Wednesday, October 31, 2012

On the Rebound

Well, this week has been so much better! I posted the other day with a Debbie Downer mentality.  I am still feeling a little bit not myself, but have rebounded.  Today is feeling better and I had a few things go well (knock on wood!) We also had a day off yesterday because of the weather on the East Coast!  Talk about a day to gather my wits!

In math, I have adapted my "Fact Clubs" to today's third graders.  Ten year ago, it was not a big deal to give basic fact quizzes and post the progress of the students in the classroom in a "club" format.  Today, that does not seem to be P.C., so I have revamped the idea with a race car focus.  My students are taking basic facts quizzes and tracking their progress in their math folders.  Each time they achieve 30/30 problems on their basic fact test, they move up to the next race, reducing their time by a minutes.  If they do not get 30/30, they "race" again at the same time and they LOVE IT!  I think I might actually post something on Teachers Pay Teachers!

My guided reading groups are on the rebound!  I started out with 5 chapters books and was driving myself crazy!  I used to know the books I used really well and after 10 years, that skill is just not there any more.  I had become so used to reading shorter, focused books with students who were reading aloud or sub-vocalizing, that reading with older students was throwing me for a loop!  I moved into a non-fiction text that was connected to our science unit and shorter texts.  I'm still figuring out what to teach and how to teach it best with third graders!

As an aside to the reading, I have decided to go back to the Beanie Babies for reading.  They were HUGE in first grade, but I was concerned they would be too babyish for third graders. I am planning to put the posters up in my classroom right next to my reading table to support the vast variety of skills my students are working on in the different groups.   The source for the posters took them down a few years ago, but I had saved the files to my computer.  There are many great posters inspired by those originals out there on the web.   I think these will be critical to my groups this year and plan to put them up as well.  A few years ago, I made posters with BBs for vocabulary and fluency. Click on the image to snag your own copies.



Have a great Halloween!


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Those Weeks

Do you ever have those weeks??? I'm know everyone does, but this has been a tough week for me.  I wouldn't say that I'm normally an overly confident person, so when I have a rough time, it feels even worse. I was reading Farley's post about how much is on our plates as teachers and thinking that I am purely exhausted.  Actually, changing grades has been tough all the way around. I am feeling overwhelmed and like the change is not enerigizing me as much as I had hoped.

I'm not sure I am making a difference and feel like I spend so much of my time with social skills and behaviors - just as much as I did in first grade. On top of it, I am feeling like there is no time to figure things out.  You're just supposed to hit the ground running and know how to manage all the routines and curriculum perfectly - especially in the first testing grade.  It has also been a challenge to see my firsties as second graders and see that there are things I wasn't able to address last year - feeling like I didn't do all that I could even though I nearly ran myself into the ground emotionally and to some extent, physically.  An experience which prompted me to make a move in grades and think about a career beyond the classroom. I have never been in a situation where I have seen the students after they have left my class and it makes me feel a bit defeated and unsuccessful.

I am so tired and my life outside of school barely exists.  I don't even want to think of all the things that need to be done at my house, how many meals I do not cook anymore, and in general how little I see my family. I stressed and snappy. I'm short with my poor husband.  I am enjoying my first doc course, but am just not giving it anywhere near my all.  I just plain feel like nothing is going well. In general, the excitement is there, but the reality is not what I had hoped.

Is it too much to expect to be able to go home and get a load of laundry done or a sink full of dishes done, or heavens, even read a chapter in a book?  I don't even have kids - and I feel like that's not even on the radar with teaching.  I know everyone says you adjust and your teaching changes, but I want to have a life without kids right now and I can't even make that work and not feel absolutely awful when things fall through the cracks. And I have to say I have been sticking to the basics and keeping things pretty streamlined.

I don't want to whine about teacher pay, because I feel like my district and state pays well, I'm just wondering if the pay is worth the quality of things at the moment.  I know I would take a huge pay cut to work at a coffee shop, but would the reduction in stress be worth it?  Sometimes I seriously wonder if we could make ends meet if I worked at Joann Fabrics.  I'm not saying other jobs are lacking in stress, I just don't want the same stress.  If only teachers could take a year off every once and a while and still have a job to return to! In this market though, teachers are lucky to have a position at all.

I think back to my teacher story that I wrote as a series of posts during the summer and some times think that my road has been too rough.  I have worked so hard to make my career work and now I am in my mid-thirties and still stuck in the same cycle.  When is it time to say its enough and I can't do this job anymore?

I just needed to write out my thoughts and hope it will give me a boost or connect with someone who is feeling the same things.  I am hoping this is just a momentary bump and I will hit my stride and think more clearly again. Until then, all I can do is sleep because I am tired no matter how much rest I get.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Pet Peeves

I have a whole new list of pet peeves in third grade!  I knew after five years how to head off things in first grade, but things keep popping up in my classroom.  I have spent more time problem-solving than anything else! 

The first has been the pencil situation!  I think we have gone through about 200 pencils in 5 weeks.  I never have sharpeners at student desks because they tend to be distracting, but our grade level sets the list as a whole and I have yet figured out a way to rid the classroom of the sharpeners they love so much!  We started the pencil game this week!  Have you heard of it:?  I read about it on a blog, but can't remember which one.  I would be happy to give credit if anyone knows.  The idea is that the kids have a pencil with their magic number on it.  The last person to have their pencil wins the game and gets a prize.  In my classroom, it is eating lunch in the classroom with a friend.  This encourages them to be responsible for their pencil, make sure it is not left on the floor, and to not sharpen it into a mini-pencil (argh!) So far, my floor has been pencil free and I let the kids know that pencils on the floor or left on there desks will not be returned. 

Now to figure out how to combat the messy desk syndrome!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Whew!  It's been a while!  I have been checking in, just not writing on the blog.  I lost a few follwers, then gained a few more!  I'm just glad everyone hasn't jumped ship on me.  The first part of my blog entry is more of a personal journal to just catch people up on my professional life, if they are interested.  If you want to get to the classroom stuff, just skip down to the photos!

The first month of school has flown by and I am one tired teacher!!!  Re-acclimating to third grade has been a roller coaster ride!  It has made me realize how much of a first grade teacher I had really become.  It may not have been as natural to me, but I had the systems and curriculum down - mostly because I wrote most of it.  The other thing that has thrown me for a loop is that third graders as so much more different than they were 8 years ago!  They are so much more savvy and grown up!  On the other had, I find myself talking about a lot of the same things I talked about with kindergartners in terms of social skills and behaviors.

I am also in a new building, so all of the social connections are different.  Just the routines and general movement in the building is soooo different.  I am adjusting to a 4 hour morning!  by 12:45, I am so hungry!  I also have worked really hard to make sure my copies are ready and I have items ready to go to the office and library because they are like a quarter mile walk!  I am also taking a crash course in the curriculum.  It is a bit different at this grade level.  We had worked on creating grade level units in first grade and in third, everyone has the curriculum, but teaches units and topics in the order that works well for them. 

We are departmentalized for math and that makes things a bit tricky.  I don't really know the kids as well and the management, routines, and curriculum have been a bit of a struggle!

In the other part of my life, I have been in grad school for several weeks now.  I have class 1 night a week, but at least a hundred pages of technical reading every week.  The use of technology is a huge change for me - everything is responded to and maintained online.  Learning about research is very interesting, but my brain is just so full of new stuff that I am spinning and not feeling like I am giving my grad class enough attention.  We are currently working on developing a research project with a small group.  The idea is to teach us how to prepare our proposal for our doctoral dissertation.


On the other hand, we have been learning so much in our classroom! 

I have been implementing Daily 5 in my classroom.  I'm not feeling like I have been too successful at this point, but am trying to give myself some room to figure things out and see what works in my classroom this year. I started out by having choice in daily 5 and found it just wasn't working.  I had kids skipping centers or not really being as accountable as they should be.  I brought back my good old center board for the Promethean and things went SOOOO much better today!  I thought about having recording sheets, but don't want to waste the paper or have more papers to deal with!  Click on the chart to learn more about how I made and use this.

                                                        Looks Like / Sounds Like
1. Read to Self:
This is a work in progress.  Right now, my bookshelf is pretty unorganized and my kids are reading so quickly that I don't even know what to do.  Seriously, some of them are reading a chapter book every 2 days and taking books to lunch.  I actually have to tell them they cannot be reading while I am talking or giving directions.  We have book boxes that I bought from Target last year.  They are magazine files.  I don't think they will last more than a year, but they work for now. I had way more pink than boyish colors, so I spray painted a few of the boxes with yellow and blue spray paint that I had a home.  Luckily, the solution was a free one!  I haven't been monitoring their collections at this point.  Hopefully that will come.

2. Work on Writing
I have been using this time as more of a writing workshop.  The kids are writing up a storm and I am debating about providing them with more specific prompts, both to limit the unmanageable writing projects they are are creating themselves and to provide targeted practice for state testing.  I moved from having copied writing paper they kept in a folder to a spiral notebook.  The papers were driving me bonkers and the spiral notebooks allow them to stay organized, but still pull out pieces to edit and revise.  We also do Collins Writing at our school, so I am still trying to figure out a system that works for centers, writing workshop, and Collins.  Right now, all of our work is in binders.

3. Work on Words
Ahh!  My nemesis!  We are clinging to Words Their Way, even though few teachers actually use the program any more.  We also have a list of 80 words 3rd graders must know, along with mastering any 2nd grade words they have not learned yet.  We are also getting spelling books next month.  Hmmm...any ideas on how this all works?  Right now, I have 2 spelling groups, one with long vowel patterns and one working on rules for suffixes.  They are closely grouped to where they came out on the WTW assessment.  It has been a trick to explain to kids and families that the spelling words are not for the sake of memorizing (they're too easy), but for learning the rule.  Right now, they have 10 words from their sort and 2 of their 3rd grade constants. I finally got that all straightened out and then I find out that we have books coming.  To be continued...

For the center practice of words, I have made pockets that have white boards, Expo marker, fleece eraser, a paper key board and a bookmark with sign language letters on it. They students know they need to read, spell, and then read each of their words 3 times.

That's where I am right now.  I also have a little research center going to round out the centers.  We are learning about the oceans and continents, so for a non-fiction writing piece, we are researching and writing about ocean animals using non-fiction books I have a PebbleGo.  PebbleGo is a bit easy for third graders, but they are getting the facts quickly so our focus is on writing strong paragraphs.

That's a little about what I have been up to.  I will try to update more as I am able and take some more pictures to share.