Thursday, February 28, 2008


Hallelujah! Today our class wrote their introductory text for a web article they are going to post on our blog/wiki (haven't worked that part out yet). Most teams were able to put together a draft paragraph in 15 minutes of the who, what, why, where, how, when of their topics. They are working in teams of 3-4 students to develop ideas, format, media, topics, and schedule. This is their first semi-independent foray into writing for an audience as a team. Usually by holiday break, my previous classes of students have produced a team research project. Well, this class has taken a little longer than previous classes to get to a point in group work where they can respectfully disagree, consider an idea outside of their own, and offer positive feedback. I call it "intellectual tug o' war". Some might call it arguing, having a hissy fit, being controlling, or just having a verbal knock down, drag out. Anyway the last few days, teams have actually produced great ideas, positive discussion, and some specific compliments- and that's just between the students. Today they also produced some writing! Content aside, they are learning so much!
image citing:

Friday, February 22, 2008

kid vs. adult perspective

A few days ago Mr. S (tech resource specialist) and I were facilitating our class' development of a website. After an intro to blogs, wikis, websites, and media, teams of third grade students brainstormed ideas about what types of things they wanted to share and put on their site. One of my instructional visions was to put stuff on there that parents, families, and other elementary students would like to read, i.e. news about curriculum, books they're reading, events going on in school. You know, typical newsletter stuff. Our students however had different ideas. They expertly came up with the following main topics: games (electronic, strategy, and outdoor), winners (of student council spirit days, local taekwondo competitions, jump rope competitions), cooking (featured recipes, surveys of fave foods, contests), poetry (original, fave poems, fave poets), and fun stuff (jokes, riddles, you know... fun stuff). I had forgotten how creative and capable students could be when left with something they really want to work on. Their topics quickly reminded me.

more winter poems

Seems appropriate to share more winter poems on a "snow day".

Days of Winter
Waking in the cold snow
And freezing slush, Seeing
dim light that used to be
So bright
Snd now it’s a quiet
And silent in the dark. I can
Barely see the white of the
Trees and a leaf drifting in
The sky and the last thing
I heard was splash.
by k.t.

The Feeling of Winter
White cold snow drifting down upon
My face making me want to freeze.
Freezing cold wind blowing slush, snow
On the roof and splashing to the ground.
Drip drip drip drip drip drip.
Then as the quiet trees dance in the nice wind animals hide
In their shelter in the dark until spring
With the wind, whoosh.
Then suddenly
A bright light came, animals came out.
Spring is here. Happiness is everywhere.
by m.l.

The snow in winter is cold.
The wind chill in winter is freezing.
Also when it snows it may rain, and cause
Snow to slush. In the silent nights, the snow
Is drifting very quietly and also in the dark there
Is always a bright light and that light makes a bright
Reflection in the ice to a leaf.
by a.g.

Winter Snow
White snow
cold air
white shy silent place.
Everywhere is a quiet white day.
by j.a.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

memories, mobility, and random thoughts

I went to elementary school in California in the sixties. I have a multitude of fond and obscure memories of kindergarten through sixth grade. I should. I attended six elementary schools. I remember my two kindergarten teachers, my awesome first grade teacher, Miss Mattos who knew how much I loved to read. I remember her crying the day President Kennedy was shot. We were coloring mimeographed pictures of Thanksgiving turkeys when the news was announced on the intercom and my heart was breaking for her. I later loved that my first school was named for famed modern architect, Richard J. Neutra. The military housing I lived in could have been designed by him. I remember never eating lunch in an indoor cafeteria. In California it is warm most of the year, especially in the desert where I attended 2nd and part of 3rd grade. Cafeterias were outside in all my schools. They were covered as were our walkways. Covered areas like this ironically were considered square footage and when a school outgrew its classroom space the school often couldn't qualify for new space due to its "covered" space. Weird. I spent 3rd grade in three different schools. Somewhere in that mobility I had to teach myself multiplication facts and states and capitals because I missed all that in the moving. In fourth grade Ms. Sally Saville read "Island of the Blue Dolphins" and that story inspired me to create a mosaic of a cormorant that year and I learned how smart girls could be. That was the same year I was selected to work in the cafeteria. The weeks I served my classmates (remember Wacky Cake?) I got to eat hot lunch in the cafeteria free and wear a hair net! A big deal since I brought lunch everyday. No way we'd have kids serving our yummy USDA food now. That year I ran for Student Council Scribe (secretary) and said my whole campaign speech in one big breath, I was so nervous. In fifth grade I had Mr. Pedersen who sang Norwegian songs and encouraged us to sing loudly even if we couldn't sing. Sixth grade meant two more schools and frankly, teachers I can't really remember. Hormones? I do remember the SRA reading program, tetherball, cliques, dances, and science camp with banana slugs in the Santa Cruz mountains. The constants in all the moving: recess, tetherball, good books, being new for a week or so, recess, eating outdoors, finding ways to fit in (usually recess), and learning how to make friends 101 ways.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Our district held a reception for newly minted and research-sharing National Board Certified Teachers last week. I attended as a newly minted. Guests were congratulated and asked to recall a special teacher and share with tablemates what made that teacher so memorable. Great stories abounded. Each teacher mentioned seemed to have the ability to bring out the best in their students. A premise of the National Board for Teaching is effective teachers help students achieve no matter the challenge because they have high expectations for their students. The common thread woven through all our stories was in fact, the high expectation placed on us by those master teachers.

The teacher I remembered immediately- Virginia Hamilton (not the author) of Goodrich Jr. High School, Lincoln, Nebraska. I had her for 7th grade English. She was passionate about mythology. She wasn't chic like our mini-skirted Miss Adams, who was a runway model in the off-season. She wasn't hip and cool like Mr. H., our long-haired, liberal minded student teacher in social studies who let us call him Bruce and who was subsisting on $1.00 a day for food because he wanted to experience what people below the poverty level (this was 1969) were experiencing. She wasn't smart-alecky and witty like Miss Michaels our crazy art teacher. She was a little corny, middle-aged, suited, hairsprayed, had a high pitched voice, and had the nerve to insist we do our readings (yikes) no matter how archaic the language of the text (Beowulf...double yikes). She had the ability to light Olympic torches in our literature-feeble, middle school-aged brains. We read Beowulf and pictured Grendel, the great hall, and drank non-fermented mead. Just thinking it could be fermented was tantalizing. We read Greek and Roman mythology and learned about love, scandal, hubris and tragedy in the world of gods, goddesses, and humans. Tabloid news before tabloid news. We found that year in English class interesting, relevant, and unexpectedly fun. We rewarded Mrs. Hamilton's efforts by naming the mascot of our newly opened school, "The Olympians" in her honor. As she reminded us, Goodrich was perched on a hill (Mt. Olympus to us) called Belmont whose name had Latin/Roman origins. It's almost 40 years later and these images are fresh. Her lessons and passion are fresh.

As teachers it's not often we get feedback on our abilities from our biggest audience, our students. Here's your chance. Share your story about a great teacher who left you with indelible memories. Comment on!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

gifted comments

My third grade class is a diverse group. Name the category: socio-economic, ethnic, academic, behavior, language, sense of humor... and the word diverse fits. The demographic breakdown: 18 students; 50 % Hispanic, 11% African-American, 39% Asian-Pacific Islander, 56% free and reduced lunch. All but four primarily speak another language at home with their families and are English language learners. This data doesn't seem significant considering our school demographics: 42% Hispanic, 15% African American, 26%Asian Pacific Islander, 61 % Free and reduced lunch, 53% Limited English Proficiency, 31 % mobility. That is until you know the class is a self-contained class for high ability learners. Some might call it a gifted class. We're steering away from this label. We think it's a placement that is just providing what kids need. We're providing intellectual stimulation and nurturing. The nurturing part is really important as we consider the experiences of our students or maybe I should say, the lack of experiences. Tamara Fisher, a teacher of gifted students at an Indian reservation in Montana in her blog, Unwrapping the Gifted, describes well the difficulty of recognizing gifted behaviors in students who don't have typical middle class American experiences and resources. She also describes how it can be done.

We wanted our high ability classes (one each 3rd, 4th, 5th grade) to reflect our general school population. It began with efforts, school-wide to raise awareness of student behaviors that indicate giftedness. These can be demonstrated by students even though English language is emerging, reading is below grade level, or behavior challenges are present. We've had to swerve from the indicators of giftedness we grew up with, i.e. high test scores and great grades to looking for giftedness as demonstrated behaviors. Test scores and grades are a part of our criteria, just not the only criteria. Potential giftedness might show in a student through their exceptional ability to learn, exceptional application of knowledge, exceptional creative/productive thinking, and exceptional motivation to succeed*. Specific behaviors include frequent translating for a parent, learning a new language at a rapid pace, persistence with challenges, high interest and passion in a subject, quickly learns and adapts to new cultures, highly developed reasoning, problem solving, keen sense of humor, fluency and flexibility in thinking, highly curious, advanced connections... and more.

Our district provides a great system for identification for our gifted and talented programs. Our adminstration supports any staff development we need to further our knowledge about how to serve our underrepresented populations in exceptional programs. Together with the grassroots efforts of our classroom teachers recognizing, referring, and defending their students abilities, we have been successful in providing our students access to programs that would have been unavailable to them in the past based on a narrow criteria for giftedness. Along with all our work to provide for emergent learners in our school it feels good to know we are nurturing learners who are ready for more challenge.

*from our district's Gifted Behavior Rating Scale

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

winter poems

I'm taking a new approach to teaching poetry as a genre this year. I am exposing third grade students to poetry throughout the year instead of throughout a three to four week period. I am a little behind many of my incredible colleagues who already drank from the well (I want to write a poem about this phrase sometime!) and have been teaching poetry all year for awhile. Our class is now at the point in poetry workshop where they are writing their own poems. For this first effort, I used "poetry sketching". Students used a list of words to create a poem. The list which they helped create: snow, slush, quiet, white, cold, freezing, quiet, splash, trees, drifting, dark, bright. Stay warm and enjoy!

Soft Snow
Cold snow splashing quietly, drifting silently through the air
White freezing snow covering
The ground
As it’s melting, leaving
Nothing but slush
Brightly dripping off the trees
By E.W.

Unusual Winter Silence
It sure is unusual, in this silent winter cold,
To many snowflakes in the sky, waiting to unfold.
It sure is white, in the surprising winter season,
When the trees are surely beaten. Why, is it so dark,
So early in the day, when it is bright, any other
Day? Many days have gove have gone by, and the
Sky is too fully supplied by snow.
By T.S

Silent Winter
Silent white snow slushing
Cold tree freezing. Night
Is getting longer. But stars
Are still brightening.
By I.A.

Bright white cold snow as I step into
The slush, splash! Quiet silent trees drifting in the wind freezing in the dark
Cold forest.
By C. M.