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.

Presenting: Highland Park

Today I am going to post for you a very special book review…it is not for any book that I have received (yet), it is not for a friend of a friend who happens to be an author, and it is not for Tyree Tomes (though we did edit and publish it). This review is for my students. My 80 awesome fifth graders who worked hard, pushed through, and wrote.

That’s right, we are finished! As of today Highland Park Presents is available in both paperback and Kindle edition.

I wish I could tell you that this is the best compilation of short stories that you could ever possibly read. As their teacher I want to brag on my students and let you know that they worked SO HARD for this. If you could see the excitement on their faces today as I showed them the amazon.com pages for their book…well I have no words to explain it. I will, hopefully, remember those moments forever.

However, they are still fifth graders with a lot to learn about writing. Every student is on a different level and some of them are in a different world…but they have done their best and overcome a lot of self doubt to get this put together.

I hope that you will take a few minutes to click the link and see what their had work brought about. Any royalties received from the sale of these books will go to our school PTO for our grade level, so if you like what you see please go ahead and order a copy. We tried to keep the price as low as possible! Whether or not you get one, please share this with your friends. I want the kids to see that people in other counties, states, and countries have the chance to read their words.

The kids also want to send a special shout out and thanks to Dr. Wilson Jay Tyree, my father and Tyree Tomes partner, for his part in the final edits of the book. We couldn’t have done it without you Daddy!

May you all have a blessed and wonderful day!

Creativity is just Intelligence having fun ~ Albert Einstein

Projects

I don’t know why we do this to ourselves. Pile up projects, due dates, and D.I.Y.s until we just turn in confused circles, trying to decide which way to go first or, possibly worse, which paint color matches the worksheet our boss assigned today that’s due yesterday. Maybe some of us, myself included, thrive on such craziness. Perhaps the organized and zen approach to life would make us insane, crazy with boredom and aching for stress within a week (probably sooner). I wouldn’t know, I’ve never gotten to point where I could find out! As soon as one thing is finished, three more jump up to take its place, waving like an elementary student who thinks they know the answer.

In fact, I am currently smack dab in the middle of at least 5 different projects:

Dragons in the Deep: Book 4 in the Stone Dragon Saga. A centuries old pirate ship is discovered and could hold the key to finding Aliphonsore’s parents. In fact, it could hold the key to ending the Fairy Queen’s insidious plans. With new friends, both human and otherwise, the return of Passiona and her pet sorcerer on the loose, and ancient obscure texts you never know what could be waiting around the corner!

Fifth Grade Dragons: A spin off of the main Stone Dragon Saga. This book finds Aliphonsore and King Ferdinand as professors at an academy in Realta, having made their way back home after the final battle with Passiona. Anna, who is now a writing teacher for a local fifth grade, is asked to help Aliphonsore and Ferdinand teach some students the basics of ‘human’ story telling/writing…to (hopefully) hilarious results.

Highland Park Presents: A short story compilation written by my fifth graders. They each worked hard on providing a short story that shows their abilities, their interests, and their weird senses of humor. Tyree Tomes is transcribing and editing the stories, turning them into one impressive book with a forward written by none other than the proud teacher…ME!

Plants and Ecology: A unit in science that teach students about things the food chain, energy consumption/output, and the ways communities are coming together and using Science to help save their local environments.

Organizing My Rooms: I have 4 rooms that ‘belong’ to me in this house. My bedroom, my sitting room, my closet, and the writer’s loft. We (meaning Dad) are building shelves for the back of my bedroom and will be getting those put in (hopefully!) soon. After that it is my sincere belief that I might be able to get my rooms organized and things up off of my floors! I KNOW that it HAS to be possible! I JUST KNOW IT!

Crocheting/DIY: I almost forgot…I promised a crocheted ear flappy hat to a friend a few months ago…he reminded me about that the other day so maybe I should hop on that! And don’t get me started on the DIY play house and cutesy painting I was hoping to get done this week cus…that ain’t gonna happen!

YOWZA! Putting them all in a row like that is a bit shocking to the system. Quick…somebody line out their to-do list for me! What are you getting done right now? Are you one of ‘us’, with the mile long constant list or are you one of those people who have it all lined out and finish one project before starting another one? If you’re the second type…HOW DOES THAT WORK???

I can’t wait to hear from you! Good luck with all your projects!

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!

Poppin’ Lesson

Have you ever written something that keeps giving you enjoyment or teaching you long after you’re done? Something that you LOVE but that you just know will not provide the same level of enjoyment or knowledge to anyone else? I had one such moment yesterday as I set up my classroom for our Friday Experiment. I waited all week with excitement, tried the experiment three times at home (just to be SURE that it really works!), and was almost completely prepared by the time I got to school Friday morning…if you forgive the few minutes of panic as I raced through the hallway asking fellow teachers for balloons.

Though I knew what the experiments outcome would be, I waited with baited breath to find out what my student teams a) came up with for their hypothesis and b) how they would react to the outcome.

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I set up our center ‘activity’ table (a new addition for the new year) with a box of Baking Soda, a bottle half filled (about 8 oz) of Vinegar, a balloon, a set of measuring spoons, and a funnel along the left side. On the right hand side of the  table I laid out a bottle of Sprite with a little off the top, a funnel, a balloon, and a packet of Pop Rocks (strawberry, but I don’t think the flavor matters). I had students break into two teams. Each student was to draw out the ‘ingredients’ however they saw fit, then discuss with their team to come up with a timeline and hypothesis for the experiment. One team was to focus on the  left side, the other on the right.

We had an astonishing (at least to me) amount of spot on, or almost so, guesses at to what I would do and what would happen. Then we had a few incredibly interesting but not very close to truth hypothesis…that make me want to try out what they suggest!

After about ten minutes of group talk and hypothesis writing, everyone turned to the center of the room and watched me perform the experiment.

1) use funnel to place a tablespoon of baking soda in a balloon, use other funnel to place pop rocks in second balloon.

2) open bottle and place mouth of balloon CAREFULLY over mouth of respective bottles.

3) raise balloon and release dry ingredient into the liquid below.

If all goes correctly, Sprite and Pop Rocks or Vinegar and Baking Soda will react together to release the gas and blow up their balloon. In the second class, a student requested a bottle of EVERYTHING (i.e. vinegar, sprite, pop rocks, and baking soda). Surprisingly, this set up yielded a pretty awesome result as well.

Sprite and Pop Rocks blew up a balloon with more length than width, and only a small amount of length (around 5 centimeters for 3/4 of the classes. Last class had a larger balloon at almost a full inch and a half in length).

Vinegar and Baking Soda has a more violent reaction that the Pop Rocks and Sprite, so that the balloon stretches in width, as well as height, and is several inches in size. According to my students, it tries to ‘boom’ but just ‘blows up’. (I love their love of creative sentence structure!)

Finally, the all in bottle creates a reaction somewhere between the other two, filling up its balloon with a beginning reaction that is violent and slows down to a delightful lava lamp effect as you watch the pop rocks jump around within the liquid. The balloon fills up to approximately 3 – 5 inches in length and 1.5 inch in width…though my last class of the day lucked out because I finally hit it just right..that balloon actually filled out to be slightly larger than the vinegar and baking soda one!

Some students wanted to measure the different sizes of the balloons. One suggested we try the experiment with every color of balloon available to us…or re-do the experiment using all the same colors of balloon…just in case. And a few wanted to drink the sprite mixture (I didn’t let them 😦 ) But amazingly enough, almost all of my 80 students could actually EXPLAIN the reaction and WHY it happens! Not only that, but they made the connection between solid (bottle), liquid (yup), and Gas all having volume and mass…and explained to me how the air displaces as we moved (CAREFULLY) the bottle and poured liquid into, and then out of, the balloon (still attached to the bottle’s mouth).

To call me a proud teacher is a bit of an understatement at this point. To top it off, my principal came in and observed the final installment of our day and got to see a class who is usually a bit slow and behind the others (due to behavior issues and a need to change my teaching style for them, ick!) excel and ask do to do more work to figure out exactly what was going on! (and I only had to get on to two students while she was there, a new record!)

Ok, you know you want to try this out so my one suggestion is that you choose something a bit more carbonated than Sprite. Coke worked well during my home tests. If you try it out with something else, let me know! I loved this so much, I think we’ll do it again next year!

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!

How did December get here?

I looked at the calendar earlier and it told me that today is December 1st but I’m not sure how that happened. I have pages of handwritten notes that testify to me and they say I still have half of NaNo to go…plenty of time to write and get it typed up. I guess I lost those two weeks (and their short stories…oops) because here we are, December. The month of hyperactivity, bludgeoning over good sales, and my mother screaming “LIGHTS” as we drive down the road.

We have 3 full weeks until Christmas break, 1 week before my friends’ Harry Potter wedding shower (I’ll post pictures if their presents from us afterwards…they’re awesome!), 1 week and 1 day before the Bible Chair Christmas party, and various mind melting, class and work interrupting activities to keep us busy in the mean time. At least I can torture my students with a mixture of Christmas and Halloween instrumental rock so they never know what’s coming next. *insert maniacal laughter here.

What are you all up to? Did you win NaNo and, as a winner, are you now basking in the afterglow? Did you somehow lose weeks as I did, so that you have no idea how many words you wrote? Are you caught in the vicious Christmas cycle and therefore have no time for such things as books or word counts? I want to know!

Leave a message and have a Marvelous Monday!

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On another note…our ClassroomCalendar seems to have been a last minute participant in No Shave November…look at that beard!

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!

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)

One Of THOSE…

 

I was mortified as I walked in to the building this morning. I couldn’t help but turn a little red and hurry a little faster into the safety of my room. It was hard to believe that she had really pointed me out that way, right in front of students and co-workers. It just isn’t right! 

You see, I’ve never seen myself as one of “Those” people. You know the ones…totally left brained anal-retentive rule keepers who never color outside of the lines and who couldn’t possibly fathom putting a neon purple streak in their ferret’s hair (Mostly because they only own those little miniature rat things that squeak instead of bark but would never have colored fur). NO SIRREE! I AM A REBEL! I AM A WRITER AND WRITERS ARE BOHEMIAN ARTIST TYPES! I AM WEIRD! FORGET THE NORMIES AND COME FROLIK! And then day 2 of students being in school rolls around. As I’m walking into the school to open up my room, a fellow teacher calls out to a couple of boys nearby. “Boys! We want you to walk on the sidewalk instead of on the grass…you see how Our teachers are doing it? See Ms. Tyree there? We want you to walk like her, on the sidewalk and not killing our grass!”

 

I could feel my street cred flying away from me. Knife to the heart, wrenching stomach pains, pounding headache…Ms. Tyree is a side walker, a joiner, a follower…my toes screamed out “No, we love the grass! Don’t point to us!!” but it was too late, the damage was done. I was labeled.

 

*Though this is a true account, I have exaggerated a little here and there (mostly right there to your upper right hand side). I didn’t realize until halfway through, however, that I was doing so for a purpose. You see, I have students who have been spoken about, applauded, and/or ignored for the better part of their existence. As 5th graders, they know who is different or if they are the different ones. But I don’t want to know more than I absolutely have to. Do I have to know who has autism and who is ADHD with meds to take? YES! I need to know for everyone’s safety and, more importantly, to give them their best chance at growth this year. But I don’t need another teacher to tell me how my student used to lay down on the floor and bellow like a goat in the second grade…I’m fairly certain that I used to swing by myself, singing made up songs in four part harmony when I was in second grade. I had mostly grown out of that by the time I hit 5th grade.

More than that…writing does not only belong to the ‘gifted’ program kids, or to the ‘normies.’ In fact, most of those people won’t understand the real truth in writing, because writing is a very adaptive art. My ‘specials’ on the other hand, have learned from experience the need to learn and adapt. Who do you think would do better? I’m betting on my specials!

 

Thank you all for your continued support. I will (hopefully) be able to spend a little more time with the blog by next week. I know we are sorely in need of some new posts! (I also just remembered that today is Wednesday so….no Reading Wednesday this week).

 

May you all be blessed and peaceful this week, and may you never be a “Normie!”