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