Monday, December 19, 2005

Thank You All

Thank you all. I have gotten so many wonderful and helpful things over the past five months. The generosity of my family, friends, my family's friends, my friends' friends, and many people I don't even know has been overwhelming, amazing, and wonderful. My students have benefitted from a more prepared teacher, to a better classroom library, to more enrichment activities and hands-on learning. Some of the things I have recieved came from vendors who did not include the name nor the address of the giver. So to those people who I can't thank personally because I don't know who they are: Thank You so much.

D-- "reads" with a LeapPad as K-- looks on and E-- and R-- (yes, that R--) listen to a tape.

Students bang on instruments as we sing "Jingle Bells" to practice changing the beginning sound of a word. "Bingle bells, bingle bells, bingle all the way..."

Friday, December 16, 2005


The last day of school before break! It has been a ridiculously busy three weeks since Thanksgiving break. Our district has now been officially taken over by the state of Mississippi and a conservator has been named. After break, I expect to see a few changes in place. Actually, in preparation, there has been a stronger emphasis on completed paperwork. Accountability for teachers has increased beyond what it already was. Nowadays, a teacher is held responsible for the learning of the students. If the student does not achieve at anticipated levels, the teacher will have to produce documentation of classroom interventions, attempts at home involvement, and remediation and retesting. If he or she can't prove that he or she has done that, then it is assumed that he or she has created an atmosphere or failure.

The grading program that my district uses is called Edusoft, and it doesn't work. I submitted the answer sheets for my semester math exam and when I got them back, I noticed some glaring errors in the grading. It scored some students correctly and some completely incorrectly. I grabbed all of my tests and brought them home to hand grade. Edusoft says that my smartest little boy (I wish he would participate in class!) got a 36%. I figured he had a bad day and I made him retake the test today, come to find out that he really deserved a 97% on his original test (and the retest as well). He answered the questions correctly on the original test, the software just scored him incorrectly.

I gave each of my students playdoh, a candycane, a pencil, and a chance to pick from the prize bag today. Someone dropped off a huge bear in my classroom for my poorest little girl, E--. When we got our letter from Santa on Thursday, part of it talked about how some children were not as lucky as we are, and they didn't have food to eat or a home to live in. E-- raised her hand and announced that some people at her house don't have food to eat, either. I just want to take her home and keep her. She is bright, but her fammily circumstances and home life impede her concentration in school, so she is way behind. on off days, she cries without provocation and she acts as though she doesn't hear anything anyone says. On days when she is on, she is involved and adorable. I have set her as one of the students my foster grandmother is supposed to focus on, because that little girl needs and deserves more attention. Sometimes I send her with the special ed teacher, too, even if she doesn't really need it, because it gives her more small-group time. Because of the added attention, she has been doing so much better.

Some students are not that poorly off. One little girl asked today, after I had handed out the gift bags to every child, "Mi' Hay', are you going to give me a present?" I was taken aback. Then I remembered that my kids are 6 or 7 and their world is very self-centered. They are not grateful or humble. And why should they be? I want them to be proud of themselves and I don't give them things or praise for my own benefit. I explained to D-- that the red bag I had just given her was a present from me. "Oh," she said. Maybe I should have wrapped them with bows and names. Oh, well.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Letters to Santa

My class wrote letters to Santa to tell him what they want for Christmas. Here is a sampling of their letters:

If you click on the image, it will show you a bigger version that you can (hopefully) read. My students are just like most first-graders, I think -- the majority want bikes, motorcycles, video games, and/or dolls.

Just so you know, I wrote “Dear Santa Claus,” on the board, and “motorcycle” is the M word on my alphabet strip, which is how they know how to spell that. From top left to bottom right (names have been wiped):

Dear Santa Claus,
I want a skateboard and a shoe and I want a motorcycle.

Dear Santa Claus,
I want an x-box. I love you. I wish the whole world had a clean place.

Dear Santa,
I want a Jeep and a cell phone. Love, F--.

I want a bike. I love Santa. Santa is my friend.

Dear Santa Claus,
I want a present. Choo choo train.

Dear Santa,
I want a bike, Love K--.

Dear Santa Claus,
I want a motorcycle and a bike and some BRATZ dolls. Love, U--.

Dear Santa,
I want a robot and a skateboard and a motorcycle. Some Dragon Ball Z games and a violin and a kite and some shoes. Thank you.

Dear Santa,
I wish a baby doll house and a dog. Love, D--.

I love you. Dear Santa Claus,
I want a bike and some jewelry, and some shoes and some chocolate chip cookies.

Dear Santa, I need a --- for me an my mom.

Dear Santa Claus,
I want a Game Cube. Love, C--.

Catch a Shark

On Friday, we had our spelling test. It was testing words with the /ch/ sound, which was our phonics skill this week. The first word was catch. I got: catch, cash, cath, cacotch, caj, cich, and chach. This tells me that most of my class has beginning and middle sounds down, and that they really need to work on those ending sounds. Eight students spelled all ten words correctly (catch, match, chip, inch, itch, chin, shop, wish, many, how), and four of those spelled all three of our bonus words correctly (sight words that we studied this week but were not on the spelling list) (fly, live, around.)

Those four were my "Superstar Speller" club, and they got to sit next to me at lunch. We told first-grade jokes.
My jokes: What does the clam do on its birthday? Shellebrates! Knock, knock. (Who's there?) Boo. (Boo who?) Don't cry, it's okay!
Their jokes: What did the shark say when it ate the fish? Yum, yum! What lives in the ocean and is really scary? A shark with bloody teeth! What did R-- have for lunch? A butterfly sandwich! What did A-- say to R--? Oh, you so handsome! (Met with a loud "Nuh-uh! She his cousin!") What does C-- do after school? Plays X-Box with a shark!

I don't get them, either. But now I know that sharks are really cool.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Houses in Antarctica

Today wasn't a very good day because a migraine started to set in around lunch time so by the time the kids came back I just wanted to go crawl in a hole. So I was mean to them and that made me even more unhappy.

But this morning, when we were talking about butterflies, K-- raised his hand. "Mi' Hay', why did you tell us there were no people in Antarctica?" I explained how it's really cold there and there wouldn't be anything to eat and you couldn't even really go outside. He said, "Oh. 'Cause when my Daddy and I went by there, I think I saw houses."

Later: at our grade-level meeting, the other first grade teachers and I were talking about bringing in food to share on Friday. I'm a vegetarian. Ms. T-- remembered that and turned on me. "Are you going to bring too-foh?" she asked suspiciously.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Kool-Aid Pickles, a Kwanakah Treat

A Delta delicacy -- the Kool-Aid Pickle! My little girl J-- gave me two of them this morning. Having been raised with at least one foodie parent, I am pretty good about trying food with an open mind. And I've had Kool-Aid Pickle before, at a "Welcome to TFA in the Delta" meeting. It's a strange combination -- "Jamaica" Kool-Aid (red and fruity) and dill pickles. So this morning I ate one and told J-- I'd eat the other one at lunch. (Really I waited to eat it until after I took the picture.)

It's a sweet-and-sour combination. To make a Kool-Aid pickle, dump out half of the brine in the pickle jar and refill it with your favorite flavor of Kool-Aid (preferably Jamaica, because it makes them nice and red.) Wait a few days. Enjoy. I did.


We were talking about seasons. I asked, "What holidays are in winter?" They easily listed Christmas and (with some prompting) Hanukah. "Super!" I said, writing them in a bubble connected to Winter. "Let's add to our list. I can think of another one that comes at around the same time. It's a celebration of African-American family, community, and culture. It starts with /k/." There were no guesses except a tentative "Christmas?" I tried again. "It starts with /kw/." I watched wheels turn. Two hands shot in the air, and before I could call on either one, J-- yelled out, "KWANAKAH!" at the same time as M-- shouted, "KWISTMAS!" The other students quickly got in on the action. "It's Kwanakah." D-- said firmly, as though she had celebrated it her whole life. "KWANAKAH! Yeah, Kwanakah!" shouted the class, looking at my marker hand expectantly.

But I was laughing too hard to write anything.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Climbing Children

We have recently begun to be allowed to take our students outside if we write it into our lesson plan. I take them outside in the afternoons 4 times a week to "observe the weather." In this picture, they have climbed up a jungle gym (to better see the sky, of course.)

If you count carefully, you should be able to see 22 students. The other three lost their privileges for the day and are inside with my assistant.

The Google Game

My father introduced me to a new game over Thanksgiving Break. And although I'd like to keep this blog very teaching-centric, I think it's a good vocabulary game that perhaps someone who teaches high school English (or SAT prep) might be able to use. Actually, if anyone who reads this teaches for Kaplan, as I used to, it would be a great challenge for your students (in addition to their regular Kaplan homework.)

The challenge is to use two regular English words (no proper nouns allowed), search in Google, and come up with no results. This is much harder than it sounds. I won the game today with "caribiner" (a metal clasp used in climbing) and "copacetically." Well, at least I think I won. And if I did, then I secured my victory with the pairs "symbiotic copacetically," "lilliputian copacetically" and "vestral copacetically."

"Copacetically" is actually not defined in Merriam-Webster, though (even though 391 pages come up when you Google it alone, including a movie reivew in the New York Times). "Copacetic" is a word, and it means "very satisfactory." So I think "copacetically" should be a word as well, meaning "very satisfactorily."

And if files that are not html don't count as results, then "caribiner steatopygian" is a winning combination as well.

Anyhow, I have no absolutely fail-safe winners yet. So if you find one, post a comment so that we can wreck it for everyone else who searches that pair of words in the grand Googling game.

Update: evidently the "real" game is to find two words with exactly one result, where both words are linked in blue by Google at the top of the page (indicating that a dictionary definition is available.) It is called "Googlewhacking." Click here for the main Googlewhacking website.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Planning Time

Today I got back an afternoon planning time. It is fantastic. In addition to my twice-weekly 10:00-10:30 planning time, I now have a DAILY 1:00-1:30 planning time. What this means is that my children go to Library, where they get to look at books or watch an educational video. What it really means is that even when I get frustrated with them during math, I get half an hour to simmer down and be cheerful again for Science/Social Studies/dismissal. Honestly, it makes me a MUCH better teacher. Also, I use it for remediation.

Today I pulled J--, M--, and E--, who didn't understand subtraction and have been failing their Mad Math Minutes (well, they would be failing if it was graded.) In a group of three, with no distractions, we did a lesson on subtraction, and all of them understood. Well, M-- and E-- really got it, and J-- got it when he bothered to think about it (very hyperactive). E-- looked up at me, after solving 6 problems using blocks and said, "Mi' Hay,' I know how to do my Mad Math Minute now!" After the lesson was done (about 20 problems, I think) I let them fix their Mad Math Minutes until the rest of the class came back.

M-- rides the bus to Shelby after school, where she waits for her mom in the office. She sometimes sees my roommate Southern Girl. Southern Girl told me that M-- was really excited today because she got "subtracted."

R-- and J-- have both been tryingt o behave more. J-- still loses all motivation as soon as he flips his card once, but I just can't let blatant talking when I'm talking continue. R-- usually understands when he needs to flip his card, and sitting apart from the others has done wonders for his behavior. However, if he goes past one flip, he gets really angry. I have not had him make it to orange yet this week though, which is fantastic.

This weekend GSD roommate and I are going to a teacher conference in Little Rock. It's a Fred Jones training. Fred Jones is a fantastic motivator and behavior controller. He wrote a book called "Tools for Teaching" that is a must-have for anyone who is doing TFA (probably any first year teacher, but especially the untrained ones.) I'm glad to get away even though I just got back. I feel like I need a little bit more of a break than Thanksgiving from my typical Clarksdale-TFA-Delta lifestyle. I also didn't get any "going out" while I was home, so I'm still hankering for some music, some drinks, some people.

Next week in school is a review week because the week after that is nine-week testing. I feel some residual pressure from TFA Institute Training to press on with instruction, not waste the time reviewing, etc. etc. But I disagree. I saw things gel for my students last nine weeks during this review week. We look at all of our sounds, all of our words, all of our reading strategies, and we really put them together. We look at all of our adding and subtracting, fact families and word problems, hundreds board, patterns, graphing and predicting, and we put THEM together. We get the bigger pictures in Science and Social Studies -- ALL weather, ALL seasons, continents and landforms. Fire drills, citizenship, school rules. It will be a good week. I'm going to make it as interactive as possible. As hands-on as possible. We're going to move UP Blooms. We've hopefully gotten from knowledge through comprhension to application in class, with a smattering of analysis. This next week, we are going to analyze, synthesis, and then evaluate, baby -- pick which strategies work best for us in reading and math, and get ready to employ our arsenals on the nine-weeks tests. Woo hoo.