Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Retro Kid Lit: Reading our Way through Golden Book History

My daughter  received the Golden Books Classic 65th Anniversary boxed set for her first birthday this winter and we brought it out to enjoy this weekend while we waited for Hurricane Irene to pass.

The set is gorgeous and I love the feel of cracking open those golden spines for the first time.  In our first adventure with the Golden Books, E. was more interested in taking the books in and out of their box.  But she knew they were something special.  At the end of the night, she insisted on placing each book back, one by one, before placing the box on her shelf and waving good night to it.

Why didn't she scatter these books on the floor, stack them like blocks or turn them into hats as she does with so many others? 

Was it the gold spine, the watercolor illustrations, or all those words on the page (so many more than in our usual board books)- that made each book seem so special?

Stay with us as we go through these new-old treasures and discover why my 21st Century Baby is falling in love with the 1940s classics- and what I'm learning on my second time around with old friends.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Shouting Game

No, it's not when students forget to do the "silent cheer" when they win a round of Jeopardy, and it's not another Sentence Scramble run-around-the-room game, the Shouting Game is what happens when the students in this fall's Tiny Schoolhouse are frantic to share the correct answer on test review day. 

But they have absolutely no idea what it is.

When classroom review turns into an unexpected game of charades on the day when I think it will be a well oiled machine pumping out "Words to Know" and connecting concepts like 1-2-3, who forgot to do the homework, the teacher or the students?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Something to Hold

Recently, when my family returned from vacation, I explained to my daughter what souvenir means- to remember.  We bring something with us when we return from vacation so that we can remember the fun we had and the place we visited.  We treasure souvenirs because they are things we can hold that represent a time and place that exists in our memory. 

Teachers know the value of "something we can hold" and the link to memory.  We distribute handouts and encourage students to work with manipulatives

As the new school year begins, students from this summer's Tiny Schoolhouse will be called upon to remember the lessons that we learned, from grammar and phonics to basic study skills that lead to classroom success and confidence.

Remembering all they learned will be difficult in the face of the pressures a new school year brings- adjusting to a new teacher and classroom, meeting new classmates, managing the long school day and the demands of after school activities. 

At the end of these early days of the year, when it is still hot out and students are already starting the countdown to the first vacation, it is easy to slip into old habits- ignoring homework assignments, succumbing to classroom distractions, fear of failure. 

To encourage my students to continue their path to academic success I am giving them something to hold, a basic Study Skills Guide with tips on the most important (and most often forgotten) skills including:
  • Keeping a neat notebook
  • Listening and participating
  • Working as a team member in the classroom
  • Following directions
  • Managing homework assignments
  • Making study sheets
  • Using class notes to study
  • Staying confident
  • Doing well

Monday, August 23, 2010

Tears and The Tough One

Years ago, a few weeks before the start of my first year teaching, everyone I met told me tales of "The Tough One."

"There's one in every class," teaching veterans, parents and peers who had never stood on the other side of the podium warned me. 

"Don't smile."

"Maintain eye contact."

"Take control."

"Show no fear."

"Show no mercy."

The list went on...

I began to imagine myself confronted by a classroom teeming with Tough Ones, the ring leader rallying the masses, leaving me quivering before the world's most terrifying 15-year-olds.

As it turned out, my first classes of students, many of whom had tough lives outside of the classroom, found school to be a safe place, a place to put the toughness aside, to open their minds and to develop new ideas and confident ways of expressing ideas. 

For the most part.

There were a few Tough Ones- a few particularly tough days.  But in my first year I, like so many teachers, learned that "The Tough One" always has a story.  She may be the weak one in her own home.  He may struggle with self esteem or confidence.  She may need someone to be kind and supportive- someone to listen before reacting; connect as an individual before assuming and labeling.

Years later, when I stepped into My Tiny Schoolhouse, full of First through Fourth Graders, I wasn't thinking about "The Tough One."  I marveled at the size of the desks and the fact that you have to remind the students how to use the lines on a page of notebook paper.

As the days went on and the children became more comfortable, our "Tough One" emerged.  He was the smallest, though he was not the youngest.

He did his best to bend the class to his will- he tried interrupting, getting out of his seat, in extreme cases, he tried taunting his classmates.

In the moment, you can start to forget that this child is between the ages of six and ten.  You can start to resent his attempt at taking over your classroom, your plans for the day.  You can be tempted to treat him like an adult, or an adversary.

What I learned with our Tough One this summer is that he is also the first to cry- when he loses a game or answers a question incorrectly. 

He is smart and he is scared.  And he is shy. 

As teachers- the new and the veteran- head back to school, I have my own bit of advice about the Tough One.  Think of him or her as the Sensitive One.  The one who needs your patience, your discipline and your professional attention. 

You may be the one he or she looks most forward to seeing each day.  You may be the one he needs on his side the most- to encourage, to motivate and to teach.

Friday, August 20, 2010

What about You?

As if learning singular and plural weren't difficult enough with nouns that don't use the "+s Rule," along come you, your, and yours.

Personal Pronouns have received much attention in my Tiny Schoolhouse this summer.  For the Second Person Lesson, we also added in your favorite contraction and mine, "you're."

Full disclosure- when my husband and I first started dating, he swapped "your" for "you're" in an email.  We are both surprised we've lasted as long as we have.

So I am determined that this generation of students- as many as I am privileged to work with- will never, ever compromise an amazing relationship due to the misuse of a personal pronoun.

For this lesson, we began with a conversation, using "you are" in place of "you're" to get students used to what they are actually saying.

Often, younger students misunderstand contractions.  They can view contractions as new word forms that don't connect with their own speech and reading experiences.  In a way, contraction confusion mirrors math confusion when students don't understand the components of a contraction (2 independent words) and the function each word performs (for example, pronoun+verb).

To introduce and reinforce the contraction lesson and the case lesson, our conversation played with absurdity:

"That is you are cookie."

"Sally is inviting both of yous to her pool party."

On a speech level, all of the students were able to draw the syntactical distinction between "your" and "you're."  Success!

To take the lesson to the next level, we turned to the board:

Singular                                                    Plural
you                                                             you   
your                                                            your
yours                                                          yours

Students copied this carefully into their notebooks.  Next, we read each case out loud, in order.  Last, we closed notebooks and the class chanted "Singular: you, your, yours; Plural: you, your, yours" as I tapped each word on the board.

We wrapped up the participatory board lesson with

you're = you are

Students copied the "contraction equation" and drilled aloud.

To wrap it all together, students worked independently at home on a worksheet entitled "What about You?".

Looks like this group of kids will grow up to be lucky in love.... that is if they also have the good fortune of falling for grammarians.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Read It: Back to School

Back to School is a great time to establish patterns for student success and set the stage for a year of confidence and academic success. These last days of summer can prove essential to paving the way for a great year.

Promote early literacy and help ease children's fears by exposing them to books that present significant life events in an age-appropriate way.

Thanks to twitter moms and HarperCollins, I found a great list of recommended reading for kids who are nervous, or excited (that happens too!) about heading Back to School.

Back-to-School Books Back-to-School Sweepstakes

When a young child reads about topics that are significant, scary, or exciting in their lives, important things happen for literacy.

        1. Your child learns to see his/her life in a larger context- "what happens to me happens to others"-helping to teach empathy.
        2. Your child develops tools that harness imagination and creativity to help prepare for events.
        3. Your child understands reading as an information-seeking activity (in addition to an entertainment   activity), helping to plant the seeds of critical thinking and research skills that will lead to lifetime learning success.

There, They're, Their...

No worries, it's just another grammar lesson.  But this is one that, as I explained to my students, confuses some of the smartest adults I know.

Homophones can be tricky, especially for young students who struggle with Language Arts skills or have a weak foundation.  Most of these students rely on the "it doesn't sound right" method of determining word choice, structure and other basic grammatical elements of sentences. 

When it sounds the same but has a different definition and function, it's time to examine what each word means, how it is spelled and when and how it is used.

Enter our first lesson, that works in conjunction with Personal Pronouns: "There, They're, Their."

For this lesson we turn to some old school fundamentals:
Board Work
Memorization Exercises

Check back for samples of our "There, They're Their" activities and an update on how the class performs when test time arrives.

What are your tips for foundational grammar lessons?

Game Time! 
For a related topic (great for the older students in the class), check out this online Memory Game for common homonyms.