Moments When Grading Pays Off 2

Grades are due this week. We just finished a unit in Social Studies (insert brow-wiping motion followed by a "phew"). So, like always, I have collected their notebooks/masterpieces in order to scrutinize and put a letter on an item that may or may not show actual learning or knowledge. But, in all of these long days of grading, there's bound to a needle in the haystack. And I believe, by golly, that I found it today. The instruction was to create a symbol for each product. This student chose to go a different route.

For a blast from the past, previous notebook grading produced this.


Shout Out

I was pulling out of the parking lot of school today when I saw a student, holding a skateboard, walking down the sidewalk with 2 of his friends. My window was down, so I stuck my arm out to wave furiously at this student, as he was in my class last year.

I shouted "HI, _____!!" out of the window.

He waved frantically back with a huge smile on his face. As I continued to drive off, he shouted "I GOT AN A ON MY SCIENCE TEST!!"

I, of course, shouted a response back. But no response could have expressed how proud of him I was. For the A. For making strides this year after a rough one last year (he lost his grandmother, and they were close). And for screaming it at the top of his lungs among his peers - which - at his age- sometimes takes more bravery than we know.


What She Said

We were at different meetings on the same topic in completely different schools. And yet, I could quote the same exact things. And instead of trying to say it better, I will just post a coworkers blog.

Find out what we did for 1.5 hours after school here.

Perhaps when I can speak about this experience without fuming, I will add my own 2 cents.


Atlantic City

I'm struggling with how to give this story it's appropriate voice - a voice to match the spontaneity of the conversation. But here it goes...

Today we were meeting with our first grade buddies for the second time this year. Knowing how my students have been behaving this week - I could only imagine trying to corral them into the building and all the way to the other side to reach the first grade classroom. Imagine 23 monkeys being led through a banana plant. Pure chaos. I decided to sit them down and give them a "talk."

I will spare the full transcript of the discussion. However, at one point I was explaining to them what they would be doing - decorating a shared notebook with their buddy - for future notes back and forth. One of my students - Super H (name he called himself in a story) - quietly raised his hand. Background on him: He's a bug saver. He goes through my trashcans at the end of the day to pull out all recyclables. Here he is at the end of today:

So, Super H raised his hand and asked if he could, on the notebook, draw a picture of a shark. Knowing that he's fascinated by sharks, and imagining a fourth grade boy's vision of a shark, I said it was fine as long as there was no blood and the shark wasn't eating anything, or anyONE. In which he replies "Sharks are the most MISUNDERSTOOD CREATURE! They are harmless." We calm down a bit and then I begin answering other random student questions. Then Super H raises his hand again and asks "What if I draw the shark in a feeding frenzy." Not knowing what to say, I put it out for the class with a swift "Discuss with the class how to make that school appropriate." Students practically jump at the chance to add their 2 cents - and hands shoot up all over the room. Super H calls on another student who said "What if your shark is eating HOT DOGS! YEAH!" And then the class claps at the idea. CLAPPING. I mean, I'm greatful for the support, but CLAPPING OVER sharks eating hot dogs.... hm...

So Super H strokes his chin... literally... and there's a hush over the crowd...

"Where would the hot dogs come from?" he finally says.

The boy next to him excitedly shouts out "ATLANTIC CITY!"

In which a large portion of my class echos in agreement. "Yeah! Atlantic City!"

I am not sure, but I'm pretty sure that my class went on a summer trip. And now they all have some inside joke about AC and hotdogs. I hate being left out.


Why He Had To Be Quiet

Today I was leading a guided reading group using the book Sun and Spoon by Kevin Henkes. You don't really need to know the book, other than that it's a good one that my students (and myself) were able to find many connections with. I am not ashamed that I had such a powerful connection in my pre-reading of the book, that it brought me to tears. I had to share it with my group.

Well, at the end of our conversation we were discussing some of our connections, and a member of my group shared that the book reminded him of his grandfather. And then, completely off topic, the student begins to share one of the most vivid memories of his grandfather. The snippet of his memory led to what is written below. Here is what he shared today, paraphrased by me:

My family lived in El Salvador, but my dad and grandpa already lived here, in our state. But the rest of my family needed to get here, so we left our house in El Salvador. We left our pets and some family that were not strong and some of our stuff. We didn't have a car or even a bicycle to ride. We really wanted to come here so that we could learn and grow up and get good jobs. We walked all the way here. It took us 10 days. We stopped at these houses along the way and they fed us and made us their family for a day. At this one house my dad and grandpa were waiting for us, and he (grandpa) told me jokes and stories even though I was really tired from walking. We had to be really quiet when we were walking because if people found us they would send us back to El Salvador because they would think we were coming here for bad things. But we are good people and we wanted to work hard. We spent all of our money to get here. We had to cross this river once, but some of my family couldn't swim, so we had to pay these men to carry us, to swim us, across the river. After 10 days, we were at our new home.

He was 5 years old.


20 Minutes of Attention

They listened, and then they made the most profound statements afterwards. It was worth the watch, for all of them.


Update on the Mafia and More

It's true. The job written on purple post it. Paid for using goldfish. Sigh. Just call my classroom the Goldfish Mafia. Will do dirty work for miniature cheesy fish, yes we will. In fact, I don't think I should take so lightly that I find goldfish cracker carcasses around my room after the students leave. Perhaps it's a path to the next "job." Ho, hum... guess we'll find out soon enough.

If we're playing a game of Heads-up, 7-up, and we come up missing a few thumbs.... I'll know where to look.

On another note...

Have I ever mentioned how I hate indoor recess? Slushing them through the puddles and rain, only to track the drippiness into our room. Dampness surrounding, squeaky shoes, wet papers... And then to play games indoors when all they want to do is sprint around a green field getting all sweaty and gross. Somehow Mancala doesn't quite fill the shoes of Death by Four Square. (A new, brutal game of our sweet Four Square... apparently the students thought the older version was too dull.)

It's also about 10 minutes into indoor recess that I realize that many, most, of my students haven't played board games. Ever. Which makes the social interaction during these games that much more interesting. This is possibly where the hostility for the Goldfish Mafia stems from. Hm... I should rethink allowing them to play the Game of Life. Goldfish-paid hits and peg-children in a little plastic car just don't mix.


For Hire

This morning I did my usual stroll around my classroom. You know the one... where you know you have a purposeful list of things to complete, but instead you must, simply MUST put that stapler over on the other side of the room... IMMEDIATELY.

As I was find a new home for said stapler, I meandered past a students desk. This particular student has found her own learning spot, and her desk happens to face a wall. When I try to move her desk to a more accessible learning spot, the student huffs and scrapes her desk & chair across the room, banging everything and everyone out of her way in the process.

Lately this student has been caught "handling" the students on the playground.

Exhibit A: Student approaches me with another, much smaller student, asking for the smaller student to use the restroom while out at recess one day. I say "Take a friend," knowing that he will be that partner for the bathroom. As they walk away, I see her, towering over him, with her hand firmly gripping the back of his neck - keeping him in a straight path directly to the bathroom. As I watched them walk out of my hollering-range, I see him try to stray from the path for a moment, and then watch the towering student grab his arms and pull him back onto her imaginary track.

Exhibit B: She was caught yesterday picking up another student - male - on the playground. As she picked him up - face to face - he wrapped his legs around her at waist level. After all four teachers stared in amazement or shock for a moment, we then had the right mind to go over and give the "appropriate behavior" talk... again.

So, back to the meandering past her desk....

I see a post-it note on the wall. Not in her handwriting, I think... but I haven't totally eliminated the possibility.

The note says "Push _________ up against the wall at lunch."

A gentle reminder of the bullying she would partake in at a later date and time.
I took the post-it for a later discussion with the student.

Then I started thinking... if someone had written it - then that would mean that they were asking another student to do their dirty work... to be the heavy hand at lunch.

I was chewing on this as the students were arriving. Within 10 minutes, I walked past the student's desk again... only to find what I can only assume is payment for the post-it deed...

A small ziplock bag of goldfish crackers with a note - a purple post-it - that says: For _______. And a smiley face signal as a "go ahead."

So... I'm still thinking it through.... Hired with goldfish or not?


Reason 843 I Love My School


I teach fourth grade. Today, as I was rushing into a meeting, I stopped in to talk to a fabulous teacher of first grade (used to be fifth and fourth as well!). I am desperately seeking assistance, and Jenny instantly came to mind. In my few moments, I spouted out my agony over one student in my class for the sole purpose of opening a dialogue, selfishly hoping to leach out any grand ideas she may have to help with my current concern, er, opportunity for growth and learning.

I have a sweet new student from Honduras. In the past few weeks I have gotten to know him a bit, and in my broken spanish I have managed to direct him on our classroom procedures and typical American customs such as how it's not okay to tickle people while in line for specials. He has grown socially, and through that growth has become more willing to accept his learning deficits and successes with pride and a sense of accomplishment. So far.

As we have been working with this student, we made observations....
- he will mimic those around him, answering using the same word or thought
- he claims he's 11, no, 10, no, 11....
- he can't tell us when his birthday is
- he can not read to you, but is very good at echoing as he is read to

I decided, one day, to pull out some calendar words that were written in Spanish to see if I could solve the birthday mystery. I had a calendar, and sentence strips with the words written on them - in Spanish. To begin, I asked him to read some of the words.

This is when the emergency brakes screeched. I pulled out picture flashcards I have, and had him identify the picture verbally. Then I showed him the word under the picture and asked him to read it. Silence.

I found out, in this moment, that Mr. November can't read. Or write. In Spanish or English. In fact, he wasn't able to identify the letters of the spanish alphabet. I wanted to hug him and tell him that we were going to try our best to help, and how on earth has he gotten this far without something, someone, anyone... asking him to read. Or write. Someone, something, some system has failed him.

So I could step back and think, I pulled up a great website that has the spanish alphabet, and when you click on the letters it says the name of the letter out loud - which he was happy to repeat, and had a wonderful time listening to and repeating...

and all the while I was thinking.

He is in fourth grade. I'm his fourth grade teacher. I desperately want to help him. But he is on the older side of our usual "age." I'm looking for activities, lessons, games, anything and everything that can help him, but will also not be a blow to his ego. He is very conscious of surroundings and wants to be doing what everyone around him is doing... so even if it's not all of the time, I want him to be sharing in our classroom experiences...