Saturday, November 28, 2009

Post-Thanksgiving Update

Howdy, everyone! Kevin and I have been enjoying a nice break together from the regular stresses of life (for me, mainly just work LOL). We didn't travel this year for Thanksgiving, and instead had a really nice lunch at his mom's house in Fort Worth. It was really relaxing and the food was great!

Also, we decorated for Christmas. I have both of my trees up and Kevin got lights hung outside yesterday. Now I've started wrapping presents for under the tree! For obvious reasons, Christmas spending needs to be light for us this year. I love giving gifts, and the thought of not doing anything this year was just not sitting right with me. So I decided to hand-make my gifts. Every single gift that we give this year will be hand-made and special. I actually think that's what it should always be like, come to think of it!

Kevin's birthday is on Tuesday (the 1st) so I got him a little something today. Let's just say that I have figured out the way to please Kevin with gifts - pretend that I am buying for a 12 year old boy. His mom apparantly has this figured out as well, and gave him a remote control helicopter for his birthday. Which of course, he promptly broke while flying it recklessly in the cul-de-sac. Now we get to go to the hobby shop for replacement parts tomorrow, haha.

School has been going extremely well. I absolutely love my third grade class, and I am so glad that I switched to third this year. I have so much fun with them! I am so blessed to have a job which I enjoy so much. Sure, there is a lot of stress, some frustration, long hours, and tests of my patience. But none of that even matters because I enjoy my time with the kids 95% of the time.

In late September my students took a reading benchmark test to determine their comprehension on TAKS test-like passages and questions. They did less than spectacular, which of course is to be expected so early in the year. Still, it was extremely disconcerting to me as their teacher to see that only 58% of my students were currently in line to pass the test.

After this test, I immediately began working on a plan for comprehension skill-based small group instruction. My main problem with small groups has been that I never know when I am going to have time to pull them or what my kids will need help on at that time. I like to pull them 2-3 times a week, but it is really hard to plan for. And when you don't know how to plan for them, you don't get copies made, etc. SO I decided to put together a small groups file.

First, I went through the entire set of TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) for third grade reading. I took note of every comprehension strategy and skill that they need to learn (inferences, cause/effect, sequencing, author's purpose, summary, etc.) There are 20 of them in all. Then I made a chart of all of these skills and included rows under each column for each of my struggling students.

Then, I went through the benchmark test and determined which problems addressed each skill, and from there determined which skills the students had mastered. Next to those skills, the students got a check mark in their row. There were not very many checks on my checklist.

From there, I was able to search all of my resources (online, hard-copy, out of workbooks, and some that I created new) and pull 4-5 resources for each skill area. Some are games, some are worksheets, etc. I turned those in to get 7 copies of each and had them laminated. I then filed them according to skill behind my small groups table.

I immediately started pulling small groups and using my new materials with dry erase markers. I focused mainly on context clues, author's purpose, and summarization. When we gave a mock benchmark test last week, guess which skills they had mastered? On that test, 84% of my students passed. That's a lot better than 58%, huh? I'm excited to see what we can do by the time the TAKS test comes around in late April!

Teaching third grade is never boring, and my students always have me laughing. Here are some funny (and some cute) things that happened just last week:

1. I was given this note:

When I opened it, about 30 little notebook paper hearts fell out and inside it said "Lots of little hearts just for you."

2. I also received a note (written in colorful marker) that said "Mrs. White ROCKS! And colors ROCK too."

3. I got a note in the shape of a snowflake that said "I thought you wanted a snowflake."

4. At lunch groups, a little boy said, in a very serious tone: "Mrs. White. Did you know something? Did you know that you have a MEXICAN in here? And it's me."

5. Also at lunch groups, the kids asked me what sports I used to play. When I got to swim team, a little girl had a story. She said "My mom won't let me do swim team because she says I can't swim. But really I can swim, she just doesn't believe me. One time I decided to show her that I really can swim, but the water was actually kind of too deep. So then I almost drowned. Yeah - I guess it didn't really help me out that much."

6. My recent favorite: On Tuesday I decided to give my kids a fake quiz. All it was were a bunch of hilarious questions about Thanksgiving etiquette which made them (and me) laugh. But I started out really seriously and told them to take out a piece of paper for a pop quiz. I warned them that it was so important that I was going to take 3 GRADES on it, so if they failed they would probably fail third grade. I know, I'm so mean. Before I could start the "quiz," P brought me a note that he had furiously cut out of his writing journal in the shape of a heart. On it were the words "Mrs. White, you stole my heart." He watched me read it and then asked me if we still had to take the quiz. I told him that I appreciated his kind words, but yes, they still had to take the quiz. He sighed and muttered "It was worth a shot."

Thanks for sticking with me through my long post! I'll try and not wait so long before I write again, but I can't make any promises. I stay unbelievable busy between work, grad school, and still trying to be a decent wife!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Finally an update!!!!

Hi everyone! I am so sorry that it has been almost a month since my last update. I have been swamped with a lot of things going on. There has been the typical - balancing grad school with teaching a new grade level. Then there has been the fact that Kevin and my life has been turned completely upside down over the course of the last month.

Kevin was laid off from his job one month ago on Monday. He has been really fortunate to have a lot of leads and a lot of very promising interviews already. In fact, we are waiting to hear back from two very good prospects tomorrow or Friday. Fingers crossed! They are both for Account Manager positions at landscape companies. With everything going on, its just been difficult to find time or energy to update. We both believe that his being laid off was a blessing in disguise for more reasons than one, and we are looking forward to the next step in God's plan for us.

Have I told you that I love my new job in third grade? I know I have, but too bad. It is so much fun to just talk with the kids, especially during our weekly Lunch with Teacher days. I always find out interesting information about a lot of things. Last week I found out all about a girl's 5 stepdads and how her mom ran off each one. This week a boy informed me that he was "cursed" and his milk would spill if he tried to open it. I then opened it for him and it spilled all over me.

They are so clever! When I was explaining a game yesterday I told them that the winner would be the person who had the most cards at the end of the game. I was then asked if "possibly the person with the LEAST could be the winner, since it's always the same old people with the most."

I was also told this week "______ called me ________ Markuhhh and I am NOT a wiyting utensil!"

Today at recess I was walking down the long sidewalk to the door that we line up outside of to go in. A boy walked calmly past me and Kara (another teacher) and said "So, who thinks they can beat me to the door?" I took off running, heels and all, and beat him big time. Then he told me I was "pretty fast for an old lady." He then told Kara "Your little friend over there is faster than I thought." It was pretty funny!

Yesterday I had this conversation:
Student: "_____ called me the a word."
Me: "The really bad a word?"
Student: "Yes."
Me: "Like, the really short, bad a word?"
Student: "Yes! Like the one that you put on the Boggle board."
I looked over and, yep, there it was. A possible letter arrangement on the bottom or my board clearly spelled out "ass." I made a shocked face and my class erupted in laughter. A girl then said "Yeah. You should really be more careful, Mrs. White. Last week it said 'damn' but don't worry I didnt write it." Yikes. See picture:

While I'm posting pictures, check out this one of Kara, me, Emily, and Casey on mismatch day of Red Ribbon Week:

Try asking your third graders this question: "What is the hardest mineral?" Guaranteed you will get answers like "rock" and "metal." At least I did.

Speaking of science, though, we had our first science benchmark test today (my first ever; we didn't take them in first grade). You wouldn't believe the stuff third graders are tested on - all kinds of measurement and facts about the sun and planets, renewable/unrenewable/inexhaustable resources, and even Mohs Scale of Mineral Hardness! My kids really did their best, and EVERY single one of them passed it! In fact, my class average was a 91. I am so proud of them.

This afternoon, we also took a math test. EVERY single one of my kids passed that, too, and the class average was an 88! The test was difficult because it was problem solving. There were a lot of two-step problems, extra information problems, tables, etc. The math (after they figure out how to set up the equations) was three digit addition and subtraction with regrouping. There were also a LOT of critical, higher-order thinking questions. Again, I was so proud of them! We ended the day with a little bit of an extended recess as a reward for their hard work during almost four hours of testing today.

Reading is looking up, too. On our Scholastic Reading Inventory last week I had several students increase their scores significantly from the test in September. In fact, two kids raised their scores 300 points and another raised her score 350 points! It's really starting to come together.

Kevin and I are just sitting on the couch, trying to catch up on some shows we have on DVR. A minute ago he said "I didn't VISUALLY see it..." I teased him and asked him if he auditorily saw it, or if he tactilely saw it. Annoyed, he said "Speaking of TACT, you have none." Haha

This post has definitely been disorganized, so I apologize. I'll write again soon, at least sooner than a month from now! I'm going to go spend some time with my hubby now :)