In an email titled “Turkey. Tees. Teachers.”, I found out JCrew has introduced a line of shirts to help Teach for America.
If you’re looking to feel good about yourself for helping under resourced kids this Thanksgiving, go donate food or clothes (they don’t even have to be from JCrew!) to actual under resourced children. Give money straight to under-served public schools.
If you want to thank real teachers, buying a JCrew shirt isn’t going to cut it.
From this teacher…No Thanks, JCrew.
I spend seven hours a day with my students. During this time, we are all warm and safe. If they came to school hungry, my kids are full by snack and lunch. We have our own inside jokes, our favorite books, and our routines. Three months into the year, my classroom feels like a little family.
Over the last two days, I had parent-teacher conferences. I actually look forward to conferences: I love to talk about my students, and enjoy learning more about them. My students come from lower-middle class to underserved families, and many of them are hispanic English Learners. I love the community I work with, and have enjoyed getting to know the families. This session was particularly heartbreaking, though.
One of my girls walked into the conference bawling. She hugged me and explained her mom just told her they were moving to a town three hours away because they got evicted and can’t afford a place in the area. The car is packed, and they’re leaving as soon as the conference ends. As I talked about her report card, my student sobbed and kept repeating she didn’t want to go.
One of my students is in 4th grade and really cannot read or write…we’re talking Kindergarten level. When I explained this to the mom, she told me that her son is all she has since her husband left her and went back to Mexico, and so she doesn’t make her son read or write because she loves him too much and doesn’t want to make him sad.
One of my sweetest girls shows serious signs of neglect, so the student support worker came to the conference. After repeated calls, the mom showed up…the first conference she has EVER attended. She was completely unkept, and brought her little son who was very dirty. It’s easy to feel anger at negligent parents, but I didn’t feel that way with her. She had my student at 13 and—even though she was raised in the district—she can hardly read or write. Ten people live in a 1-bedroom apartment…my student sleeps on the floor, not even a mat. The mom is not even my age and has experienced so much more than most people do in a lifetime. She cried as the student support worker explained to her she needed to hug her child and tell her she loves her.
At the end of the day, I went back to my apartment. Today, I’m going over to my parent’s place to bake Thanksgiving desserts. Some of my students will spend the next few days with their families enjoying the holidays. Some will not.
It’s hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that my class has such a shared experience of what we do for that seven hours five days a week, but that what happens outside of that window varies so widely. I wish, on this Thanksgiving holiday, all of my students had the love, stability, and comforts they need both inside and outside the classroom.
Last year, I posted about my Columbus Day lesson. This year, I did a new and improved version. We are just wrapping it up (it has taken a few weeks!). People on Tumblr have asked about Columbus Day before, so I figured I’d post about what I do. I teach 4th grade, but I think it could be adapted for students older or younger.
Reading Comprehension Aspect:
(The bottom is a little smudged because I write on the laminated poster with Vis a Vis markers, which I will later wipe off…good trick for reusing anchor charts)
Before the lesson started, we studied Author’s Purpose in Reading. We then moved on to Author’s Viewpoint. On the first day, I read "A Picture Book of Christopher Columbus". It tells a very traditional story. As I read, we looked for clues in the author’s language about what the author thinks about Columbus, and added it to the poster.
The second day, I read "Encounter" by Jane Yolen—a book told from the perspective of a Taino child, with a fantastic afterword. We again filled out the poster, and found the authors had a very different perspective.
On the third day, I told students that, even now, people have very different perspectives on Columbus. I explained that some places celebrate Columbus Day, and some places either do not celebrate anything or celebrate “Indigenous Peoples” day instead. I instructed them to use what they had heard to decide if they think we should celebrate Columbus Day. Students could stand on two sides of the room, or in the middle. Students from both sides shared their views, kids in the middle moved to one side, and some kids switched sides.
The kids naturally brought up many important “teaching points”. One student asked which book was “true”. We talked about how both books agreed on most facts, but just differed in how they portrayed these facts. For example, the first book talks about how Columbus “brought back five Indians to show to the King and Queen of Spain”, and the second says “Columbus stole five Tainos as slaves.” We talked about why Yolen used the word “Slave”, while the other book does not (a topic we will discuss again when we study California missions). We discussed how history is more than facts and is open to opinions too.
Three students ended up arguing for Columbus Day, and the rest against. Every time I’ve taught this lesson, I get about that breakdown. Even though I personally am on the “anti-” side, I’m glad we get some differing opinions. We discussed how one side is not necessarily correct, it just matters that you can support your position with evidence.
Students then brainstormed, planned, and wrote their own 11-sentence persuasive paragraphs on the topic of “Should we celebrate Columbus Day?”. I like to present the question this way rather than “Was Columbus good or bad?” because I think it’s a little more dynamic, history isn’t that simple, and students form more interesting arguments.
We went back to our original books and studied just the artwork: how did the illustrators portray Columbus? What kinds of colors did they use? What are his facial features and clothing? We discussed how artists—just like authors—have viewpoints and purposes.
We then looked at this portrait by Picasso and I asked students what they noticed:
I’ve used this picture with kids before, and they LOVE making observations. After other comments, one student realized the woman’s face has two parts: one facing forward, and the other sideways. I taught the students about how the “portrait” is “abstract”, and how Picasso is noted for his ability to show different sides of people.
I then used this great lesson on abstract portraits. Students were to portray both sides of Columbus: the frontal view was how they viewed Columbus, and the profile showed the other viewpoint. Students did a great job with it, really understood the concept of critically looking at a part of history, and enjoyed the lessons.
The kids were so excited (and prolific) about them that we labelled them like our other books and set up a box in our library:
I think kids enjoy writing the books because they talk about issues they all deal with, and because the plot is very predictable and manageable for a fourth grader: someone is being picked on or left out, they stand up for themselves or someone helps them out, and there is a resolution. We have been studying Author’s Purpose and Author’s Viewpoint, so many of them started using that language to tell the moral of their story:
Pretty much all my students got into it…boys, girls, “popular”, “unpopular”. While it happened without my planning, I could imagine a really successful teacher-led class project on writing “Bully Books”.
Do you find that certain types of students at your school/in your classes are drawn to you? To put it another way, are there any characteristics that the students who connect with you share?
It’s interesting to see what most people responded; most connect best with the nerdy,…
While I try to (hopefully successfully!) connect to all my students, I’m another one who connects with kids who are not like I was. When I was in school, I was very studious and a little bit of a teacher’s pet. I have a few of those kids this year and I like them, but I wouldn’t say I most connect to them.
Instead, I think I connect most to girls with a lot of struggles at home. They tend to be low- to average- academically, emotionally needy, and have social or behavioral problems. Second to that are boys with a lot of behavioral issues, especially ones other adults find “annoying”.
I’m not completely sure why I seem to have the most success with those students. I think I have a lot more patience and tolerance for kids than most people and love just about any student very easily, and I suspect these students aren’t used to genuinely positive adult attention.
Finally - after two years and two months of teaching - I realized I should be doing a morning meeting!
I know, I know. But never late than never.
That being said, does anyone have any clever morning meeting greetings or activities?
I *love* Morning Meeting, and can’t wait to hear how others lead their meetings.
Greeting: We come to the rug and sit in a circle. I say “Good Morning” to everyone, then ask for a greeting suggestions. Right now, our greeting is always “Hello” in a different language (I have a big poster), and a handshake. The greeting “is passed” clockwise around the circle. Later in the year, we say hello by throwing a ball, etc.
Morning Message: We then read the Morning Message. I print out the message and project it. I first read the message, then we read it altogether. The message talks about what we are doing today, and embeds some sort of lesson. Today, we have been working on using punctuation to improve our fluency, so the punctuation was messed up in the original message, then we fixed it, then we re-read it correctly.
Word of the Day: We use an academic word every day as our “Word of the Day”. I use the word to dismiss them to groups, etc. We read the word, and then students suggest what they think the word might mean, and I write down their meanings. At the end of the day, we return to the word and figure out which definition, if any, was correct.
Game: We don’t play a game every day, but we do whenever we have time, and did every day for the first month. I take my games mostly from “The Morning Meeting Book” and “99 Activities and Greetings”. If you want more details on crowd favorites, please ask.
Sharing: Every student shares once a week. To mark which day, each student (and I) has a stick (chosen at the beginning of the year) and they put there stick in a cup on Monday. I make rules like 5 sticks in a cup. During sharing, the student “facilitator” (rotates every day) goes and gets all the sticks from that cup and calls on the stick to share. Some kids bring in things, but most kids tell stories. We have rules about no “I got…” stories and no stories about Movies/Games/Shows that aren’t “4th Grade Appropriate”. After the kid shares, he or she asks, “Does anyone have any questions?” and takes two questions, and then the facilitator thanks him or her for sharing.
We then review our day and I dismiss the kids to our next activity using the word of the day…and that’s my morning meeting!
My classroom library is, without a doubt, my favorite part of my classroom. I love how it’s organized, I love the books in it, and I love how excited my kids are to read.
My system, in a nutshell…my books are labelled Fiction Chapter Book, Fiction Picture Book, and Nonfiction. Each has a different color, and the basket matches the color. Fiction is sorted alphabetically, and Nonfiction is sorted by topic. I don’t have my students “check out” the books…I talk to them about trust and taking care of books, then they’re allowed to read what they want, and may bring them home. I’d rather a few books “walk off” then discourage kids from reading or spend a lot of time on logistics. When students finish books, they return them to that big brown bucket, and then the “Librarians” sort the books twice a week. Everything stays really organized, and kids have easy access to the books.
Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness in education, and how the concept of “happiness” is really missing from our conversations. Do you ever hear politicians or administrators ask, “Are our kids happy?” or, “How can we make students happier at school?”?
I’m starting to develop a philosophy that, as a teacher, one of my most important jobs is to help students be happy.
Most people see happiness as a trade-off: either kids are learning and working hard, or they are having fun. Look at the model at many charter (and public and private) schools: school is kids’ “job”, kids need to work hard and suck it up….but that “no excuses, no fun” is in their best interest because that’s the only way they will go to college.
I believe that achievement and happiness can go together. When my students are eager to come to school, when they feel loved by me and their peers, when they are having fun…they perform better. They write longer papers. They read more books. They “need to go to the bathroom” less frequently and take fewer “sick” days. They even do better on standardized tests.
I don’t know any adults who complain that their childhood was too happy. However, I know many adults who still struggle with wounds inflicted on them as children. I cannot control my students’ home life, but I can make the space we share a happy place. As teachers, we have “the power to make someone happy”, and I believe we need to prioritize that job.
Before Christopher Columbus dropped anchor in the new world, these lands were unknown to Europeans. Use this map to follow Columbus’ journey, then have student’s imagine their own story!
After learning about Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the new world, students can practice their spelling skills of new vocabulary with this fun word search.
Engage your students about Christopher Columbus with this catchy, rhyming poem that shares the story of this explorer’s discovery of the New World.
I REALLY hope no Tumblr teachers did or plans to do a Columbus lesson like this, and am disappointed in Scholastic for posting it.
Please don’t teach your students that Columbus “discovered” the “New World”. Students SHOULD learn about Columbus, but they should not learn it with a “catchy, rhyming poem” and a “fun word search”. If students “imagine” their own story, it should include the enslavement and massacre of the Native population.
Last year, I posted about my version of a Columbus Day lesson. I have a similar but slightly improved lesson planned for the next few days, and will post about it when it’s complete. I also recommend the Rethinking Schools book “Rethinking Columbus”.
I made these pencil flowers for my students’ birthday this year. They were really easy and cheap: I printed out the flowers on construction paper, got the pencils at the Target dollar section, and got a $2 flower pot. The pencils are in black beans. We had our first birthdays today, and the kids loved them!
Idea credits completely go to pinterest. :)