Sunday, October 31, 2010

Important Note

I am not entirely sure why, but according to Blogger, this post-- this post right here--this post is only my 98th post.  I think I deleted some one day.  Or I can't read.  Or I can't count.  Who knows?  What is important is that  my 102th (pronounced one-hundred-tooth) post is still coming up.  Mark your calendars!  Do a jig!  Get all excited!  It'll be great!  It'll be huge!  It will be worthy of... something really worthy!

Sneak peak?  Don't have one.

Idea?  Don't have one of those either.

Something interesting to share instead?  Ummm....  let me go look.

There you go.  Have at it.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


In our recent discussion of folktales, we listed the following components:

1.  A powerful person
2.  A not-so-powerful person
3. Twists and turns
4. A beautiful character
5. A problem or  riddle
6. A Moral
7. The End

After some practice the Sugar Pies were assigned the following task, and we created a rubric* for how it would be graded:

Write a folktale of any length that includes all seven components. Make sure to identify each component in your final draft. 

The following is my very favorite-ist folk tale. Of course I can't deny I like the role I play in the story, but mostly I am just tickled with his imagination.  The numbers correspond with the component numbers above. 

Once in school, there was a powerful teacher, Ms. M., who had asked the class to write a folk tale (1).  So there at that school there was a boy named J. (2).   The teacher had asked the boy to write a folk tale, but the boy didn't have any literature experience (3).  The boy had to ask many friends, family, and relatives to help him on how to write a folk tale.  The parents and friends couldn't help him, but they all knew he had a brain.  A brain is exactly what he had and he needed to put it to work (4).

He had three days to complete the assignment.  Each night he would read seven folk tale stories.  Until the final day, and he had only an hour left to complete the folk tale (5).  He had to put all of his brain skills to the top.  His brain had been fully loaded, ready, and already working.  When the boy finished, Ms. M was impressed and gave J. a passing grade.  Since that day, the boy knew that studying, listening, and leaning will get you any grade you want (6).

The End (7)

*Note--More on rubrics later.  These are wildly interesting creatures and should be discussed more thoroughly.

Monday, October 25, 2010


On days like today, I am quite certain that my little sweet-niks simply cannot hear me.  It isn't that they cannot hear (although one of them used to have a hearing loss), and it isn't that they have an auditory processing deficit (although quite a percentage of them do), and it isn't that they are having trouble paying attention for a medical reason (which, they most certainly are).  While I have no research to support this, I am quite certain that there is an electrical short that occurs on days like today, causing their brains to emit a low pitched buzzzzzzing sound inside their heads.

Through this sound they can hear the hint of my voice, a vague idea that someone is making noise in their general vicinity, but their brains are unable to link the sounds they hear to things they know.  Additionally, they are not able to connect the visual cues of someone standing in front of them giving directions, to sounds in their brain. This makes the following of simple directions difficult at best.  In fact, it confuses them to no end. Here is what a typical classroom conversation looks like when the Buzzing Disease has infected the room:

Teacher says: "How was your break?"
Student hears: "How was your break?"
Student translates: "Oh, we have free time?"

Teacher says: "Go ahead and get started on your work."
Student hears: "Go ahead and bzzzzzzzzzzz."
Student translates: "Oh cool!  We have free time!"

Teacher says: "Take out your orange folder, please."
Student hears: "bzzzz out buzzzzzz please"
Student assumes: "Wow!  We still get free time? This is SO cool!"

Teacher says: "I see you are having a hard time hearing me today.  Give me a moment here--please get your orange folder out."
Student hears: "Bzzzzzzzz please do something bzzzzzzzzz."
Student assumes: "I'll bet she wants me to have a pencil out.  Too bad I don't have one.  *smile*

Teacher says: "LOVIES!!!!  WHERE ARE YOU???"
Student hears: "Bzzz BZZZ Bzzz Bzzz" (but sees visual cue of concern on teacher's face)
Student assumes: "Someone must be in trouble.  So glad it isn't me.  *smile*

I love them, I do.  Seriously though, someone needs to find a cure for the Pre-Teen Buzzing Disease.  I'll offer up my room for the clinical trial.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Stop, Elaborate, and Listen!

The lesson of the day was "elaboration."  We talked for a while about the difference between elaboration, exaggeration, and lies.  We talked about when elaboration is a good idea, and when it might not be ("when the police ask you questions?").  We then dug into my collection of interesting magazine photos (fifteen years in the making), listened to some Vanilla Ice*, and did some elaboration. These kiddos have some wacky ideas!

Simple description:
This is a little girl in a white dress.
This little girl is in the news because she the one survivor to live from a plane crash.

Simple description:
A nice house/beautiful view.
In 1955 there was a war, but Albert Einstein was so smart he wanted to see this was so he built a nice house in the middle of the war and watched the was and he watched his teacher get knocked out.

Simple description:
Trees moving side to side
It is raining and the wind is blowing hard.
The world is coming and end and people are running for their lives.
There is a tsunami and everyone is hiding in bushes and the wind is blowing so hard that it blew down all of the trees and everyone grew wings and flew away.

Simple description:
A lady holding a fat dog
The lady is a cannibal and she ate her husband and her neighbors and gave the dog the fat and the bones.  That is why the dog is fat.
The dog is fat because it ate the other person holding it and they lady is comforting it because the dog is sad.
This fat dog was at her house and he came up to 'Lil Billy the toddler and swallowed him.  Then he came up tot Timmy the Baby and swallowed him.  Then the lady had to carry him to the hospital, but the dog never learned his lesson because after that he ate a cat and a cow.

Simple description:
People at the beach.
People are staring out into the water while a man was being eaten by a whale.
All of the people are there because Moby Dick told them to come and be mermaids and have a party.  Then they will become whales.
They are there because they say Shamu jumping over a new-found island.

Simple description:
Penguins in a field.
The penguins are in a field because they flew there on a giant dog.  The dog gave them a ride because they helped him get a doggie girlfriend.
These 3 penguins thought they could get a vacation from their children, so they went to the tundra.  Then this huge penguin said "Oh.  Hey.  There's a volcano up there."

*Note--If you don't know why we listened to Vanilla Ice, you should probably figure it out, as it is one of my new most favoritist jokes.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Quote of the Week #12

P: Did anyone see a pickle fly by here?

Need I say more?  Probably, but I'm not going to.  You have to guess....

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Mini-Lesson... Maxi-Topic

In my college days a "mini-lesson" was defined to me as a part of a Writers Workshop as follows:

The mini-lesson is part of Writers' Workshop and provides a short (5- to 10- minute), structured lesson on a topic related to writing. Topics are selected by the teacher and based on student need or curricular areas. These topics address aspects of the writing process or procedures for independent Writing Workshop time.

Even at the time I blanched a little at making a general term mean only one thing, so I have, with my super powers, expanded it to mean this:

A short lesson on a topic at the moment its need is discovered.  The topic addresses a need at the moment it is useful.  This is true even if it is only partially related to the overall unit.

With that definition in mind, let me tell you about the mini-lesson I taught this week.  I think it may be more aptly described as a maxi-lesson since it ended up taking two days to get the point across.

I will set the scene...

We are pre-reading for an article on water uses.  In it is an inset map.  The map identifies Washington, Oregon, the Canadian border, and the city of Wenatchee.  The conversation goes like so:

Me:  What do you see in this map?
Various: Washington.  Oregon.  Canada.  Wen... Wennch...
Me: Wenatchee.  Yes.  What does this map tell you about the location in this article?
Various: Washington.  Oregon.  Canada.  Weachch...
Me: (sensing lack of comprehension) What state is Wenatchee in?
Various: Oregon?  Canada?  Washington?
Me (rising horror): It's in Washington.  See the state lines here?  What two states are showing in this map?
Various: Canada?
Me (dawning horror): What country do you see here?
Various:  Washington?  Oregon?  Canada?  Wnchatcee?
Me: (nearly fully horrified, going to map of USA) Canada is at the top here, what country is right below?
Various: Washington?  Texas?  San Diego?
Me (trepidatiously): what country do we live in?
Various: San Diego?  California?  Washington?
Me:  Oh my.  Lovies... this can't be.  You can't do this any more.  It's time to know this stuff.

I gave them each a bright green super huge sticky note (thanks TM), and had them write "It's TIME" on top. We listed where they live starting with the planet and going down through the continents, the countries, the states, our county, their cities.  It took the rest of the period.  It was no longer a mini-lesson.  So, we went full-on and made "Where I Live" mobiles (pictures coming soon).

Next up... a commentary on what has happened to allow these kids to get to this point.  Not right now though.  I'm tired.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Quote of the Week #11

Today J. was sent to my room with the direction to show me evidence of his most recent misbehavior. Had he used profanity?  No.  Had he harmed someone?  Nope.  Did he have an illegal substance?  Nein.  He had...

Wait for it....

...drawn with Mr.Sketch smelly markers all over his face.  ALL over.  What did he say when he came in my room?  Arms stretched out wide, grin from ear to ear (or was that the pink marker?):

"Ahhhh.  I smell so GOOD!"

Let's see... lesson learned?  Nope.  Don't think so.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Tables and Cabinets

I must admit that much of what I do is not based on research.  Well, it might be.  I don't know.  I wasn't good at paying attention to specifics.  I'm more of a whole-picture kind of super hero.  I don't take credit for my thoughts or ideas since I'm never quite sure if they are mine or if I really did learn something in one of my education classes.  I have lots of ideas though, and I don't think I learned that much in my classes, so I'd say it's 50/50.

For example, I tell my students that their brains have a "brain table" and a "brain filing cabinet."

Brain Table
The brain table is where we store many pieces of information.  Sometimes we try to store too much there.  It gets messy, the piles build up, we lose things.  In fact, I once lost my lunch on my desk.  I was eating, then I did some things, then I couldn't find it.  About an hour later, I lifted up a folder and there it was!  Anyhoo,  our brain is a handy place to put things for a little while.  When we get stressed or whelmed, we may keep more than is prudent on this table.  Something will, eventually, fall off.  The only way to guarantee that information sticks around is to put it in the brain filing cabinet. Some learning and studying techniques depend on your brain table, and depend on you to be able to find things on your brain table.   I typically point out that my brain table is a holy mess.  I remind them  about Rule #3--Never put anything on my desk that is important to you--especially your homework.

Brain Filing Cabinet
The brain filing cabinet is where we store things we will want to access later.  We take things from our brain table and do something to it in order to store it in the filing cabinet.  We might organize it, we might chunk it into smaller bits of information, we might group it with like information.  We might color code it, use mnemonic devices, or put it into a more accessible format.  The key to this though, is our ability to retrieve the information once is it there.  You must be able to access the information you put there for immediate use.  This is where you store things you actually learn.  The way you do that is not specific, but is must include USING the information and structuring it in a way that makes it accessible to you.

My goal is make this filing cabinet full, organized, and accessible.  Yes, I want it accessible for the state tests. More than that though, I want it accessible for anything the students want to do.  I want them to have the ability to use what they know when they need it.  In the short term, that will be on state assessments.  In the long term, that may be for future classes, getting jobs, making life choices.  I can't ignore the usefulness of a nice brain table, but my job is the get that filing cabinet all set up.

When I read articles about how kids learn, or how they don't learn I pause a little in my raucous story-telling. The tone of some articles scoff at my Brain Table.  I have not yet had the opportunity to conduct formal peer-reviewed research on my theory, but explaining memory, studying, and accessing information using this analogy is successful.  I only have anecdotal evidence that it works. I may be struck down for saying this, but anecdotal evidence means something to me, and I will continue to use it as long as it works.

All of this is in my Brain Filing Cabinet.  Trouble is, I don't know where I got it originally.  It is filed correctly in there, but has no reference section.  Thank you to whoever or wherever this came from.  Even if it was just the idea fairies.