Fall is finally here! I love it--the cool, crisp weather, I mean--not all the icky pumpkin spice flavored stuff. My newly favorite part of the season is Fall Break, which is a WONDERFUL treasure for school staff and students, as it comes during the first week of October, right at the end of the first quarter of the new school year, just when we all need a little time to regroup after all the hustle and bustle of getting to know each other for 9 weeks. If your school system doesn’t have a REAL Fall Break (not one of those long weekends some school districts try to pawn off on us), you need to be finding and filling up somebody’s Suggestion Box lickety-split! I’ve only experienced it the past 3 years, but it’s an addiction I’ll never be able to quit! I didn’t even travel anywhere this time—ended up staying home and working on a few projects around the house. One job was to Potterize a small home theater room we have in our basement. Sure, it’s tacky, but it’ll be fun to feel like we’re at Hogwarts every now and then. None of the decorative items are permanent, so we can change it up whenever we wish. Although, I’ll have to admit that working on this room did make me pause and reflect on why in the world a grown woman would want to waste too much money and time to create a setting that mimics a kids’ book series.
I got to thinking about all the fabulous children’s literature my students and I get to interact with every day and how some of the stories really do become a part of us. We bond with the characters, we care about what happens to them, and they become part of our life experience—our schema. Like most of you, over the years, I’ve become partial to many favorite authors and their creations. Harry Potter and company are special, because my daughter, Rachel, grew up with those books and movies. We started them when she was in 2nd or 3rd grade—taking turns reading the pages, so she wouldn’t get too bogged down in decoding long names or trying to understand difficult vocabulary. My Rachel is a grown woman now, but, as a teacher, I’m still responsible for expanding vocabulary and sparking a love for reading in kids—a classroom full of second graders every year. It’s a job that’s easier said than done in some cases, but I’ve found that every child usually enjoys story time and takes a shining to a favorite character or two, even if he or she doesn’t “zactly” enjoy reading independently. Here are a few of my favorite "weading" moments:
We finished this year's reading of Kate DiCamillo’s The Tale of Despereaux in class yesterday and all 24 students erupted in spontaneous applause when I said, "The End." Every child has different interests, but it is so wonderful to see all of them come together and get so excited about a great story. Can't wait to start the next novel!
Wanna hear all the air instantly get sucked out of a classroom? Just read aloud from any book that includes the words “shut up,” “stupid,” or “dumb.” Try it sometime. You won’t be disappointed. I pwomise.
Every school year, some of my best memories are centered around story time. Yesterday, 23 second graders and I were practically rolling on the floor, laughing at the silly antics of a talking, junk-food-eating bat named Murray.
One of our new vocabulary words for the week is "attention," so we were talking about the different ways you could use the word. Someone said that you pay attention to your teachers at school. I agreed and said something like, "What would even be the point of coming to school if you weren't going to pay attention to your teachers?" One kid replied, "Well . . . there's recess."
I'm fairly certain that, today, I earned the highest compliment I could ever hope to receive from an 8-year-old boy (and a most surprising one in this day and age): "Mizz Ellis, I just love it when you talk Cowboy."
Found this on our Twitter Board this morning. I think we can work out something. #musictoateachersears
A couple of days ago, we were taking a reading test and the small group of students I was working with was on a question about the meaning of the compound word "fishbowl." Breaking the silence, I hear a child quietly mumble to himself, "Everbody knows you cain't never trust a fish. They just up and die on ya tomorrow."
In school, we're reading a book by Cynthia Rylant, called Gooseberry Park. Yesterday, we got to the spellbinding part where a terrible ice storm hits the park, trees are falling, and the animals are in danger of losing their homes and their lives. Trying to make a connection for the kids, I say something like, "Remember the bad winter you had last year, with all the ice and snow? Everything was slick and the snow was very deep? You were stuck in your warm homes for days on end, as animals were trying to stay warm outside?" All the while, a little boy on the front row is looking at me with a puzzled face, like I'm crazy, slowly raises his hand, and responds with, "You call THAT a BAD winter?"
Overheard while kids were answering questions about a story. "Ya gotta go back and look in the book." #moremusictoateachersears
We've been comparing/contrasting fairy tales from different cultures and, today, I found an Italian video version of the Cinderella story called "The Cinderella Barber," which is particularly interesting because the main character is a male barber apprentice who falls in love with a count's daughter. Rather than losing a shoe as he hurries away from the ball, he drops his cap on the steps and all the men in the town must try it on to see whom it fits. As the cap was tried on the heads of several men, one after another, a little boy sitting close to me quietly muttered to himself, "Yeah . . . right . . . like they're not all gonna get lice.”
This year, my class will NOT let me get away with saying or reading the word "duty" without everyone instantly bursting into laughter. I try to plan ahead and substitute "job" or "responsibility," but I keep setting myself up.
As we were all lined up for dismissal this afternoon, I was trying to give a reminder, but everyone was chattering and no one was listening, so I asked if they heard me.
Student #1: "What did you say?"
Me: "Bring your library books tomorrow."
Student #2: "Yahtzee!"
Student #3: "What are you talkin' about? Yahtzee's a GAME."
Student #2 (eyes rolling): "It means 'ackzackly'."
Student #3: "You mean 'exactly'."
Student #2: "Yeah, that's what I said. Yahtzee!"
Student #3: "Yahtzee doesn't mean exactly."
Student #2: "Yes, it does."
Student #3: "No, it doesn't."
Student #2: "Well, it does in SPANISH!"
Yesterday, I was asking some reading comprehension questions of a child during an individual assessment. He had read a book about some kids who were playing outside and found a hidden cave. I asked, "What are some things you would expect to find in a cave?" Looking at me as if I was crazy to ask such a ridiculous question, he replied, "Well, gold . . . OF COURSE." So, I continued, "Why would you expect to find gold?" By now, he was in complete disbelief that I had to clarify his answer and, sarcastically, blurted out, "Uh . . . It's a CAVE." I think he must read more pirate books than I do.
While explaining the meaning of “muckraker” as related to the weasels in Cynthia Rylant’s Gooseberry Park, one boy adds, “My dad’s wife? Now, she’s a muckraker . . . always wantin’ to start fights.”
Rare is the child who can decode the word “Firefighter” correctly. I used to think it was only my own kid who said it this way, but I’d estimate that 90% of the children I’ve taught read it as “Fighterfighter.” Don’t believe me? Grab the nearest kid and give it a try.
Yesterday, we were reading a sweet little book by Helme Heine, called Friends, that we read every year to help us learn to become a friendlier classroom community. There is a page where the three friends—Johnny Mouse, Charlie Rooster, and Fat Percy—find an old wooden rowboat shoved into the weeds along the bank of a pond. They use it for a pirate ship, of course, but the kids were thinking of other things they could do with it if they found such a boat. I heard, "Go Fishing!," "Go Tubing!," "Explore the Pond!" and other such fun things. Lastly, one little girl calls out, "Sell It!"
I have a talented little artist in class this year, who loves to draw whenever he gets a chance. Lately, he’s been drawing miniature pictures of me during story time, when I’m reading aloud to the kids while they eat a snack at their desks. Usually, they sit on the rug for our story, but, if we’re running short on time, we save it for snack time and they stay at their desks—happens, maybe, once every 2-3 weeks. He draws much better than what you see here. These are quick sketches he does in about 2 minutes on tiny scraps of paper (approximately 2”x2”). I’m getting quite a collection. How sweet!
So, our second graders not only learn new vocabulary; they create it. Apparently, "unschoolpropriate" is a new term to describe websites that are not allowed through the school filter.
Our classroom Twitter board is a place kids feel comfortable sharing their feelings and worries (thanks to Jordan Adams, a clever student teacher!)
(Translation: "Worries: 1. I'm excited about reading.;
2. I am worried about not being able to read.")
I was introducing the week’s new vocabulary words today and one of them is “explain.” One student immediately started to chuckle and said, “Explaining—that’s your gift, Miss Ellis. You gotta explain stuff to us all day long.” I’m choosing to embrace that as a positive observation and ignore that the statement was probably a nice way of saying, “You talk too much!”
I guess it's time to throw out our last few books-on-tape cassettes when the kids are trying to put the cassettes into our personal players without first removing them from the plastic cases . . . #20thcenturyartifacts
This morning, we finished our reading of Kate DiCamillo’s The Tale of Despereaux. This afternoon, we watched the movie and compared/contrasted it with the book. Just as we were wrapping everything up, we all sort of took a collective sigh, before beginning to pack up to go home. Suddenly, one sweet little girl stands up, throws her arms around herself in a hug, and sadly says, “I’m just not ready for all of this to end!” Moments like these explain why I’ll never tire of reading great literature like this to my students, even though it was my 14th spin with that heroic little mouse.
If you want to read in the loft, there are rules to follow for safety and so that no one "disturbers" others. Fortunately, so far, we’ve been very safe, with no bloody head injuries. Disturbering? That's another matter entirely.
Safety Tweet Translation: “I am worried about the loft. It is not sturdy.” (He felt a little better after I told him that the weight limit is 350 pounds.):
We finished “weading” Kate DiCamillo’s The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane today. Only 5 weeks of school remaining means there is only time for one more novel. Ugh, we do love our story time.
Me: "Great job, guys! You're doing a fabulous job of moving along to your reading rotations quickly. You're really rockin' it this morning!"
Student: "No, YOU'RE really rockin' it this morning--talking SO fast."
Today, I was reading one of my favorite silly books to my new class. It's called "Dragon Tales" and was written by Dav Pilkey. He's the author of "Captain Underpants" and many other super-silly books and series, so you can imagine the ear-piercing giggles. "Dragon," who isn't the sharpest knife in the drawer, needed some kitty litter for his new cat. Knowing what was coming in the story, I asked the kids what they knew about another meaning for the word "litter." One little girl said she knew what it meant: "It's when, someone is, you know, driving down the road, just driving along, and wads up some paper in a ball--probably their HOMEWORK--and throws it out the window, right onto the ground."
We have a new student, learning our classroom procedures, who is in the reading loft for the first time. There is another child up there and I mention to him that he needs to be a good example, modeling safe behavior and good silent reading. His response? "Oh sure, Miss Ellius, I can help him learn what to do, ‘cause I been here my whole life."
My school’s Fall “Festibul” has already come and gone—it was early this year, due to some scheduling conflicts. The theme was favorite books and everyone was invited to dress up as a favorite literary character. We always involve favorite book characters in some way at this time of year, whether during the festibul itself or a special theme day during “Wed Wibbon Week,” which falls at the end of October . . . just before . . . GULP! . . . Halloween, which begins the annual two-month winter holiday frenzy. Folks, every teacher out there NEEDS a Fall Break to recharge our batteries, because from now until Winter Break, we’ll be scraping kids off the ceiling and working in survival mode, trying to teach academic content to a roomful of students who have lost their ever-lovin’ minds!
Tonight was my second HES Fall "Festibul." Thankfully, there was no way I was going to miss it or be late, because I'm pretty sure that I was reminded about 92 times today that the start time was 6:00. The afternoon was like trying to contain popping corn without a lid.
Today was a particularly stressful and busy day at school. On the way home, I’m planning to stop and pick up a bottle of wine for the evening. Just as I’m pulling into the Harris Teeter parking lot, I look in the mirror and remember I have a lightning bolt drawn on my forehead. Then, I look down and remember that I’m dressed in full Hogwarts regalia. Favorite Book Character Costume Day. Maybe I’ll get the wine tomorrow.
Our “Murray the Bat from Gooseberry Park” pumpkin won Best of Show at the Parade of Pumpkins last night! That junk-food-eating-bat is one of our favorite characters every single year!
I got some great Halloween advice at school today: "Mrs. Ellis, you need to be careful on Halloween. If you see someone with a bag that looks sort of empty and they open it up, they are probably trick-or-treating and want candy. But, if they are carrying a bag filled with white stuff, they probably want to TP your house."