not quite ready for the S.A.T.s

I've been testing every morning for the last three days. It's a district assessment for reading and it involves a lot of phonemic awareness activities, like: "Say 'nice'. Now say it again without the /n/". I have to record all the answers on this fancy Palm Pilot which then uploads all the student data into the computer.

It's a worthwhile test, actually, and it gives a pretty accurate picture of the students' reading abilities (I can't say that for all tests, unfortunately).

Usually the general ed. teachers are supposed to administer this test to their own students. But I don't know what the district is thinking! They give us a deadline, and then they're all: "Yeah, just pull one student at a time to the back of the room while the other students are doing something else."

Umm.... First of all this test takes 30 to 40 minutes to administer PER CHILD. Secondly, have the geniuses up at the district level never spent time with children? Especially young children? They are not independent and quiet enough to "do something else" while the teacher tests.

So the first grade teacher that I work with is pretty sure that I'm some sort of saint because I volunteered to do all the testing for this one. I really don't mind -- it's kind of a nice break from routine.

I feel bad for the kids that I know are really low, though. I have to give them a list of words to read, and even if they can't, they still have to try. I say "do your best", and if I sense that they are getting discouraged, I say something like "we just want to know which words to practice this year."

I was testing one such student yesterday. I gave him the word list to read (it starts out: get, cut, bump...). And he said:

"I don't know. I don't know. I don't know."

So I gave him my spiel about doing your best and just finding out what words he needs to practice. Then he turns to me and says:

"Yeah, I need to practice these before I go to college!"

While I was busy laughing on the inside, he added: "'Cuz I'm going to college next year!"

not that i'm a perfectionist or anything

Fine motor skills can be so elusive in the first grade.

We have hand sanitizer bottles placed around the classroom in an ever-losing battle against germs. We tell the kids: "Just one pump!" after they sneeze or pick their nose or something. But even though we give them this direction, they somehow manage to form a puddle of hand sanitizer in the palm of their hands. Then they start rubbing it together, splashing it onto themselves and others standing nearby. Pretty soon it's dripping down their elbows....


Obviously I know better than to give them all white glue (you know, in those Elmers bottles with the orange twist tops). I thought I would be safe with stick glue. And, to be fair, maybe about half of the first graders can use a glue stick without ensuing disaster. But the other half? They twist that glue all the way up out of the container so that they have all two inches of it exposed. Then they press really hard on their paper, smooshing the glue and breaking the stick part. Then when they're done (and smooshed glue is coating the sides of their stick), they just smash down the cap over top, not thinking to twist the glue back down into its' container.

I'm thinking a few mini-lessons are in order....

eating in class

I was in seventh grade. I was sitting in Science class, and it was quite early in the morning. It was still dark out, so it must have been sometime in the winter.

I forget what the teacher's point was.... all I remember is that she had a 2-Liter bottle of Sprite sitting unopened on her desk.

She picked it up and held it in front of us. "Who can tell me some of the properties of Sprite?" she asked.

No one answered.

"Come on, now. What does it taste like?"

I raised my hand: "I think it would be easier to answer this question if we all had a taste of the Sprite."

To my utter surprise, she reluctantly agreed (it may have been all of the excited cheering coming from the rest of the students). And we all had a cup of pop that morning.

I honestly couldn't tell you anything else about seventh grade science. I don't even remember that teacher's name! But I do remember the day we talked about the properties of Sprite.

Taste is a powerful thing, and I hope to incorporate more of it into my lessons! Maybe not quite to this extent (I don't have the leeway to veer too far from our basal reader series), but maybe in smaller doses....

The teacher who had my kids last year read this book to them:

Then she did a whole week's unit on pumpkin stuff and at the end they had a pumpkin tasting: pumpkin soup, pumpkin donuts, pumpkin seeds, and pumpkin bread!

If you ask my kids today what they remember about Kindergarten, they will all start yelling about pumpkin food! I'm thinking of creating a literature unit on the sequel to that book, and incorporating a "tasting" as well!

Do you like to incorporate taste into your lessons? How do you do it?

living my very own chick flick

When I was younger, I didn't dream of my wedding, I dreamed of The Man. What would his name be? Had I already met him? Would he be good looking? (As it turns out: Max, No, and Most Definitely).

We've been married for eight years now..... and it all started with a nerdy first impression, a cake fight, and the World War 1 Trenches in France. You can read all about it here and find out why both of our fathers were 12 inches away when we had our very first kiss!!

Thanks to Gwen in Love for featuring our love story!

for my next trick, i'll show them ctrl-alt-delete

Every Tuesday we have a grade level planning meeting after school. I work with the first grade teachers, who are all lovely dears and a whole lot of fun to work with. Their computer skills, however? Not so up-to-date.

So I was showing them how to create a mock district math benchmark test on the computer. A sample test question may have two boxes - some with bunnies, some with dogs, and then they'll ask you to bubble in which box has a greater number of animals. So I was doing a lot of formatting to get clipart into text boxes and such things as my colleagues looked on.

I didn't realize just how little they knew about computer stuff until they got ALL EXCITED when I inserted a page break to create another new page ("You mean you can just start a new page whenever you want to?"). And they almost threw a celebration when I showed them Ctrl+A to highlight an entire document!

Who knew it would take so little to make me look so good?

it's not every day you can literally take a bow

I was teaching contractions to my little group of first graders on Friday. We were starting with the basics: it is = it's; what is = what's; he is = he's.

First of all, do you know how hard it is to teach this to a bunch of kids with hearing loss who can't hear that final "s"? I was even wearing the microphone/FM system which sends my voice directly into their hearing aids, and still. I had to show them with my lips.

So anyways, I found this great song via Carl's Corner. It's set to the tune of the Hokey Pokey:

You pop some letters out!
To put apostrophes in!
You pop some letters out!
That's the way you must begin.
To do contraction action is as easy as can be!
Come on and dance with me! Yeah!

Totally cute right? I sang it for them the first time around, as I modeled taking out the "i" and replacing it with an apostrophe. As soon as I finished the last note of the song, all six of them burst into genuine, thunderous applause!

It was so different than the eye rolling I would have expected from my fifth graders last year, it caught me completely off-guard!

I do love me some first graders!!

honey, there's nothing there to sniff...

Hands down, the worst part of my day is walking the dog when I come home from work.

I get home about an hour before Max does, so I'm the one who has to run/walk Barney around the block. I love him dearly, but three factors prevent me from enjoying this time:

1. It's sweltering hot here, and I hate to sweat.
2. I'm too tired.
3. I HATE HATE HATE running (and he does need to run to get all of that energy out).

So a few days ago, I had rounded the last corner of the block, next to this house with this mean looking German Shepherd. Let's call it Shep.

Shep is very scary. Every time it sees Barney, it creeps up and starts galloping toward us silently (I always note the lack of playful barking). Shep lives behind a chain link fence, and I always move a little faster when we go by.

Well this time, it was so intent on following Barney (TEETH BARED), it wormed itself under the chain link fence. So much for the barrier separating us from sure death.

Everything happened in slow motion. Its' head was under the fence, eyes bulging with the effort. Barney and I were frozen in place. Then its' whole body was out. Then I was screaming at the top of my lungs: "NO! NO! NO! STOP! DON'T EAT MY BABY!!!" Barney immediately threw his ears down and put his tail between his legs.

Suddenly, Shep was upon us........... and the worst it did was sniff Barney's butt.

I was still terrified though, and I pulled Barney around to the owner's front door. I pounded until the owners came out, and they helped greatly by restraining Shep's out-of-control butt-sniffing.

"You'll have to excuse 'Lil Bit', she's a little crazy right now 'cuz she's in heat."

do try this at home

One of the only worthwhile nuggets of info I got out of my Saturday training (and from the looks of things in the comments, I should count myself lucky for even getting a nugget!), was something called Practice Academy.

You may have heard of Practice Academies before. Ray L. Levy is the guy that came up with this super simple concept. He wrote a book about it and I bet he's rich now. [Note to self: come up with super simple concept and write a book. Retire ahead of schedule.] I happen to like this idea for a number of reasons:

It offers an unemotional way to deal with misbehavior.
It can work in the classroom or at home.
It can work with Kindergartners up to 12th graders.

So if you're interested, read on. Disclaimer: this lengthy explanation may bore you who do not have to deal with children on a day-to-day basis.

Step 1: Name that Practice Academy
When a child misbehaves, calmly say what the behavior is telling him he needs. Figure out what behavior you'd like to see instead and start your sentence with "Your behavior is telling me you need a ____ Practice Academy." Ex: "Uh-oh! Your behavior is telling me that you need a 'coming in the room and starting your class work' Practice Academy."
Be careful in how you say it: unemotionally, or with a tinge of sadness. Never as a threat!

Step 2: Pick a time
Pick a time that's convenient for you but NOT for the child. He needs to practice until he's mastered the skill AND is bored! The best time to get his attention is when he'd rather be doing something else (like during recess, art, gym, after school, during passing period, or during a working lunch)

Step 3: Practice, Practice, Practice
Practice repeatedly (5 to 8 times or more) until he has mastered the skill AND is bored.

Step 4: Be patient
Don't expect the child to have mastered the desired behavior or skill after one Practice Academy . The Academy  may need to be repeated several times. Note: Only have them practice when they show the problem behavior.

Here is how a Practice Academy might go:

Problem behavior: your student continually blurts out in class.

1. You respond: "Uh-oh! What your behavior is telling me is that you need a "keeping your thoughts to yourself" Practice Academy. Don't worry, I have time to let you practice it this afternoon during recess."

2. At recess, let him know that it's time for his Academy (the more favored the activity, the greater impact it will have)

3. With your student at his desk (and no one else in the room) you pretend you are teaching.

4. Every 20 seconds or so, he is to say out loud at first "Boy, I have something really funny to say. Hold it! This isn't a good time. I'll save it for recess."

5. As the practice continues, he says this comment quieter and quieter until he is whispering it to himself. Basically, he's teaching himself self-control.

6. After a few "self-comments" you can tell him he is doing a good job.

7. When the Academy is over, you can say "Nice job, and if there is a problem tomorrow your behavior will be telling me that you need another Practice Academy."

If the student starts whining about how boring and awful this is, agree with him and say something about how you wish he could already do the desired behavior so you didn't have to practice together!

What do you think? Would this work in your classroom (or in your home)?

fake it till you make it, right?

I had an all-day training at the school district this past Saturday. Before you go feeling all sorry for me, you should know that I opted to take this mandatory training on a weekend so that I could have the entire week of Thanksgiving off (that Monday and Tuesday are professional development days - which you have to go to unless you got in your hours during the summer or the weekends).

So future Sarah will be very pleased.

But Saturday Sarah was pretty ticked off. Especially when I got to the training (on behavior management) and realized that it was going to be a waste of time. The presenter was saying things that were painstakingly obvious and common sense as if they were GROUNDBREAKING NEWS!!!

At one point, I considered raising my hand and asking if I could be excused from this training on account of I Went to College.

But I didn't have the guts.

Finally.... fifteen minutes before the seven hours were up, I heard something useful. I'll save that for a later post because I suspect that this piece of behavior management could be useful to parents too.

I did want to share this video, however. I'm sure you're one of the four million plus people who have already seen this, but if you haven't, you're in for a treat!

I think every once in while, I should stand in front of the mirror and chant:

"I love my school!"
"I love my district!"
"I love my trainings!"
"I love my meetings!"
"I love my paperwork!"

Summer regrets

As I go about my business around the house, a number of ideas occur to me:
I really need to frame that watercolor art for the kitchen.
This hallway wall is bare. Wouldn't it be cool to make some kind of picture collage of Max and me through the years?
I want an inspiration board above the computer in the office.
I've got that world map, now I just need to mount it above my craft desk.
I want to do something with this big empty space in the bedroom.
And then I caught myself thinking: "It's like I need a big chunk of time with no responsibilities so I can work on these projects to my heart's content."

maybe some ice cream will bring it back

The first grade germs have just about done me in. Both my team teacher and I are fighting off major colds and losing our voices, and today neither of us could talk very well.

It's one thing to sound hoarse and try to teach (sounds like raspy squeaking). It's quite another to try to explain the science activity when the janitor has the wet vacuum on INSIDE the classroom to clean up a toilet overflow.

As it turns out, I'm a less effective teacher when I can't make myself heard. Kinda like how ballerinas need their toes, painters need their eyes, and mimes need their hands.

A teacher needs her voice!

make it a great one!

Dedicated to all of my teacher colleagues in Michigan (and anyone else out there who's going back today):

thank you, mrs. m

I liked my first grade teacher when I was going to school in California. I really did. 

But there were two or three first grade teachers at my school, and I remember being very jealous at the time of my friend in Mrs. M's class. Mrs. M's class was cool because the kids in there got to do awesome things like sprinkle on their self-control!

When they would sit at carpet time and everyone was a little wiggly, Mrs. M would tell the students to "sprinkle on your self-control", making this fluttering motion with her hand above her head.

I was suddenly reminded of this right in the middle of teaching a science lesson in the general ed. first grade class on Friday. We were studying the five senses, and in this activity, we were passing around mystery items in paper bags. The students were to reach into the bag, feel the object and guess what it was based on their sense of touch.

As I'm standing in front of all 23 of them, explaining the expectations for this activity, I had a sudden and disquieting vision of half the class peeking into the bag, and the other half yelling "THEY CHEATED!!!!"

So I channeled Mrs. M and told them all that it was going to be very tempting to take a peek in the bag but that we were going to sprinkle on our self-control [insert hand motion] to help us. 

It worked like a charm!

i hope i didn't just jinx it all

Things have been going well. Suspiciously well.

I'm the only one of the three deaf ed. teachers that has an AWESOME general ed team to work with. The first grade teacher that I work with is so nice and so easy to get along with. She's in her sixties and she's still a fantastic teacher! We plan for and teach Science together and so far it's been super fun.

The mandatory lesson plan format that we need to turn in to the principal every week has changed so that it's actually a working document I can teach from! No more double lesson planning!!

I get to work with an aide this year! Two adults in the room for six children during Language Arts.... it doesn't get much better than that!

I'm on top of my data collection (to chart progress) for the first time in.... oh, ever.

I like each of my kids and there are NO behavior problems that are beyond me!!

So far, it's shaping up to be a great year... go knock on some wood for me!
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