State Testing

My classroom is a mess this week. Not the fun we’re learning and exploring so there’s paper and words everywhere kind of mess. No…the we-have-to-take-state-tests so everyone is needlessly jittery, nervous, and sleepy kind of mess.

These tests are supposed to analyze and showcase what a typical Nth grader should know…there’s just an issue or two with that type of thinking.

First of all, in a ‘typical’ classroom setting with ‘typical’ characters, there is really no such thing as ‘typical.’ Each child and each day brings with them new challenges. For example, in a ‘typical’ 5th grade classroom in my district you will find a range of 10-13 year olds most, if not all, of whom learn in a different style! There is a range of skillsets for each subject (math, reading, spelling, writing, social studies, art, music, even for P.E.) that can go as low as 1st or 2nd grade and as high as 9th-12th grades (and beyond). That range of skills may even occasionally be found in the SAME student.

As teachers, we spend our days differentiating learning, drilling vocabulary, and responsibility, and worrying that we aren’t doing enough; because really, how much is enough? Then our nights are spent analyzing, grading, and preparing. As a mother, I have trouble separating the care, preparation, and work I put in to the 85 ‘kids’ I have 5 days a week, and the 2 yr. old that is actually mine. My toddler cringes when Mommy brings work home.

Secondly, in a state where the testing vendor, standards, and leadership all changed this year (two out of three more than once) even a “normal,” “typical” teacher with “normal,” “typical” students and a “normal,” “typical” classroom (if any such a place actually existed) would be having issues right now!

No students are ‘cookie cutter.’ Different economical, ethical, lingual, and regional backgrounds are creating even siblings with vast cultural differences due to the constant rise and fall of industries. Yet every student, even those deemed in need of “special instruction” is given THE SAME TEST with the bare minimum of assistances provided to those whose paperwork is in order.

Now, I know that my students are all working to the best of their abilities, whatever those may be. However, every student from bottom to top has expressed concern. Now that they NEED it none of them can seem to recall those random grammar rules, how to find a LCM, why Paul Revere had a horse, or how solids melt (to name a few). One student confessed today to wondering if perhaps he had forgotten how to read.

All of this because of the LIFE ALTERING IMPORTANCE of these tests that is so highly stressed to them all now. Low scores for 5th graders mean remedial courses instead of fun electives. For 8th graders these tests may make the difference between a driver’s license or a bicycle in High School. So you can see why there might be some concern. Add to that the fact that students who have been receiving tutoring, in class remediation, small group, etc. all year are now required to go it alone, and you come out with nervous students and paper shreds under almost every desk. Though some will last longer, and some much shorter, in our school this phenomenon will last for 2 weeks.

TWO WEEKS! Some look at that time frame at scoff at our concern. “2 weeks,” they say, “What’s that in the grand scheme of thing? Don’t you spend another 30+ weeks in school?”

Yes, yes we do. Thirty weeks of preparing our students, and ourselves. For teachers the testing outcome can affect our employability. For students it can affect their ability to choose electives in 6th grade, or even to advance with their friends. For the WORLD OF ELEMENTARY SCHOOL STUDENTS, this is the equivalent of Olympic Qualifiers. Though we try to boost student confidence, a lifetime of training has placed a pressure on them to succeed, no matter what we say.

Pressure may make diamonds, but right now it is making MESS out of my class.

Writing Affirmation in the Classroom

I AM an author I KNOW how to WRITE The WORDS LIVE in ME And My Story WILL BE AWESOME

I AM an author
I KNOW how to WRITE
The WORDS LIVE in ME
And My Story WILL BE AWESOME

I just wanted to pop today and share a little piece of joy with you. I currently have 83 students in my 5th grade writing program. Our state test is this coming Tuesday. We (meaning me) are starting to really feel the pressure. So today, before beginning our practice test, I am leading my students in two ‘echo’ exercises. #1 is our (almost) daily tradition of S.W.B.A.T. (Students WILL Be Able To…) followed by the lesson’s standard. For example, my board today states “S.W.B.A.T. – Follow a Prompt and Write a Narrative.”

After that rousing chorus, as the students are turning to begin their work, I am calling their attention back to the other side of the board and leading them in the echo of “I AM an AUTHOR! I KNOW how to WRITE! The WORDS LIVE IN ME! MY STORY WILL BE AWESOME!”

Each class is given the opportunity to repeat this after me 3 times. The first time they are hesitant, not really sure what I’m doing. The second time they are slightly more confident but still not so sure of themselves and their abilities. The third time though…OH THE THIRD TIME! Their voices ring proud, strong, and true and you can just tell that they know what is what now. They are enthusiastic, they are pumped, and THEY ARE AUTHORS!

It is an amazing thing to see and hear and I am so very proud of each and every one of my kids. So proud, in fact, that I took a few moments out of an unexpected ‘free’ period to announce it to you!

Please keep in mind all of the kids across the states, and the world, who are about to start taking these tests. Encourage those you can and think of those you can’t. Sometimes a little affirmation goes a long way.

Hashtag Teacher Problems…

I have never, not once, felt that I should be doing this job. I know I do a decent job, I know I enjoy my job, and I know I love my students…but I am always concerned that I am not enough for my students. Somehow, I feel that I am a daily disappointment to them, even when I’m spot on and we’re all feeling the wave of knowledge soak us down.

Yesterday was worse. A student, one of the ones who I can’t say is my favorite because I don’t play favorites in my classroom thank you very much, got in trouble. Not just a little trouble, big randomly decided to tackle another student on the playground and I thought they would both be broken from the impact trouble. No one got hurt, but I still had to write people up and send them in to the Principal for excessive sassiness and rule breaking. I cried, not that the boys noticed.

That afternoon in ISD he wrote a two page almost legible essay about how everyone hates him and Ms. Tyree never comes to school (I missed 3 days last week due to illness). His final sentence begged to be sent to Middle School because he’s older than the rest of the kids in his class. Today he came in happy with me again but I can’t help but wonder what in the world is going on and if maybe, just maybe, I shouldn’t be the one in this position.

I’ve been told that this doubt makes me a good teacher That the doubt and stress I put on myself make me strive to do better and be better for my kids. I honestly doubt that as well because right now it is 10 am and I have already cried twice, had a major attitude attack about how a fellow teacher treated my student, and have a raging stress headache because I am suddenly not sure at all about our ability to pass the upcoming tests (writing test in less than a month…*cue hair pulling out!*)

Believe me, this post is nothing compared to my rants this morning. So please, keep me in your prayers and thoughts throughout the next few weeks. Compassion may kill me yet!

Narcissistic Joy

I want to share something with you that just happened in my classroom. However, I want to first warn you that the title of this post is not misleading in the least…I am filled to overflowing with a narcissistic glee!

You see, I knew coming in to this job that my writing time would suffer and that through said suffering my book sales would probably be down. I am not a famous author, it is enough for me (for now) to share my words and lessons in a small environment and over my blog. However, I have 80 students who know I am an author and who enjoy hearing the way I would write things. That is a pretty great ego bump in and of itself.

Now we come to today…when I had to tell a student to please but his book away and pay attention to class. As he put the book away I caught a glimpse of the cover and had to stop a moment. Because that bright purple cover had the picture I took on the front, and my face on the back. Then I had to pinch myself, literally, because I had just told a student to pay attention to my lesson and put away a book I had written. THE BOOK, in fact. THE BOOK that started me on this path. Yes, I had written other books, other children’s stories, other short stories, but Dragon on My Neck pushed me further and started me developing one of my true loves: The Stone Dragon Saga.

So let me bask for another minute or two and just repeat for you:

I HAD TO TELL A STUDENT TO PUT ME UP SO HE COULD PAY ATTENTION TO ME! I HAD A STUDENT PAYING ATTENTION TO MY WRITTEN WORDS INSTEAD OF MY SPOKEN WORDS. That is a heady experience ladies and gentlemen, a heady and amazing experience. I truly hope you all get to experience something like that in your lives. *PHEW* Ok, I think I’m done for now. At least until the car ride home…my mother and aunt are trapped with me for over an hour’s commute! *cue evil laughter here*

THE BOOK

THE BOOK:www.amazon.com/author/Elizabeth-S-Tyree

ww

The Trouble with Writing

I am an author and I am a teacher of the future of writing…and the trouble with all of that is this: some days writing feels like no trouble at all.

That shouldn’t be a problem, right? On days like that I should be skipping happily (in slow motion of course) across meadows of perky flowers with their little faces turned to the sun as they wave merrily in a light breeze. And sometimes I do allow myself that little daydream moment where I realize that I have spent ten minutes on the computer and somehow managed to crank out a week’s worth of word count and I do a happy dance around the house.

Then I start to worry. First of all, when is it all going to start crashing down? Because nothing in a writer’s life will stay lined up long enough for us to get that feeling all day every day (and I don’t think it should). But mostly I worry about my students getting that feeling. If they begin to feel that writing comes easily all of the time then how will they feel when it doesn’t?

I teach a grade in which my students will be taking a state mandated writing test at the end of February. STATE MANDATED WRITING TEST. why yes, I am freaking out, thank you for asking. So what happens when they open the test booklet, look at the response questions, and totally blank from the stress? I have 80 students. How many of them will be freaking out at that point? I know I would be! In fact, I know I WILL be!

Maybe the real problem with writing isn’t that somedays are more difficult than others. Perhaps the problem is that we spend so much time worrying about the eventual writer’s block or poorly written draft that we set ourselves and psych ourselves out, thus creating the blockage we worried about.

*SIGH*

Since today is the first official day of my Christmas break, maybe I should focus on my own writing for a few days and try to rejuvenate myself for the intensity of writing that will follow. I’m sure everyday will bring us a new trouble with writing!

Writing Wednesday

I know, I know…it should be “What are you Reading?” and there should be a post from Sunday with a short story…I’ll bring it soon, I swear! But this week has seen some major changes for me. Including the fact that NaNoWriMo has begun AND I have changed our classroom around so that MWF is writing and TT is all Science. Hopefully this will help my students really learn their work instead of rushing through to get to something else.

That being said…I’m barely able to read my lesson plans right now. We walk, we hit it hard, we write, we NaNo, we switch classes and do it all again. When I go home, I’m working with my daughter, grading, or collapsing half asleep in front of the television. Is it good for me? No…do I enjoy it? YES!

Now then I want to know what you are WRITING this week! Are you a NaNoWriMo(er)? what is your novel about? Do you need a buddy? You can add me for funsies and see what a slow loser I am this year…I am writerbaby13 (woot woot!)

If you are not a writer, but love to read, then give me that! What are you READING? What suggestions do you have for me? If I have some time I’ll be reading “Rump” By Liesel Shurtliff. It is billed as the “True story of Rumpstiltskin” so I’m sure its going to be good!

Whether you are a writer, a reader, or a procrastinator (or all three like me!) this week is marking a lot of changes and differences across the board. Weather is suddenly turning moody and strange, students and friends are doing the same, and we all of the sudden (In America anyway) feel the need to proclaim a daily thankfulness.

So here is one for you to take home with you: I am thankful for each and every one of you. If you regularly read my blog, have just begun to follow me, or randomly ran across this on your way to someone else: I am thankful for you! I hope that you have a Blessed and wonderful day.

Thirsty Thursday

In honor of Halloween (my favorite holiday falling during my favorite time of year!) my student writing prompts all week have been pointed a little toward good spook…ok, a funny one!

Monday the prompt was about respect so we’ll skip that one. but Tuesday, ah Tuesday, the kids had to describe a monster…A NASTY HIDEOUS BEAST…who turns out to be nice. Like Frankenstein’s Monster with a gimp and drooling acid who is also the best math tutor in the country and helps kids pass tests for nothing more than a smile and pass from the angry mob chasing him out of town.

Wednesday we discussed why in the world a mob of cats would be stealing all of the candy from the houses already prepared for Halloween night (Cat Burglars…get it?? Only 1 of my 80 kids did.)

Today our Prompt is to write a recipe for the family Halloween party punch. SO far I’ve seen old socks, eyeballs, toe nails, and sherbet put in those recipes. I’m really looking forward to that drink!

Since we’re preparing for NaNoWriMo my students are also learning to count their output and worry more about the LENGTH of their writing; something I’ve been trying to get them to watch out for since the beginning of school. The best part about it is that they have seen and heard how excited I am about writing…and about NaNo…that they have all designed and put away their inner editors and are asking to start early. The bad news is that they’ll really be tired of it by week 2, especially since Ms. Tyree is going for NaNo gold again this year on top of pushing and helping them to reach their personal goals.

What are you doing this week? Are you prepping for NaNo like we are? Did you read something really great that you want to share? Did you read my books ;)? I can’t wait to hear from you all!

Haunted Boneyard

Last week I told you a little about our upcoming lesson plan involving skeletons and an anchor chart of a haunted house. We did those activities at the beginning of this week and I was (and still am!) jazzed by how well it turned out!

Each class activated their prior knowledge, got excited, and created some scenes that will translate amazingly into their short stories next week. I think we might do more of these types of things! Hands on seems to be working best for my guys (and gals).

Here is a peek at what they got done…

IMG_0614.JPG

IMG_0613.JPG

IMG_0612.JPG

IMG_0611-0.JPG

Getting to the “Bones” of Writing

Being home with a sick family today has given me the gift of a little extra time. As both my daughter and father are sleeping at the moment, I’m taking the time to look through my tentative lesson plans and see what interesting ideas pop up and, surprise surprise, I almost immediately had an epiphany.

As we get down to the real meat of writing in the coming nine weeks, my students will need to tap in to prior knowledge in order to really understand how written pieces come together, so that they can write their own (amazing!) pieces. Since we’re in the middle of October, what better way to could there be to start this discussion than to incorporate Science (anatomy), Art, and Writing in a hands on class discussion about the “Bones of a Story”?

Give each student a copy of a paper skeleton pattern (such as this one I found on Pinterest)

Introduce the basics of the skeleton they’re holding, i.e. the arms, legs, skull, spine, etc. and relate it to writing by way of a transition sentence such as “Just as Our Bodies need a Skeleton to build muscles upon, every written piece needs its author to provide similar bones to build words on.”

Then have an ‘open discussion’ (class discussion) about what the ‘bones’ of a good story might be. Tell the students that throughout the discussion they should choose the ‘story bones’ that sound the most important to them, and write them on one of the skeleton’s pieces. At the end of the discussion each student will cut out and assemble their newly formed ‘writer’s skeleton’.

I will be using this in conjunction with an anchor chart of a (Haunted House!) so that all of our thoughts on the bare bones of writing will be recorded, whether or not the students include everything on their skeletons. At the end of the class, we’ll hang their works of art on the back wall with the filled in anchor chart…with 4 classes of 5th graders this should decorate my classroom for Halloween without too much effort!

Though I teach fifth grade, this is a lesson that can be transferred to almost any age group (Even pre-k and kindergarten!) and any subject without too much effort. The best thing about it, in my opinion, is the great opportunity for you, the teacher, to HAVE FUN WITH IT! When you have fun with learning, the students will too. Enthusiasm, much like the cold, is contagious!

I hope that you have fun if you choose to use this idea, and would love to hear how the kids like it!

Have a wonderful weekend!

**My beginning speech to get minds rolling in this activity will be something similar to “Welcome to Ms. Tyree’s House of Horror’ibly Great Writing! Today we will be discussing the basic parts, or BONES, of a good story. Just like our bodies needs the skeletal system to build up into a person, every story needs it’s own basic (skeletal) structure. 

Each of you should have a set of pages in front of you (the jointed skeleton pattern). Turn those over and take a look. See how those will fit together to form an articulated skeleton?    As we discuss the ‘bones’ of a good story today, I want you to choose your favorite options for a writing skeleton, and put each one of them on one of the bones in front of you. (It does not have to be EVERYTHING that we talk about, JUST THE ONES THAT YOU FEEL STRONGEST ABOUT!) 

Any questions? If not, lets go ahead and start with what you think are the basic bones of a story. (At this point I will be opening the floor up for students to begin interacting with me. Depending on the mood, attitude, and behavior in each particular class that day, they may be allowed to come up and write their choices on the board OR I may do all the writing)

Updates and Giveaways

I haven’t done a Tyree Tomes update in a long while, but a few things happened/are happening that I wanted to pass along to you before I get to posting the short stories for this week AND last week (how I typed it but never posted it I do not know!).

1) this past week Dr. Tyree’s book giveaway totals surpassed last year’s 12 month total of 1268 books given away. As of last Wednesday (with a month remaining in the fiscal year) his total was up to 1389! This is very exciting for us because it is not only a part of his personal ministry….it is also something that can aid in literacy, an issue our entire family can get behind!

2) following that doozy of an announcement, all 4 of my 5th grade classes reached the required level of “Class Cup” points to receive their first reward so Dr. Tyree came and spent the day giving short pep talks over “practice makes better makes perfect” and entertaining my kids with percussion instruments!

IMG_0462.JPG

The kids LOVED it, my principal LOVED it, and I got to give my students something fun. I call that a win/win/win situation!

3) Finally, in honor of the Fall season here in the States (even if tomorrow’s high here is 91 degrees) I am offering all of my published books for FREE on the kindle /e-reader app from tomorrow (October 6th) thru Wednesday (October 8th).
find them here

I hope you all have had a truly amazing weekend!