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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Hyperbolize Much?

I will admit, "Special Snack" is pretty cool.  This weekly incentive for one of my students, Kelvin, involves getting to pick one friend to join him for snack down the hall from our classroom.  We chat (mostly about Pokemon phrases I don't even understand).  We eat snack.  It's special.  3 times out of 4, the lucky friend Kelvin picks to join him is David. 


However....


Last week I found Kelvin by the cubbies, writing this note to David.  Not his usual energetic self, Kelvin was almost near tears.




Sad.  I mean--never?  Never again?  Why the harsh treatment? (And another question I have--why close such a note with, "Your Friend?") (And yes, I did copy and paste the note so that the names are changed).

When I saw his note, I asked Kelvin if he was mad at David for some reason.  Indeed, he was.  I don't even remember what the reason was, but we solved it in about two minutes by talking to David.  Done and done, and you'll be happy to know that they're back on speaking and Pokemon-ing terms in time for this week's special snack.  We'll see what happens with it comes time to choose this week!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

This May Sound Shocking

Turning over the attention of the entire class to an eight-year-old can be a little risky at times.  Who knows what they might say?  During morning meeting, two students share each day and the content of their shares is usually not vetted ahead of time.  I open the floor to whoever's signed up and we await the topic of the share.  For the most part, the shares are about new pets, upcoming trips, or some collection of special objects. 

This week, though, I started to get a little nervous as Thomas began his share and briefly wished that the morning meeting shares were somehow on a 5 second broadcast delay and that I had a censoring buzzer.

 The share began, "At the age of eight you can have different things." 

"Hmmmm."  I thought, hoping this start was not leading towards some sort of recent talk between Thomas and his dad that included, "You're getting older now, son, and there are changes that will start happening to your body."  What sort of "different things" are we talking about, here? 

Thomas continued, "This may sound shocking but...."

No no--morning meeting is not the venue for anything shocking, thanks.  I opened my mouth in preparation for a quick intervention and change of topic.

"I actually have....." 

This drawn-out and highly sensationalized introduction was killing me!


"...a nephew." 


Oh, OK.  You have a nephew.  Phew!  We can handle that.  Now on to questions or comments from the class for Thomas, when we turn our attention over to yet another eight-year-old, out of whose mouth might come something completely unexpected.  Best to just stay prepared for that quick intervention and change of topic.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Spills and Sticky Blobs

We're still close enough to the beginning of the year that I can at least vaguely recall the feeling of stocked shelves.  When the kids arrived for the new year with fresh haircuts, new shoes, and toting bags full of supplies, I stacked all of the paper towels on top of the cubbies and thought to myself,  "Finally!  This will be the year that we'll make it at least halfway through December without running out of paper towels!" 

To the untrained eye, our mountains of paper towels must have looked like a year's stash if not more, but as I gazed upon our bounty of Bounty, Viva, and Brawny, I pictured the leaking water bottles, the hemorrhaging juice boxes, the dripping glue, and the smeared chocolate pudding that would surely make quick work of these rolls in our near future.  I revised my estimate to put our restock date closer to the middle of October.

Eating both snack and lunch in our classroom ensures that we have a steady stream of containers trotting around the room, waiting to be spilled, knocked, squirted, punctured, or tipped.  And when the school lunches come with oranges, well, pretty much everything ends up sticky.

Today Dewan managed to wind up with a lap full of water while trying to assemble his do-it-yourself Lunchable Kool-Aid.  Yes, whoever decided that it was a good idea to give kids a packet of powder to pour through the tiny opening of a bottle of water was perhaps an investor in paper towel stock.  I came over to survey the damage (and to make sure this was actually water all over his pants....) and found not only a puddle on the ground but splash marks reaching two feet in any direction, and a not-insignificant amount of water on the table as well.  Not to let his drink-fixing endeavor be waylaid by the spill, Dewan poured the pink powder into what was left of his bottle of water, turning it bright red and "frooty" before dashing off to fetch the paper towels.  "Well," I thought as I watched half of the powder end up on the table, "We're due for a thorough wiping down anyway, what's a little more mess?"

Anyone who noticed Dewan's dripping pants could have easily guessed who was the party responsible for the spill today.  Last week, however, we encountered a mysterious blob of sticky gooeyness with no clear origin.  "Clean that up," I told the kids sitting nearby.  No luck.  Even after enlisting the help of the entire group, the blob remained unmoved.  There seemed to be no explanation for this curious, dark purple blob.  "Did anyone over here have blueberries today?"  No such luck.  Two kids still valiantly continued attacking the sticky mess with the cleaning spray.

"It's probably cake" piped up Ciara.  Never mind the fact that there had been exactly no cake on the menu that day, the fact that we actually never have cake in class, or the fact that the purple, gummy mystery mess in no way resembled cake.  We never did figure out what the blob was, but I'm sure we'll have plenty of opportunities in the near future to play another thrilling round of, "Guess That Mess."

What was YOUR biggest classroom spill?
Image: www.jbsitedesigns.com

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Sugar And...

No classroom teacher likes to see a frown on the Spanish teacher's or the art teacher's face at the end of a specials class.  What I do love to see, however, indicating all of the impulse control, hard work, listening, focusing, and getting along that a great Spanish class entails, is a sticker.  Yes, the Spanish teacher's got a bottomless bag of stickers and doles them out for terrific performances by the Turtles.

When I saw the kids coming down the hall today, everyone with both fists proudly aimed at me, showing off not one, but TWO stickers, I was, of course, doubly pleased.  "You got TWO stickers today?" I asked.  "No!" they informed me, the be-stickered backs of their hands still high in the air.  "TWO top-of-the-TOP stickers!"  The bottomless bag does have its hierarchy of stickers--I think the classification breaks down into sparkly vs. non-sparkly.  It is clear which is "top-of-the-top."

After some lunch, a bathroom break, and some hand washing, the sparkling stickers were somewhat less than top-of-the-top in stickiness, and many fell off during recess.  Don't worry, though--Taquan scooped up at least a dozen and adorned the backs of his hands with the Spanish class bounty.

Some kids chose to sticker-pierce their earlobes, others sprouted two extra forehead sticker eyes.  Aniya sticker-painted her nails and showed them to me.  "They say little girls are made of sugar and stickers!"  Well, sure, we'll say that's what they say.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Reading Charlotte's Web Part II

Read part I here.

Reading Chapter 2 - Wilbur

  But wait—it gets cuter.  In chapter one we all agreed that Fern feeding Wilbur a bottle was rather cute, but this chapter brought us a picture of Wilbur and the baby doll in the carriage together--nothing but adorable.  Again, we all agreed on that, and were caught up in the daily life of Fern tending to her little pig.  When Fern’s at school her mother takes care of the pig, but would raising your own little baby doll pig work in the post-1950s era of mom not being available mid-day for a pig feeding?  Well, I guess that’s what Tamagotchis are for.

 As I read aloud this chapter called "Wilbur," I thought of the last time I read Charlotte’s Web with my class—and looked up from reading to take a student’s comment.  “Wilbur?” I said.  “I mean—uh, Richard?”  Richard had taken it pretty well that I had just called him by a pig’s name, but I was a bit punchy after that and had to work hard to read with a straight face.

  At the end of this chapter, we left the idyllic world of Fern raising and anthropomorphizing the baby pig to the harsh reality (one of many within Charlotte’s Web--so get used to it, children) of having to sell him because he was eating too much.  Fern did get $6 out of the deal, certainly much more impressive a sum in 1952 dollars than in 2010 dollars—but wait, they’re kids.  $6 probably does seem like a hefty chunk of change even by today’s rates.   

  So for the price of $6, Wilbur is sold and goes to live on a farm in a manure pile.  For those kids who didn’t know what manure was, Dwan explained.  Of course they were thrilled to learn the meaning of the word manure, and I assume that nearly all of the students' internal monologues were going like this:  "That’s poop.  Eww!  Wilbur lives in poop!  Poop!  Manure!  Eww!"


Reading Chapter 3 - Escape

  We found ourselves in a richly described barn---“the kind of barn that children like to play in.”  Well, yes, if my city kids knew that barns, as a setting for playing, were an option that existed in the world, it would probably be the kind of barn they’d like to play in.  E.B. White described the “wonderful sweet breath of patient cows,” and we all just had to take his word on that.  Neither the kids nor I knew the purportedly wonderful smell of the breath of cows –patient or otherwise, but we do know the smell of the 24-hour tire shop next door and of the 92 bus passing by.

   The author’s description of “all sorts of things you find in barns” was rather entertaining.  “What are those crazy words?” the students seemed to be thinking as I read off the list.  “Grindstones, pitch forks, monkey wrenches, scythes, lawn mowers, snow shovels, ax handles, milk pails, water buckets, empty grain sacks, and rusty rat traps.”  Thought most of those terms were certainly rather unfamiliar, it’s not surprising which one generated the most most imaginative mental images and the most questions--monkey wrench.  We as adults (or any of the farmhands out there) don't think anything of the name of this tool, but yeah, I can see how the third graders wouldn’t be listening to anything after that word hit the airwaves.  Just picturing monkeys using wrenches, or a monkey-shaped wrench, or giggling about the word monkey.  I mean, monkey wrenches are just asking for giggles.

  Poor Wilbur was getting really bored, but then BAM!  Enter the goose and her delightful speech patterns.  She describes the “dirty-little, dirty-little, dirty-little yard” and not long after we embarked upon an exciting adventure of the momentarily escaped and then ultimately tackled pig.  The pig chase scene, of course, required a frenzy of fast reading aloud and I was practically out of breath once he was finally caught.  Phew!
Image: www.jswcd.org

Friday, September 10, 2010

Reading Charlotte's Web

The book takes place so long ago it makes Mad Men look futuristic.  It came out in 1952 and has been a favorite of many elementary school classrooms and bedtime story readers ever since.  It was made into an animated movie in 1973 and again more than 30 years later.  There’s a very good chance you out there reading this blog read it in third grade. Yes, that’s right--we are reading Charlotte’s Web.

We started reading the very first day of school from a very well-worn copy I borrowed from another teacher that morning when I somehow couldn’t find mine anywhere in the classroom.  Though I was thankful to have been so easily able to snag a copy of this classroom staple from another teacher, the borrowed copy looks like it could have been practically a first edition for how yellowed and dog-eared it is.  And you can't pretend there's not a large, purple, heart sticker with the name Beth in white letters on the cover.

I was a little worried that pulling out such a clearly loved though somewhat ratty looking book that once apparently belonged to some rather proprietary “Beth” character would start us off on the wrong foot.  It’s our first read-aloud of third grade, a wonderful book, and a common experience shared by just about every American child born since the '50s—it had to get off to a great start.

I was also a bit afraid that some kids would know the story and would blurt out, “CHARLOTTE DIES”  (Oh—spoiler alert—Charlotte dies) before I had even cracked the first chapter.  I did a little bit of “don’t give away the ending if you know it” prep beforehand but though they’re all vaguely familiar with the existence of the 2006 movie, they were four years old when it came out and apparently most of them haven’t read the book either.  Many kids thought that either the girl on the cover or the pig she’s holding was named Charlotte.  We dove in.
 
Reading Chapter 1 – Before Breakfast

Nobody seemed to notice the disintegrating cover or care that we were reading Beth’s hand-me-down and they fell in love with our first read-aloud instantly.  Seriously—everyone was incredibly into Charlotte’s Web from day one.  The kids were outraged as Fern tried to stop her dad from killing the runt pig of the litter.  As I read it aloud, I was glad that the near-killing of the pig wasn’t sugar-coated or given some kind of Disney treatment.  This is the brutal reality of 1952, children.  There’s an ax in the very first line.

As Fern and her family ate breakfast, the room smelled of coffee and bacon.  I think it’s safe to say that nobody really picked up on the foreshadowing, but I had to hold myself back from noting that they were eating PIG.  Like that cute little one on the cover, everyone. 

When Fern managed to get her dad to spare the littlest pig’s life and we got to Fern feeding Wilbur with a baby bottle complete with rubber nipple—I opted to just leave that out.  No good can come of reading the word “nipple” to third graders.  Even with the context of a baby bottle, it’s still a silly-sounding word at best and an anatomy conversation I don’t want to have at worst.   I just went with, “She poured warm milk into the bottle, fitted the--uh--top on, and handed it to Fern."  The kids all agreed that it was a terribly cute picture of Fern feeding little runty Wilbur a bottle.

After a wholesome, 1952 schoolday breakfast--a doughnut--the chapter closed with Fern being called on in class that day, and replying to “What is the capital of Pennsylvania?” with, “Wilbur.”  These two lines featured disproportionately heavily in the retelling of this chapter as we reviewed the main events the next day.  Really, though it is pretty funny.  I mean--if one of my students answered a question in class by dreamily saying, “Willllbur,” I’d have to try very hard not to laugh. 

Read part II here.

Monday, September 6, 2010

You're Hired!

he Turtles came the first day of school and basked in the unbelievable cuteness of the clip-arted welcome sign.  Or at least--I imagine that's what they were doing inwardly.  Outwardly, they put on an act of breezing right past the sign to get into the classroom, see friends, and get set up for the big day, but I know they truly appreciated those little cartoony turtles outside our door.

Along with my disproportionate excitement for classroom decorations, the beginning of a new school year also brings the hiring season for third grade employees.  And let me tell you--in this economy, the competition on the job market is fierce.  Well, OK, so the competition is not all that fierce for the least-preferred of the classroom jobs--the Board Eraser, Noise Level Monitor, and Gardener positions were markedly under-chosen on last week's job applications.

Predictably, however, there were a few key jobs with a rather deep pool of applicants.  The two positions related to the most basic of all needs--food--were extremely coveted as usual.  Without fail, when it comes to selecting our new lunch assistants and snack helpers each semester, I have a rather tough choice and must consider various factors when making the final hiring decision.

In a potential lunch/snack employee, responsibility and speed rank near the top of my list of qualifications.  Now that I think about it--responsibility and speed are pretty much my top qualifications for most of the classroom jobs.  Coordination is also a plus when carrying a very full box of Goldfish crackers or tall stack of school lunch containers.

When they reach the spot on our classroom job application to convince me why they are the best person for that job, many students simply write, "I like it."  This, as you may imagine, does very little to persuade me.  "I can do it quickly" is fairly convincing, though, "I'm really good at it" lacks enough specifics to get a foot in the door.

What really sealed the deal for Tyrell one year, however, was something I oddly had never really thought of before when selecting someone to fill the all-important position of Snack Helper.



"I have clean hands" he wrote.



Sold!  To the young man with the germ-free hands!  I would choose you, Tyrell, any day of the week for your good hygiene and for your solid understanding of what it means to be truly convincing.
Image: www.3sigma.com