Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Our Thanksgiving Feast!
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Happy Thanksgiving

We had a delightful day today.

We are working hard to finish up the City Wildlife unit so that we can go on to Imagination. We reviewed long vowel sound patterns, then poured over the intriguing Superheroes selection - the "superheroes" are rats and racoons! - to develop skills like distinguishing main idea and detail, fact and opinion, and fiction and nonfiction. Students also reviewed adverbs, an important skill for their unit test next month.

After recess, we had PE while parent volunteers set up our Thanksgiving Feast. Then the students lined up for a wonderful meal of turkey, dressing, potatoes, macaroni and cheese, and wonderful desserts. They were hungry and they really wolfed it down!

After lunch, we reviewed homework and then I sent them off while I endured a particularly dull meeting. Sigh.

NEXT WEEK, conferences will start. They begin on Wednesday and will conclude the following Tuesday. You will receive a reminder notice Monday for the day and time you requested.

Homework: Finish up any unfinished work from this morning.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Thanksgiving Schedule

Just a quick post today to remind everybody about the schedule.

Tomorrow, November 23 will be a shortened day as usual. Parents in rooms 17 and 19 and working together to host a Thanksgiving Feast for the students. We have asked for a 5 dollar donation to cover the cost. This will be a full dinner with "all the fixins". Please don't sent your child with a lunch tomorrow! In fact, they probably won't even want much supper.

After lunch tomorrow, and before students are picked up, the school is having a toxic gas emergency drill. This is district mandated. The students MAY NOT leave the room for ANY REASON during the drill. That includes going to the bathroom. This isn't my idea or my rule. I hope it goes smoothly....

Wednesday, November 24 is a MINIMUM DAY (students are picked up at 12:35).

Of course there is no school on Thursday and Friday of this week.

Homework: Complete the digrams and abbreviations worksheets. Do the crossword puzzle. Complete the multiplication practice paper.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Our Concept / Question board, filled with ideas and queries.
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Constructing knowledge

One of the "hottest" ideas in education today is called constructivism. The idea here is that students do not come to school completely devoid of any knowledge, but instead have a wealth of information that they can need to add to and reflect upon as they learn. Constructivism also stressed the communal nature of knowledge, the idea that we know things in common with other people and learn from our friends and peers.

Open Court Reading contains a strong element of constructivism. I admit that I did not really appreciate this at first, and it was one of the reasons it took me a long time to warm up to Open Court. One of the principal ways that this is done in the Open Court series is through the Concept/Question Board. Here students write down what they know about the theme and what they want to learn about the theme. We regularly "visit" the board to check what we have learned so far in our theme. Students have become quite good at adding new concepts to the board and in answering questions that other students have posted on the board. In this way, we try to avoid a breathless rush from one story to the next and instead focus on the broad questions of the theme.

Homework: Practice the lullaby on recorder. Study the spelling words. LAST WEEK'S TEST WAS DISAPPOINTING! Finish the multiplication worksheet.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Returning to School

After being out for a couple days, it was nice to come back and see the wonderful faces of the students in room 19! I really was quite sick on Monday, and wasn't feeling so great today, and the children was amazingly cooperative and helpful. I really am fortunate to have such a wonderful class!

We did some follow up today on the story they had been reading about city birds. Urban Roosts is not quite as hard a piece of reading as City Lots had been, but it still contained a lot of information packed into a few pages. Much of the hard work on the story the students did with the two substitute teachers. They read it, discussed it, and completed a study guide on it. Today we reviewed those study questions, and we did an art activity based on the story. I'll post one or two of the pictures tomorrow.

Students completed learning all of the lowercase cursive letters today. They will need to start practicing these a lot, particularly learning how to connect some of the letters. Cursive will start appearing in the next few weeks as a regular homework assignment. We also started to learn a new song for singing and for the recorder.

The big thing we did today was to start multiplication of two digits by one digit, e.g., 24 x 6. This is hard for the children even when they know their times tables. They will tend to make a couple predictable mistakes. The most common is to fail to regroup properly. You'll know this problem when they tell you that 24 x 6 = 1224. What they've done here is to fail to regroup to 20 of 24 on top of the 2.

Homework: Students need to complete their multiplication sheet for homework. I'll give them a spelling list tomorrow, but it won't be tested until Tuesday of next week.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Dance & Pantomine

Today the students completed our study of The Boy who didn't Believe in Spring by creating a series of movements to tell the story while a narrator retold the tale. This activity is classic pantomime, but we also added elements of dance to it to make is more stylized. For example, we reviewed axial and locomotor movements before we began, and we also discussed the different types of pathways that dancers and actors can move on. We practiced moving in different ways on different pathways - for example, skipping on a zigzag route. The students then worked in groups. One group would perform and narrate the story while another group improvised on pitched percussion instruments and a third group would critique the performance against posted criteria. Then the groups rotated. Children did quite splendidly, and really did not realize just how much they were reviewing the story.

Homework: Study spelling words. Complete the long vowel sheet. Complete the study sheet questions on Boy. (Students in RSP have already done this in group.) Do the math review worksheet.

Monday, November 08, 2004

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A couple wonderful examples of pop art influenced still lifes.
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An ordinary, yet pleasant day

This was such an ordinary day that at first I was not sure what exactly I should write about for today. And yet it occurred to me that wonderful "ordinary" days are the essence of education.

We began today with our silent reading. In recent weeks, the students have been taking independent reading VERY SERIOUSLY, and I am pleased with the number of conferences I have each day with students to discuss the books they are reading. A couple students have accumulated so many stickers that they are literally "off the chart"! Isn't that wonderful?

We continued with Open Court reading. We began with the Blending and Dictation exercises. Many teachers at Third Street skip these, but I think that the phonics component is probably the best thing about Open Court, and a surprising number of "good" readers really are quite clueless when they are presented with a new word and context does not help them guess the sound. That includes more than a few adults I know! So I work with the children on this, even though it isn't the most fun thing for them.

Today we read a sort of sappy story called The Boy who didn't Believe in Spring. It ties in with the overall theme of "City Wildlife" and I think the children will discover that it helped them modestly to understand the topic better. It's a little hard for them at times to relate to these very urban, east coast stories, but that's as much part of education as learning about nature is. They're learning "how the other half lives" to use the classic phrase.

After recess, we practice music. I am really stressing the importance of correct singing with the children, including using the diaphram and the use of the head voice. They're a little resistant to it, to be honest, but the sound is starting to be good. We started on a Jamaican folksong, first singing it and then playing it on recorder. We'll finish it tomorrow.

It was then off to the Tech Center where they were working on creating autobiographic slide shows on Kid Pix.

After lunch, we had PE. We then returned to the classroom where they started an art project based on the Boy who Didn't Believe story. There's a couple examples of completed work above.

Homework: Study the spelling words. Complete the math sheets. They'll be corrected in class tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Students studied both axial and locomotor movements. They created short dance phrases based on their interpretation of animals. They performed these while other students improvised music on the xylophones and other percussion instruments. It was a lot of fun!
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Again, the endless "improvements" to our internet here at school have mostly resulted in teachers and chidren being unable to connect to the network! So, while it is up again, let me bring you up to speed on a few things happening in room 19.

First, we have completed our first Open Court unit, the one on Friendship, and the students took their first formal assessment. The good news is that most of them are doing wonderfully in reading fluency and in story comprehension. The biggest area for improvement, for most students, is in the area of vocabulary. And there's just one remedy for improving reading vocabulary -- more independent reading! Check the gradebook to see how your child is doing in this area. Many are lagging a bit. By this time in the semester we'd like to see them reading about 500 to 600 pages in total.

Second, we're starting on our second Open Court unit. This one is called "City Wildlife" and it focuses on the animals who live in the city and the plants that are a part of their habitat. It is a challenging unit for the children because they are not used to reading nonfiction carefully and closely. To be honest, many of the children find it a little dull. But we are livening it up with dance and art and our upcoming trip to Placerita Canyon next month. Incidently, that has been rescheduled to December 10 to avoid conflict with the parent conference days.

Third, we will be taking our first math quarterly assessment tomorrow. The children has been getting ready for this all week, and it looks like they will do quite well on it. Results should be posted on the gradebook Friday.

Fourth, Friday is our walking field trip to the Peterson Museum. Please let me know right away, parents, if you can help with this. We need a driver to carry over lunches, and it would helpful to have another parent to two to walk with the classes.

Homework: Continue to study spelling. Complete the Science questions on E 26 and 27. Remember to copy questions 1-9. The rest are answers only. Continue to work on the math assignments. Also, review the quarter test practice sheets. Bring in a leaf (preferably yellow or red, though green is fine, too) for the art project tomorrow.

Monday, October 25, 2004

An alto xylophone set up in a pentatonic scale. We do much of our work in third grade in the five note scale because it make harmony somewhat easier. Also, most folksongs are written in that mode.
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Musical Matters

Our music program is now in full swing in room 19. The students are learning to sing correctly. We are concentrating on breathing and using the head voice register. We have studied the idea of underlying beat, and students have learned to find the natural rhythm in words. They are learning to connect the beat and rhythm they feel with standard rhythmic notation. They are also learning the notes of the treble clef, and soon we should be actually reading music! And it's only October!

They are starting to learn the notes of the recorder and to play the recorder correctly, as well. This is a fairly slow process which requires a lot of practice. Generally, our pattern is to learn to play something that the children have learned to sing, first. That helps them when they are looking at the notes because they already know what it should sound like. We're doing some very simple melodies right now, concentrating on so, mi, and la. Students will be given the opportunity to play the same tune in different keys so they begin to understand the concepts of relative and absolute pitch.

In Reading, we have finished the first unit and are starting on the second one, City Wildlife. This is a challenging unit for the children, but we will be doing as much as possible to make it engrossing for them.

Homework: Finish the rough and final drafts of the friendship essay, if not already finished and turned in. Do the "Knowledge about City Wildlife" paper. Pick one of the ideas from that paper, and put it on the small "What I already know" paper together with a good drawing or a picture from a magazine. In math, student should finish the second multiplication sheet by Wednesday. The spelling word list will be sent home tomorrow.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

A great Dodger cap here! Go team!
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A Model Thursday!

Today we finished up Teammates, the story of Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese's friendship. We discussed contractions and subject-verb agreement. Students generally do well with both of these skills, though it's comes as a shock to many of them to realize that they have been unconsciously adding the -s sound to the end of many verbs for years! To continue our work with main idea and detail, students wrote paragraphs about their favorite baseball teams. Since many of them, like me, are a little fuzzy about who plays for what teams, they got to make up the players and the teams if they wanted to! After all, it's the writing skills here that are important, not the sports skills. They also did pictures of the hats of these teams. One of the very, very best you can see above this post!

Math is starting to really well! After a lot of confusion and procrastination about the assignment sheets, most of the students are really getting competitive about finishing as many as they can. And the quizzes are showing a lot of learning, too! Mrs. Oh is very impressed that the students can name the standards that they are studying.

Homework: Students who did not finish the rough and final drafts of the baseball team paragraph need to do those tonight. Students should also finish the pictures of the baseball caps if not done. Otherwise, all they need to do is study the spelling words and continue with the math.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

A couple of the great food chains the students made today!
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Our First Rainy Day

Well, there's nothing teachers hate so much as rainy day schedule, but we had a pleasant day today despite the deluge!

Our reading conferences are really going quite well, and I'm impressed by how much many of the students are reading. We also sloshed our way over to the library where students picked out more books for their free reading. Our student librarians have distinguished themselves by their quick grasp of the new library automation system.

Back in the room, we reviewed the Teammates story and discussed finding main ideas and details in a text. We paid particular attention to how the main idea is usually found in a topic sentence and supporting details fill up the rest of the paragraph.

After an in-class recess, students worked in partners to construct a model of a food chain. An example of one of these marvelous models is shown in the picture above. We discussed who were producers and who were consumers in the chain. The students then worked with their partner to create an expository paragraph with the main idea stated in the topic sentence and supporting ideas, drawn from the models they had made, in the rest of the paragraph.

After lunch, the students did a wonderful job cleaning up the room and we had math time. We talked about when you have to use addition to solve a problem and when you get to use multiplication. About half of our students are already finished with the first Number Sense 2.2 page and have moved on to the second one. Great work!

Homework: Continue to study spelling for Friday's test. Complete the Parts of a
Book worksheet. Complete either "Folktales" or "Tell a Tale",
whichever one you received. Complete at least through the Chapter
Review, page 128. If possible, finish the first multiplication page
(NS 2.2A).

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Blog's Back

Well, regular readers, you may have noticed nearly 10 days have passed without a post. This was not because I was being lazy, but because we lost our internet connection in room 19 as a result of work that was being done to upgrade our network. Evidently somewhere along the line, a piece of fiber optic cable was snapped and that was the end of our electronic connection to the rest of the world. But now things are corrected, as you can see, and regular posts will begin again! A big thank you to the guys from Compel, the contractor, for fixing this.

Students are now beginning recorder, purchased thanks to parental generosity. We are beginning the process of learning the notes, particularly by taking the same song and learning to play it in different keys. That way students learn the difference between absolute pitch (C D E F G) and relative pitch (do re mi fa so).

We've also skipped ahead in math to Number Sense 2.2. This is to make sure that everybody gets a solid chance to study multiplication and geometry before the Quarter One assessment next month. We'll go back and "pick up" the missed standards as we can. Nobody will be unfairly penalized for this. Next time we'll make the deadlines a little clearer and sharper so that students will keep pace a little better. Students are overall doing very well in math!

Homework: Students need to finish the study sheet on the Teammates story. Be sure to copy the sentences in the vocabulary section and to write the answers for the questions in the comprehension section in complete sentences. They should look back through the book for the answers! It's not a test! Students should also be finished with the four assignment on the NS 2.2(A) sheet, that is, they should be finished by tonight with page 125. Many have already finished the whole section and aced the quiz. Way to go!

Monday, October 11, 2004

Again a quick post

My car needs to go to the car doctor, so I'm out of the classroom quickly today. See you tomorrow at 8:30 or before!

Homework: Do the crossword puzzle for Dog and Leopard. Continue with math. Students should be working on subtraction and estimation NS 2.1(B) and MR 2.1(B) now.

Again a quick post

My car needs to go to the car doctor, so I'm out of the classroom quickly today. See you tomorrow at 8:30 or before!

Homework: Do the crossword puzzle for Dog and Leopard. Continue with math. Students should be working on subtraction and estimation NS 2.1(B) and MR 2.1(B) now.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Back to School Breakfast

Just a quick note to remind you that Third Street will be having its annual Back to School Breakfast this Tuesday, October 12. Since we have already had our own Back to School event, my presentation will be brief at 8:30 will be brief, focusing mostly on improving the process of getting work completed and turned in, mostly in math. I'm open to suggestions here, because some of our students are really behind in their assignments already.

I'll be available from 7:30 to 8:30 for informal conferences. This is also the time for you to sign up for the formal December parent conferences which accompany the first report card. Please stop by at least to sign up for a time that will be convenient for you.

A big thank you to the many, many parents who have contributed to the classroom fund. I have already ordered recorders, and I'm going to be getting a portable container for their emergency kits so that we might actually be able to carry them out to the playground in the case of an actual problem. I was never sure how exactly I was going to do it before because all that water is pretty darn heavy!

Homework: The students have been working hard in the last few days on catching up on math. They now have red math folders which they should have taken home with at least one or two assignment sheets to work on this weekend. If you child didn't, let me know right away and we'lll work on solving this problem.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

PE testing

Mrs. Caruso, as I've mentioned before, excels at one of the areas that I like the least -- physical education. She got the idea to give the children a comprehensive test of some of the key physical fitness and sports abilities including long distance running, short distance running, ball throwing, and a variety of calisthentics. She involved the children in observing and helping to assess each other's performance in these key areas. She and I timed some of the running One of the things I will be able to share with you at the conference is a one page report on your child's physical condition.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by how well the children could do when motivated. Still, kids today, as we all know too well, watch too much television, eat too much junk food, and don't get enough exercise. I encourage you to help your child find the kind of activity which he or she will enjoy. Some kids really love competitive sports, and getting them on teams is the best thing you can do. But other children -- and I was one of those -- just hate organized athletics and being forced to play when they know they're not any good can be a crushing experience. But many of those kids like swimming or Tae Kwon Do.

Homework: The spelling list went home today. As before, though there are 50 words, they are not that hard. Also, keep up on the math. Many students are falling way behind, and I'm going to just give them a quiz whether they have studied it or not and get them caught up with where they should be. We can always go back and do addition and subtraction if needed.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

An example of the kinds of narrative pictures the students saw at LACMA. Ms. Limb took pictures of the students on the field trip, and we'll post these really soon!
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Art Tells a Tale

Well, today was our first field trip of the year and I think it went smashingly well! A big "thank you" for Karen's mom for organizing the trip, to Talia's mom and Grace's mom for carrying lunches, and to Jay's mom and Alina's mom for walking with us.

Most of the kids didn't think they could walk all the way to museum and back, and despite some theatrical growns, they not only did it but had a good time getting all that exercise. We stopped at points along the way to talk about plants and houses and local history, too.

At the museum, the children were divided into groups of four or five and each went with a docent. They looked a variety of art works from different periods and different continents. All of the paintings and sculptures in some way told a story or at least suggested a possible story to the children. That kind of art is much more easily understood by children than decorative art or abstract art is. But the docents did not merely let the children spin tales about the works they saw. They pointed out the materials out of which the works were made, and they discussed how different types of lines predominated in different works and the emotional impact of those kinds of lines. For example, horizontal lines tend to create a peaceful feeling in the viewer, while diagonal lines give a sense of agitation.

We had lunch in the park afterwards and then walked back to school -- in time for lunch recess, no less! After lunch, Mrs. Caruso showed the student a film about life for children in the Pilgrim era. We had the first faculty meeting of the year in our room this year (partly because Mrs Oh is so impressed by the work the students have done so far) and I needed to help set up.

Homework: Finish what was assigned Monday. Spelling lists never did get passed out today, but the words are again pretty easy and I think that two days should be more than enough time to master the one or two troublesome words.

Monday, October 04, 2004


One of the key features of the Open Court reading system is its emphasis on teaching children to sound out words. So one of the things that we do with each story is spend time "blending" words. Its surprising how much practice in this skill even apparently proficient readers need!

There are two kinds of blending: letter-by-letter and whole word. Letter-by-letter blending is what all of us did when we first started to read. "Kuh Ahh Tuh -- Cat!" But this kind of blending isn't for kids only: good adult readers will sound out an unfamiliar word in the same way. But children need some practice with sounding out words in this way or else they tend to forget how to do it. And when they forget how to sound out words, then all they can do is guess what they think the word must be. We try to spend a few minutes each story practicing the letter-by-letter blending, but mostly we do whole word blending. When we do this, I have already written the words out on the board before school and we read them through together and discuss any patterns we see.

Remember, tomorrow is not only the LACMA field trip but is also the first day of early dismissal. School will be out tomorrow at 1:30, not 2:30. This will be the pattern until May.

Homework: Do the crossword puzzle. Words and clues are on the back. Do the dialogue worksheet. Keep working on math assignments. Students should be on estimation (mathematical reasoning 2.1) right now. I forgot to photocopy the spelling list, so that will come out tomorrow. Since we have a field trip, this homework is not due until WEDNESDAY!

Friday, October 01, 2004

Just a few quick reminders

Another wonderful week is over, and all of us deserve a good weekend rest! Let me remind everyone of a few things:

  1. Tuesday we have our walking field trip to LACMA. This will be a lot of fun for the kids even though they will complain about how long it takes to get there! (Ignore them. They need the exercise.) The field trip will focus on "Art that Tells a Tale". If you signed up to accompany the class, please let me know any changes of plan as soon as possible! A BIG thank you to Talia's mom for getting us volunteers, and to Eve's mom for planning the trip.
  2. Hunter's mom wrote a nice note asking for donations. We need some extra money for recorders and field trip admissions (Friends of Third takes care of the busses only). If you can contribute please do. If you can't, your child will still participate in everything, though the teacher, not the school, will cover any shortfall.
  3. Also, remember Saturday's Friends of Third get together from 6:30 to 8:30 at 208 South McCadden Place. If you haven't already please RSVP to (323) 871-0413.
  4. The Back to School Breakfast is coming up soon. I treat this as an informal opportunity to check on progress with you, and we also use it to sign up parents for the December parent conferences. Please come if you can.
Homework: Do the "Following Directions" paper. Do the "Adverbs" or "Super Adverbs" paper, whichever one was assigned to you. Likewise, do either the "Homonyms" or the "Homonym Fun" worksheet. Keep up the good work in math. Most students are finished Number Sense 1.4 (Rounding) and Number Sense 2.1 (A) (Addition and Addition properties).

Thursday, September 30, 2004

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Two of our wonderful pictures of Third Street School's lunch area.
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Open Court in Plein Air

Today, after independent reading, we concluded our reading of Priscilla, Meet Felicity. I have to admit that I particularly like this story because it is NOT particularly sweet or sentimental. The two girls do not ever become friends, and, in fact, there is a clear message that there are just some people you cannot and should not be friends with. That is so much more realistic than the usual stories we make the children read. We discussed the Priscilla at length, analyzing the conflict and resolution and learning to make and support generalizations about the characters. After our discussion, we took two quizzes. One quiz was about the story, the other assessed their knowledge of multiple-meaning words. Check their scores on our gradebook.

We then continued developing our Visualizing and Making Connections strategies by bringing visual arts again into our program. Most of Priscilla takes place in a school, probably one not much different from ours, so it made sense to create a picture of a school at this point. I also decided to have the students do this out-of-doors, or, to usual the technical term, in "plein air".

We reviewed what we had already learned about lines and shapes, particularly the difference between geometric shapes and free-form shapes. We looked at several pictures of buildings and analyzed them for the different shapes we saw in each photograph or paining. I then took the children out to Demoudy Court, the area around the lunch tables. The children picked a part of the school building to draw. They tried to find the big geometric shapes first and draw those, adding the details later. As the first lunch students started to arrive, we went back to our classroom where they went over the lines in marking crayon and then watercolored the pictures. The results, as you can see above, were quite good!

Homework: Study for tomorrow's spelling test. Finish the page explaining what Stevie and Priscilla helped develop the idea of friendship. Do the worksheet on comparisons: it will be either "Compare and Contrast" OR "A Friendly Comparison". Students should be finishing the section on addition (Number Sense 2.1) tonight, if they are not already finished with it.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Quick post today

My piano lesson was rescheduled, so I have to leave early. Just to let you know about homework....

Homework: Continue studying spelling. Complete page 24 ONLY in the blue Sea to Shining Sea social studies text. Key Terms A: answers only. Key Terms B: copy the paragraph. Exploring Concepts A: Copy the chart. Exploring Concepts B: Write complete sentences answers, but do NOT copy questions. Continue working on math assignments unless you have finished Number Sense 2.1. In that case, enjoy a day off!

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

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"Aw, I let my cornflakes get soggy just thinkin' about him." The model for the still life and one of the very best paintings.
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Visualization and Visual Arts

For our regular readers, sorry there was no blog yesterday. Our network here at school went down, and I only have an old Powerbook at home right now which is not new enough for editing the blog. So here is a bit of what I would have written yesterday.

One of the key skills in reading fiction is the ability to visualize, to create a kind of movie in your head of the story that you're reading. Most adults who read lots of novels do this quite unconsciously and automatically. Many kids do, too. But it is still a skill which can be taught and learned.

One of the ways to teach visualization is through visual arts. After all, if you can draw or paint a picture, you clearly have some kind of picture in your brain. And that's what we did we the Stevie story. At the end of that story, when Robert is reflecting that maybe Stevie was "kind of a little brother" in addition to being a spoiled brat, he says, "I let my corn flakes get soggy just thinkin' about him." I've always liked that image.

So we made a still life of the soggy corn flakes. We discussed what a still life is, and we practice drawing geometric and free-form shapes from objects in the room. Next I set up a box of corn flakes, a carton of milk, and a bowl of soggy cornflakes. Students drew the still life in pencil, went over the lines in black market, and then used watercolors to paint.

I made a particular point of having them draw their own, not follow a master I put on the board. That made most of the papers less perfect, but they were the children's art, not mine.

Continue studying the spelling list. Complete the worksheet on the Multiple Meaning words. Finish scanning rhythm for Wee Willie Winkie. Students should be working now on the addition skills (Number Sense 1.1).

Remember, tomorrow is LIBRARY! Remember to bring in your book.

Friday, September 24, 2004

One of our student groups doing body percussion to Fudge, Fudge.
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Music and Math

Today students began the day by taking part of a pretest for the Blast Off program. I am not much of a fan of test preparation programs, but I like Blast Off because it teaches critical thinking and reading skills more than simple "test-taking" skills. I think it helps them become better readers, not just score higher on the CAT 6. Still, even a good program like Blast Off can be dull in spots, so we like to pretest the students to know which areas we can possibly skip because they already have the skills. We also took our first spelling test today, and you can check on the results on our on-line gradebook. If you are not already set up to look at your child's scores, please send me an email and I will send you a password.

After recess, we continued looking at "Stevie", our third Open Court story. We did our blending and dictation, and we used tableau to review our vocabulary words. We had already read the story yesterday, so today we just used the story as a springboard to developing critical reading skills. Today we worked on the skill Open Court calls "Drawing Conclusions". This is what most teachers and parents call making inferences. It is a hard skill for third graders. The third-grade mind is a little uncomfortable with questions which do not have one absolute and final answer. They also do not like being asked to support their inferences with textual citations. But, even though it's hard for them, with lots of practice they can become good critical readers. We started to do that today.

After lunch and PE, we worked more on rhythm. There are a lot of connections between music and math, and rhythm is where those connections are the most obvious. We have been working on the concept of steady beat and have learned how those beats are combined into measures and can also be subdivided into subbeats. (We have not yet introduced terms such as quarter and eighth notes.) This is actually developing a foundation for division and for fractions.

Today, we took a silly children's rhyme "Fudge, Fudge, Call the Judge" and we identified the underlying rhythmic pattern. Students then worked in small groups to express this rhythm in body percussion instead of in words. They shared their performances with the whole class. We concluded by having several groups substitute unpitched percussion instruments for the words to express the rhythm.

Homework: No homework this weekend. If students know they have unfinished work at home, they are more than welcome, of course, to work on that this weekend. Otherwise, enjoy these last days of summer.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Independent Reading

Today was our first library day. Almost everybody had returned their library permission slips - thanks so much, parents - and was able to check out books. We are so fortunate at Third Street to have one of the very finest elementary school libraries in the district. We are lucky to have such an able librarian as Mrs. Koneff, too. This gives our students the opportunity for ample free readings.

And research shows that free, voluntary reading is the BEST predictor of academic success. Nothing improves a child's reading ability as much as reading for fun. And reading, of course, is the essential academic skill. That's why we devote the first half hour of each day to quiet reading.

Parents, always try to create a time each day for your child to read - even if you have to skip an occasional homework assignment.

Homework: Tonight, there are no special homework assignments. Students should continue to study the spelling list for Friday, and they should continue on math assignments. They should be working on or have already finished Number Sense 1.4.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

A tableau from Angel Child. This group did exceptionally well with their transitions from scene to scene.
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One of our storyboards showing the problem and solution of Angel Child.
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Different Approaches to Literary Skills

Today we turned our attention in our Open Court reading to the idea of plot. This is not an easy concept for the third grade mind. Third graders understand the idea of story, that is, they understand that there is a sequence of events in a fiction selection. But they do not natutrally understand why these events take place in the order in which they happen. So we spend much of this year helping them to view stories in terms of problem and solution, or, to use somewhat more traditional terms, conflict and resolution.

We studied the plot today of Angel Child, Dragon Child. We did it in three separate stages. First, I simply discussed with them what them the difference between story and plot, and we talked about problem and solution. We then worked together on a workbook page in which they had to identify all the major literary elements in the story: setting, characters, conflict, events, climax, and resolution. But we didn't leave it at just doing a worksheet.

We next created storyboards, like the one you see above this post, in which the students had to identify the major events at the beginning of the story (showing the start of the problem), the middle of the story (showing the climax of of the conflict), and the end of the story (showing the resolution of the conflict). We identified Raymond's taunting of Ut for wearing "pajamas" as the start of the conflict, the fight between Ut and Raymond as the climax of the story, and the Vietnamese Fair which paid for mother's passage to America as the resolution. Students made pictures for each one.

After recess, we took this to another level. We pushed our desks aside, and I showed students what a tableau is in drama. We practiced a few simple tableaux such as being a mountain or a boat on a river. The students then worked in small groups to turn the three scenes that they had illustrated in their storyboards into three tableaux and they practiced transitioning from one to another. They then shared their performances with the rest of the class. A picture of one of these scenes is posted above.

Homework: Tonight students should continue studying the spelling words. They should complete the rough draft of the paragraph on a topic of choice if this was NOT done LAST NIGHT. They should complete the Challenge or Reteach worksheet on "Plot" that I gave each of them. They should rhythmically notate "Pease Porridge" which each of them copied before they left the room today. Finally, in Math, Number Sense 1.2 needs to be finished by tonight. Most of the students have already started on the troublesome concept of rounding covered in Number Sense 1.4.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Writing & Spelling

Students received their first spelling words today. Research reveals that formally teaching spelling does not really have a great impact on day to day spelling, but I do think that studying a word may start the process of learning to spell it correctly all the time, even if students often "forget" when writing their compositions. In our class, we take spelling words in frequency order. We will study the 1000 most common words in English.

Review spelling words with a partner to see which ones you know and which ones you need to study. Do the two Open Court worksheets, one on proper and common nouns, the other on compound words. Students may have different forms of these sheets. Start your first free-choice composition. Finish the assignments for Number Sense 1.2 if they are not already done, and get started on the assignments for Number Sense 1.4.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Reading Strategies

Today, we devoted most of the morning to our first reading of our second story in the Open Court book. This story is called "Angel Child, Dragon Child." It tells the tale of a Vietnamese refugee girl and her struggle to adapt to life, particularly school life, in the United State. She is taunted by her classmates when she shows up to school wearing traditional Vietnamese clothing, and she is teased for her inability to speak English. As the story develops, we learn that the girl's mother remained behind in Vietnam because there was not enough money for the entire family to emigrate. The story concludes on a happier note when the children, not sensitive to cultural differences, hold a fair and raise enough money to buy a plane ticket for mother to come and be united with the family.

This story, nearly 20 pages long, is not easy reading for children who only recently were second-graders. But it does offer them a lot of opportunities to develop thinking skills that easier material, such as the first story in the book, does not. To help develop these critical thinking skills, the Open Court authors identify several key "strategies" that good readers use. We try to model and practice these strategies on our first reading of any story.

One strategy is "Predicting." Experienced adult readers predict as they read unconsciously, but most children, and all struggling readers, have difficulty with this. So, as I began reading the story with the children today, I asked them for "clues." In Open Court talk, clues are predictions based on some kind of evidence, typically an illustration or a title. Requiring the students to tell WHY they think something will happen in the story make the guessing much more thoughtful and precise.

Another strategy is "Making Connections." This requires the reader to try to think of a time when he or she faced a similar situation to one faced by a character in the story, or else to think of a time when they had a similar kind of feeling. So today, for example, I asked if anyone wanted to share a time when they were separated from a parent and how they felt about that. Several children told about being lost or having a parent have to go somewhere on a long trip. Hearing these kinds of experiences helped the students to more completely understand the problem faced by the lead character in the story.

In weeks to come, I will share more strategies with you and also discuss some of the key reading SKILLS we teach our children.

In music today, students had a changed their focus from beat to rhythm. We used a simple jump rope rhyme to see how a beat can be split into two subbeats, each with a word or a syllable. This is a preparation for understanding quarter and eighth notes. We also began introducing a modified version of the "Kodaly" speech syllables for these notes.

Homework: Students should have finished ALL of the first math assignment sheet by this time and should have at least started to take the test over standards NS 1.1, 1.3, and 1.5. Those who have taken it so far have done quite well. Everyone should be working on the second assignment sheet now which should be completed by Tuesday. It only has four assignments. Check the gradebook for any missing work.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

We discussed different types of lines today. Inspired by the kite flying in "Gloria", we made pictures of windy and other weather using just lines.
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Well first of all let me thank you for such wonderful attendance at our parent meeting last night. We have 18 out of 21 families represented, an awesome percentage! And many families had two adult family member here as well. A big thank you to all the parents who brought refreshments to the meeting. I am soooo grateful that so many people volunteered to do some of the photocopying. Most of Language Arts for the year has been sponsored for copying. That will save me an unbelievable amount of time and aggravation. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

I am pleased that the children are finally "getting the hang" of our math workshop. It's a very different approach to math, but it allows me to help students move through the materials at the pace that works best for them -- faster for some, gentler for others. Let me explain how it works in practice. Each math session begins with a lesson. Sometimes this lesson is fairly long and takes up most of the math time, but it is usually fairly short. After that, students can continue working on their assignments. If they want to work alone, they can stay in their seats. If they would like to work with another student, they can sit on the rug and collaborate. If they need help, they can come over to the table and I will work with them. If they are finished working on their assignments, they can go outside and check them using the answer keys. One the assignments are corrected, students make them into a little booklet (an idea I got from my class last year!) and they turn them in. The students then take a quiz over the material they just studied, and move on to the next assignments sheet.

Students are starting to take the first round of quizzes, and all have learned how to correct their own work. Grades will be posted on the gradebook as they come in. This first unit on place value is one of the hardest, but I'm pleased at the progress they've made.

Homework: If students did not complete the final draft of the "I Used to Be" poem -- and most did not -- that needs to be finished by Friday. Also, most student should be starting on the second assignment sheet in math (Number Sense 1.2) even if they did not yet have a chance to take the quiz on the first one yet. They can do that Friday.

For those of you who observe Rosh Hashanah, have a blessed holiday.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Theater and Reading Comprehension

One of the most powerful tools we have for developing reading comprehension is drama. If students really understand a story - the setting, the characters, the conflict, and the resolution - they should be able to act out that story. Drama also develops oral language skills and interpersonal abilities.

Today, we worked to incorporate theater arts into our language arts program. Our theme is "Friendship" and our first story, Gloria who Might be my Best Friend, deals with a boy learning to play harmoniously together with a girl. We talked about how all of this involves cooperation, and we explored what cooperation means. We then work with two classic theater games which involve cooperation: Mirror and Machine. Mirror is an exercise where two students face each other, and one tries to imitate the other at exactly the same time. This requires not only a great deal of concentration on the part of the imitator, but also forces the partners to work slowly and carefully together. Machine has a group of four or five students working together to create an imitation of a complex piece of machinery. Students have to think how their movements build upon the movements of others, and how they can contrast levels and sounds and speeds. These exercises are used in theater from beginning classes to the professional level because they can develop almost infinitely in depth and complexity.

Homework: Students should be finished at least through page 13 of the math assignments. If possible, finish through page 15 to be ready to take the quiz tomorrow. Students also received a worksheet on Point of View before they left today. That should be done and turned in tomorrow. If other assignments are not complete, please get those done and turned in. Check the on-line gradebook to find out what is missing.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Starting to Integrate the Arts

One of my major goals for this year is to make the arts as much a part of our curriculum as Reading and Mathematics. I want to both teach the arts sequentially as disciplines in their own right and to integrate them into the other subject areas. We began that journey today.

One of the most important parts of the Open Court program is Blending. Unfortunately, it is also one of the dullest aspects of the program. I think of Blending as sort of like jogging - good for you, but so nice when it's over! So today we used music to liven it up a bit. We had two students play a simple repeated bass melody on a tenor xylophone. Another student played a different little motif at the end of each line of the glockenspiel. Meanwhile, I used a hand drum to keep the steady beat for the unison repetition of the words. The instruments and the drum just helped keep the class a little more focused on what would have otherwise been a really tedious review of short vowel words and contractions.

We also started our daily music lessons today. Our first concept is really a pretty difficult one, and that is beat. Although being able to tap your toes or snap your fingers to the beat in music may seem "natural" to most adults, it is in fact a learned skill. Today, since video games and other passive amusements have replaced much of the rhythmic games and jump rope chants that were so much a part of childhood in an earlier era. We are using some of the techniques from Eurhythmics, as system of integrating music and movement created by a Swiss professor named Dalcroze 75 years ago, to help do students discover rhythm and beat. Today, we explored using the body as a pendulum and swinging to a steady beat. We also began our instruction in singing by working on correct breathing and posture.

Homework: Internet and Library permission slips went home tonight. Please get those completed and returned as soon as possible. Students should continue work on the math assignment sheet. They should be finished by tonight with the first 5 assignments (up to page 13 in the book).

Sunday, September 12, 2004

A Reminder

Just a quick reminder of our parent meeting this Tuesday, September 14, at 6:00 pm in room 19. Child care will be provided as will light refreshments. Looking forward to seeing you then.

Friday, September 10, 2004

One of our portraits the students did today.
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On the Second Day of Third Grade

This year, I forced myself to write out the the rules and procedures the students need to master for our class to be successful. I was stunned by how long it was! So, just like yesterday, today was about learning some of those procedures AND mastering content at the same time. It is intense, but I'm happy to say our students are doing a phenomenal job.

We began today with silent reading. We just worked today on picking books and reading quietly. Next week we will start with reading logs and reading conferences. We take it one step at a time. We also started with Open Court reading today. I think there is a lot of value in having a single, sequential reading series. But a straightforward Open Court program can be pretty boring. So I try to do everything I am required to do for each story and supplement it was more fun activities. We usually spend four days on a story. The first two days are, I must admit, the dull ones. We work on the phonics and the vocabulary and the initial reading of the story. We also work on specific reading and language skills. That's what we did today. We began with what is called "Blending." That is the skill readers use to sound out unfamiliar words. The words we had today were almost absurdly easy, but we used them to figure out CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) and related patterns in phonics and spelling. Our story, which begins our theme on "Friendship", is called Gloria who Might be my Best Friend. It is not a literary masterpiece, but it helps get students thinking about why people are friends with other people, and why sometimes they aren't.

After recess, the students made portraits in oil pastel of the student that they interviewed for their first composition yesterday. I taught the students who make guidelines for placing the eyes and the mouth and the ears, and we discussed the proper way to try to draw noses. Some of the portraits displayed real powers of observation, and many were full of rich, saturated colors. It did, however, take longer than I hoped it would, and we had to postpone our first music lesson until Monday. Art is a hard thing to just stop and start again.

After lunch, students went out to the yard to learn about PE procedures. Ms Caruso and I have done PE together for many years. She brings a great deal of zest and enthusiasm for what is one of my less favorite subjects. Having always been the fat kid nobody what on their team as a child, I developed a dread of PE and sports that has followed me to current neat dotage. Ms Caruso actually knows the rules of basketball and soccer. It's a great help and we make a good team.

We finished up, as we usually will with Math. We are starting our unit on number theory and place value. This is a hard idea for the children. They do not naturally see that 345 is 300 and 40 and 5. They just see it as one number, and have trouble figuring out all the stuff with expanded notation and questions about "What is the meaning of the 2 in 32,567?" We have to come back to this stuff over and over again before the "Ah ha!" sets in.

Homework: I highly suggest that students complete the first three assignments on their math sheet by Monday. Most of them took the answer sheets and the book home with them. If they do not get those done this weekend, it will be hard for them for finish the page my Wednesday.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

First Day

We had a great first day of class! Everybody showed up! I think that was a first. We have 21 children in our classroom.

As usual, we spent the first day learning a great deal about procedures and policies. It is boring, but it is better for the students to be taught what to do than to find out by doing the wrong thing. We also practiced walking over to the cafeteria and visited all the recess areas. We also did some diagnostic testing in Reading and Language Arts. In the afternoon, students interviewed each other and wrote rough and final drafts of a "Letter of Introduction."

Let me remind parents that we have a meeting on Tuesday, September 14, 2004 at 6:00 p.m. in room 19. This is not a school event; it is just a "Back to School Night" for our class.

Homework: If students did not finish and turn in the final draft of the "Letter of Introduction" they need to do that tonight. They also need to complete the Knowledge about Friendship worksheet. This is preparation for the first Open Court unit. Also, they should find and make a picture which tells something about friendship. This can be a photograph, an illustration from a magazine, or an original drawing. They will present this to the class tomorrow, and it will be added to our Concept/Question board.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Friday, August 20, 2004


I would first like to welcome all the students and parents to room 19 this fall. I am very excited about the upcoming school year, and I've been spending a lot of time getting things ready for a really wonderful year.

I am particularly excited by the opportunity this year to teach a lot more music and to integrate theater and dance and visual arts into our language arts curriculum. I worked a lot on this last year, and I think it was quite successful. This year, I have even more and better ideas!

First of all, let me invite you to a back-to-school night, just for our parents, Tuesday, September 14, 2004 at 6:00 PM. I will try to arrange some child care for the older kids. If you have very young ones, just feel free to bring them to the meeting. I will be going over what the students will be learning in the year in much greater detail, and helping you understand homework policies. If needed, I will try to arrange Korean translation.

This web log, or "blog" as they're called these days, is a way for me to keep in touch with all of you on a daily basis so that you can know what we are doing in our classroom and what your child should be doing at home to supplement and complete our classwork. I have never done anything like this before, so it is a bit of an experiment.

I invite you to contact me anytime by e-mail. My addresses are jbasse1@lausd.k12.ca.us and johndavidbassett@comcast.net. It really does not matter which one you use as I receive mail from both at work and at home. E-mail works a lot better than phone calls for teachers since we have limited access to phones at school, and often even when we try to call a parent from home, often nobody is there and we're never sure that the message we leave was even heard!

Again, I am very excited and looking forward to an incredible year!

Mr Bassett