Why I Love My Job

Today I was invited to a presentation of McKinley KidTV at McKinley School in Westfield, NJ.  And wow!  That show rocked!  Under the direction of Joe Paradise and Cathy McGarry, two teachers at McKinley, a bunch of fifth grade students produced a one-hour TV show that made me cry happy tears.

The backstory: Four days a week, during recess, the kids meet with Joe and Cathy to write, direct and produce TV.  The kids decide on issues, or themes or news of interest to them and then they research the topics.  This year the show centered on Super Storm Sandy, how the brain learns to read, students composing music about endangered animals, and don’t forget MythBusters!

I love that the kids choose the topics.  THEY decide how to shape the content of the show.  THEY create it, and THEY’re the stars.  Thank you, Joe and Cathy for making this possible for McKinley School kids.   Teachers like you make me love my job.  Check out a video at vimeo.com/67690352.

Celebrity of the Week

Okay, I admit it.  When I first heard about Celebrity of the Week in my son’s class I thought, ho hum.  By second grade, kids are over that stuff aren’t they?  But no, my second grader,  has waited all year for the honor.  I guess I wasn’t really listening when his teacher, Lori Talbot explained the ritual.  (And I was probably half-thinking, how does this fit in with best practices?)

Now it’s here and…well, wow.

Each day is something special for the Celeb.  Monday he’ll share a poster he created that tells about him.  Tuesday he’ll share his favorite book.  And today, as Lori says, “Wednesday, is the day Mom and Dad get to brag all about him and what makes him his wonderful self.”

Here’s the letter my husband wrote to our little guy.

Dear Ari,

Your name means Lion.  You have the strength, grace and confidence of a lion.  When you make up your mind to do something you don’t let anything get in your way.  You’re lightning fast too!  No one is going to throw you out when you play baseball.  

Ari, you care about everyone and everything.  You feel everyone’s feelings and try to make others feel better.   And you’re the best hugger!  And back scratcher!  Not too hard, not too light…just right!

You’re already a published writer!  You’ve written many picture books and even sold them every year at your summer book stand.  If your readers are lucky, you might even autograph a book!

You’re a master builder.  Legos, Hero Factory, pillow forts.  And as for finding your way out of mazes, well let’s just say that “You’re the man!”

If anybody needs to be cheered up?  You’ll make up a joke.  Or a game.  Your funny ideas will have everybody rolling on the floor laughing. 

If Star Wars was real, you would be a Jedi Knight in training.  And then probably Luke Skywalker’s Padawan!  You have the goodness of all the Jedi Knights combined.  You can probably even use ‘The Force’ to open doors.  

Ari, we have never met anyone who did not fall in love with you the first time they met you.  You’re the best thing that ever happened to us and we love you more than anything.  

Love, Mommy and Daddy

If Ari can read that aloud without tears, I’ll be surprised.  (I couldn’t.)

Thursday–he’s really looking forward to Thursday.  He gets to have lunch with Mrs. Talbot.

And Friday, he’ll receive his fan letters from the rest of the kids.

Did I say ho hum?  I take that back.  Anyone who showers this much love on her students is anything but.  As one principal said to me recently, “You can’t measure heart.” But you can feel it, and it’s alive and well in Lori Talbot’s second grade class.

Making Fiction Fun

One of my favorite third grade teachers, Cindy Piano, of Bogota, NJ has a few tricks up her sleeve when it comes to teaching fiction.  She used to struggle with the genre.  No matter how much she taught about character, and tension, it just didn’t take.  Forget about beginning, middle or end–the kids didn’t really know which was which, and nobody had a good time.

So Cindy changed the way she taught.  She decided she would have the whole class write about one character to start.  This year her students decided to write about her pin!  Cindy always wears a pin, usually in honor of a student, and her kids know that.  So why not adopt a pin character and use him in a story?  The kids loved this idea and set about creating an adventure for the little mouse Cindy wore.  They were having a great time and then… the mouse disappeared!  Cindy lost him on the way to work one day and had to tell the kids.  But that didn’t stop them–some of her students made up stories about how much fun the mouse had being on the loose.  The mouse miraculously reappeared and that worked as a plot point, too.  The kids all loved having this character in common, and each one had a blast writing an individual adventure.

The other technique Cindy uses when teaching fiction is this: after the kids decide on who the character is and what he/she is like, they write the adventure part.  THEN, they go back and create the beginning of the story, creating a little set-up for the action.  She has the students write the adventure part on one colored sheet of paper, and the beginning/set-up on a different color.  When the kids are ready to write an ending, they write that on a third color.    The different colors really help the students think about the different parts of the story and how each part fits into the whole.

The kids learned a lot and the best part is that everybody had a great time!

After Sandy…

Today’s blog was written by third grade teacher, Cindy Piano, of Bogota, NJ.

Today was our first day back after the storm.  I gathered the kids together and we talked about the storm itself but mostly about “What we did after the storm.”  We brain-stormed and made lists of things we did. (played, learned new games, played outside, ATE lots of food, ran out of books to read and library was not open)  Then, we decided to write to our pen pals at Bixby {a nearby school}  (One asked if the hurricane happened at Bixby too!)  They decided to write about the hurricane, describing it  the best they could, wind, creaky house, trees bending, etc.  Some had fires right outside their houses at the transformers!  Then they wrote about what they did during the week when there was no electricity.  After they finish they will share with partners and talk all about their experiences.

It was very scary for them and I thought it was a good way to really get out some of their feelings and be able to share and write at the same time.

Crayons vs. Pencils?

I was in Lebanon Township, NJ doing a demo lesson in Marybeth Pupa’s Kindergarten class yesterday.  Since the kids were making books, Marybeth put out the pencils and crayons.  Some kids used pencils, then added with crayons.  Some used pencils and never picked up the crayons.  Some stuck to crayons and could not be convinced to use a pencil.  There was a discussion afterwards about what’s “right,” pencils or crayons?  Would kids write more if they had only pencils?  Would they refuse to write if they couldn’t use crayons?  Marybeth’s thinking is this: they’re five.  Some of them just turned five.  They’re learning how to be in school.  She wants them to LOVE school and to love writing time.  And if crayons will help them do that, she’s all for it.  I agree.  My belief is that they’ll all get there (wherever there is) especially with such a thoughtful, loving teacher guiding them.  For lots of K kids, the drawing IS writing.  So it all goes together anyway.  Let them have fun.  The letters and written words will surely come.

The Week in Review

I’m loving my son’s second grade teacher, Lori Talbot!  On Fridays she gathers the class and they brainstorm: what did we learn this week?  She records their ideas on the board, then, in writing they respond to the following.

Three things I learned this week are:

Three skills/strategies that I worked on are:

I have been reading:

My favorite part of the week was:     Why?

The best part? She sends the sheet home for parents to read.  And my son is actually able to tell me about what he did in school.  I love how reflective this piece of teaching is.  (Not to mention the interesting dinner conversations.)




Help! My Bulletin Board is Bare!

Don’t stress over your beginning of the year bulletin board.  It’s supposed to be empty. (Till your students make something).  When you do put up some kid work, make it simple.  And make it interesting to read.  Here’s one of my favorite ideas.  I saw this outside Steve Mahalic’s second grade class in Glen Cove, New York.  He posted a big sign that said, “Why Is Reading So Important?”  Then he invited his new students to respond.  Here are some sample answers:

If you can’t read your diary, you won’t know what you wrote.

Reading is important because you can learn things and get smarter.

Reading food labels is important because you should always read the calories first and then you can make it.

Reading is important because if you are going to Six Flags and you don’t know how to read a map you are not going to get there.

You can do similar bulletin boards for writing, math…any subject, really.  It will get your kids thinking and it makes a good read for people passing by.





Don’t Dilly Dally!

When Nicole Crumlich, a Kindergarten teacher in Glen Cove, NY noticed that her students were wasting precious writing moments, it was time to do a minilesson on dilly-dallyers.  In Nicole’s lesson she explained what it meant to dilly dally and why it was not a good idea to do it.   Then (this is the piece I love) she modeled what it would look like to dilly dally BEFORE, DURING and AFTER writing.  Here’s what it looked like: Before: you go to your seat, slowly open your folder, don’t take out your piece of writing right away.  During: playing with your pencil, “pretending” you can’t see a word on the word wall so you have to get up and walk over to it and hang out by it for awhile, even though your seat is right next to the word wall!  After: when it’s time to clean up, you don’t put your paper away quickly, you hang out by the folder bin, but don’t put your folder away because you want yours on the top!  And you don’t come to the carpet to share quickly.  The kids all laughed when Nicole demonstrated each of these (probably laughs of self-recognition).  The kids are taking writing time much more seriously now and they love to tell each other, “Don’t dilly dally!”