Friday, August 28, 2009

Back to School!

The first week of school has come and gone, and it has been a blur! I was at school late every day since I am teaching a center in the after school program 3 days a week, trying to get back into the swing of things with a new school year, and trying to stay on top of my responsibilities with a new grade level. Plus, Tuesday night was the PTA board meeting (I'm teacher rep this year) and it lasted until 9pm, and then last night (Thursday) was another late night because of Meet the Teacher night. And it doesnt help that my graduate class started on the first day of school, either.

But you know the really, really, cool thing about all of that?

I LOVE it! I am so happy to be back at school. I have always loved my job, but I love it even more now that I'm teaching 3rd grade. I was a little scared that I was going to miss first, but I can truly say that I haven't regretted my decision for a single second so far. My students are amazing. They are all so smart and so sweet! This is going to be a really great year because we're going to be like a little family in our class. Already the students are all over the whole "random acts of kindness" thing. It helps that they sometimes get tickets if I catch them, lol. They're also LOVING the bulletin board that I described in a post over the summer, on which I have hung about 30 "tired" words, such as bad, good, like, then, but, do, went, happy, etc. Under the words are pegs with rings of replacement words on them. I haven been highly impressed with the interest in using the large words, the students' ability to choose and apply the words correctly, and the finished product of their writing assignments.

We have a lot of cool things going on this year, including a GREAT new aspect of our reading curriculum which I do not have the energy to blog about right now. We've also implented daily Fluency Folders (on the second day of school - go us!) that have fluency, comprehension, and vocabulary components to them. Also, we've created writing folders for the kids - an excellent resource for all kinds of vocab, guidance on story starters and different types of writing, onomatopoeias, etc. They love to use their writing folders!

Since I've got a very large representation of gifted students in my class this year, I've been working hard to come up with some ways to challenge them. I made these "When I'm Finished" menus for each month of the year which contain enrichment activities for the students to do after they complete their work. So far it's a big hit, especially the science-related choices and silly writing prompts. We're also using more challenging work whole-class, like higher-level questioning and comprehension strategies, and also with our "Tease your Brain Tuesday" special morning work.

I've still been worried that my high-achieving kids are going to be bored, so I think I'm going to start an independent study program next week on a free-choice basis. In reading, I'm going to let my gifted kids (who already grasp most of the reading/LA material that I'm teaching) choose a topic that interests them and then help them develop a research question. They'll choose from a list I generated (based on Bloom's Taxonomy) of project outcomes - things like writing a paper, creating a poster, making a powerpoint presentation, designing an advertisement, writing a play, "authoring" a children's book, etc., and then work during class to complete the project. We'll enter an independent study contract outlining the rules and deadlines (if you want a copy of the contracts I've come up with, just ask and I'll email them to you)! The students will have class time (this is not work to be done at home, and often will take the place of instruction that they find boring and needless) to visit the library, research on the internet, conduct interviews, etc. When they finish, they'll present to the class to teach us something new!

In math, I plan on doing the same type of thing (I have contracts for this, too), but the projects are smaller and shorter-term. Basically I plan to pretest my students on a topic before I teach it, and allow them to do advanced, alternative activities on the same topic if they demonstrate 90% accuracy before I teach the unit - and trust me, several of them will. Sometimes I'll have brain-bender activities and other times I may ask them to write about the importance of the topic we're studying in their day-to-day lives. I may even ask them to create a game for the class to play to practice their skills. Sometimes I'll have them write story problems for each other and trade to solve them. I'm always looking for new ideas!

I'm sure you can tell I'm very excited. This is partly because all of these ideas are coming out that I wasn't able to use in 1st grade because the kids weren't quite ready for the independence, but part of it is also because I've already learned a little about myself this year. I need to stop running such a controlled classroom in which everyone is on the same page all of the time, and allow my kids to work at their own levels, even if it stresses me out a little. The very MINUTE that I explained the independent study opportunities for next week to my gifted group today, I saw their little faces seriously light up with excitement. They deserve this, even if it's a little more work for me! It makes it all worth it :)

Today a little boy wrote about a time when he was excited because his mom brought him two new dogs. He wrote about how he played with them in the backyard for a while and then went in to watch some TV. He wrote how the first dog kept following his second dog around and sniffing it. Then he wrote this:

"So I was on my couch watching some TV. Then two hours later my second dog was pregnant. She had five puppies later."

Is this funny to anyone else? It made me spit out my soda when I read it after school today.

Another thing I LOVE about third grade? My class jobs are actually a HELP to me instead of a burden! My kids run the show for the entire morning when they arrive and before they go to specials. I have a librarian who helps others check books in and out from my library, a homework helper who removes the numbered clips from our homework and makes a list on the board for me so I can see who didn't do it (and then puts the clips back out in order for the next day), a person who takes attendance on the board for me, a person who checks everyone's morning work and stamps it, a person who takes things to the office, someone who turns on the student computers, and I could go on and ON! Man it's so nice.

On another note, some of my kids are really struggling with 6 digit place value, so if any of my teacher readers have any good strategies for teaching this (mainly going from expanded form back to standard form) I would love to hear them!

Okay, sorry this post has been all about school. It's dominated my every waking minute for the last two weeks, so I pretty much have nothing else going on. I hope you have a great weekend!


ShelbeeDawn said...

Hey! I'm on the math vertical team for my school and the third, fourth, and fifth grade teachers also have trouble with their kids knowing place value beyond 3 digits. They came up with this cute way of their kids remembering what to do. Each 3 place values beyond hundreds belong to a "family" with the same last name and they all belong to the same house. The kids first put a decimal place and then draw a dash for each place value. They start with ones, tens, and hundreds (which they all get for the most part). Then they put a comma to represent "the dog" of the family. Then they go to the next "house" on the street. The next house has the "thousands" family (the baby, momma, and daddy and then another comma for their dog). Then they move on to the "millions" family. It makes more sense if I could draw it out for you but if you wanna know more, I can give you the email address of our math vertical team rep. Good luck!!

Mandy and Jack said...

Glad to hear you're enjoying your new school year!! It's a good thing the kid went to watch TV or he'd be writing a pretty descriptive paper about something else!