular video game      3. Two graphic novels      
4. A scary nonfiction book on the world's most dangerous animals      5. Dirt bike magazines
 6. Sports section from the newspaper

All were neatly arranged inside the box.  I asked Eli what he thought.  He replied that his items were not considered as "reading".  The collection to him was interesting but not "school reading".  My response to him was that he was an example of what my lesson was all about.  He got it!  The goal was to think about yourself as a reader.  His collection was evidence of that.  Eli's smile grew and he told me that he didn't like to read (he still wasn't totally convinced).  It was hard for him to imagine himself as an example for other students.  Eli was venturing into new territory.  I asked for his permission to use his box as a model for students who were still unsure of this project.  Eli agreed and his pride radiated.
Did Eli learn to love reading that year?  Well, for Eli it was a start of a great relationship.  He thrived in the respect given for his reading choices.  He enjoyed being a contributor to guided reading groups and most of all he loved coming to school.  At the end of the year Eli demonstrated high growth in reading.  To think a shoe box filled with reading material contributed to that seems crazy but it did.  Personal libraries are an essential part of the reading block.  You should give it a try.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Science fair, Valentines Day, and fractions

Congratulations!  You made it to our environmentally friendly newsletter.  As mentioned before, this blog and the wiki will serve as communication tools for our classroom.  The students are excited about becoming familiar with the set-up of a blog.  Perhaps there is a future blogger or two in our midst.
We had another overwhelming amount of entries to the science fair. Learning from each other is powerful. There is no better way to compliment a fellow scientist than by trying their experiment out or reading up on their topic.
Our Valentines Day party is this Monday.  Students, did you bring home your invitation?  Did you see the dress attire for the special day?  It's going to be a Valentine luau.  Special thank yous to all parents who are helping out.  Some of the students wanted to have a Valentines Day box contest.  The kids will be in charge of this.  Making a Valentines Day box is optional. A bag with their name on it will also do.  Please look at the wiki for some of the valentine box ideas.
In math we have been exploring the concept of fractions within a whole and fractions of a group of objects.  This is a developing concept for fourth graders.  Mastery of fractions will be expected later in fifth grade.  Cooking and baking to learn fractions might be an "old" idea but it often works.  Being able to see, create, cut and share a tray of brownies is still a memorable way to learn fractions.  In class the students are asked to visualize their favorite baked treat. Visualizing this yummy delight may work but baking and eating it is even more powerful.  If baking is out of the questions than perhaps a box of crackers will suffice.  The more we work with fractions the better we become.
Thank you for reading my blog and hope you have a great weekend.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

National Wear Red Day

Hello students,

I forgot to tell you that the spirit I am wearing tomorrow is RED.  Why? Well,  “Go Red”  is a way to help raise important awareness  in the fight against heart disease in women.  A cause that is personally a passion of mine.  Hope our classroom is full of red tomorrow.  See you in the morning.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

February 2, 2011 Welcome to our classroom

Hope you all stayed warm this week. Today is our second "freeze day".  I am sure the kids will have a lot to share tomorrow morning.  Looking forward to hearing my students news and tales.

The purpose of this site is to keep parents and students updated on happenings in our classroom.  The classroom wiki serves as a helpful homework site and  an extra credit project for motivated writers. 

The goal  for our classroom is to go paperless again. No more paper newsletters.   Recently, I attended a Web 2.0 discussion. I was reminded (yet again) of the importance of  web communication.  So here we go.  Hope we can all jump together.