Archive for June, 2012

On this Poetry Friday before the Fourth of July, I thought it was fitting to re-read and share Emma Lazarus’ poem, The New Colossus. Its words still give hope to many around the world.

The New Colossus

By Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

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Quiet, please!

A teacher-made Noise-O-Meter can help students monitor their voice levels

A teacher-made Noise-O-Meter can help students monitor their voice levels

I’ve been working in K-2 classrooms recently and one pattern I noticed  was the noise level when the whole class was working at stations… in every classroom I’ve worked in! It is still a bit noisy at times, as children are learning to monitor their voices. They still need our help in doing this. As soon as it gets too loud, we stop the children by using a chime or by clapping a pattern (which the kids repeat). Don’t yell to get their attention. Be careful what you are modeling. Then we ask the students why we stopped. EVERY time they say, “It was too loud in here.” They know it’s loud, but they don’t know how to get their voice levels down.

My favorite tool to use to help kids be on “noise alert” is a music wand from www.treeblocks.com. I have used these in every video we’ve made. Simply ding the wand and it’s an instant noise alert. With practice, children will learn to control their voices. But it does take practice… and support from us, their teachers. Another option is to use a tambourine, a bell, or a chime to get students’ attention.

Another thing you might try is a teacher-made “noise-o-meter.” This can be a visual reminder of our expectations for the class.

When using math stations, it’s really important to use a “math mat” or a soft mat to keep things quieter. Working with manipulatives can easily escalate the noise factor. I like to use soft, foam shelf liner cut in large rectangles as math mats. Or solid plastic placemats work really well too. Or even a rectangle of fun foam. You just need something to soften the sound of dice, blocks, etc.

You might use a tambourine to get students' attention quickly

You might use a tambourine to get students’ attention quickly

Another option is to gently ring a bell, like this 4th-grade teacher is doing

Another option is to gently ring a bell, like this 4th-grade teacher is doing

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Happy Poetry Friday. I love this poem because it reminds all of us of the most important part of our jobs: the children.

The Children

By Mark Jarman

The children are hiding among the raspberry canes.
They look big to one another, the garden small.
Already in their mouths this soft fruit
That lasts so briefly in the supermarket
Tastes like the past. The gritty wall,
Behind the veil of leaves, is hollow.
There are yellow wasps inside it. The children know.
They know the wall is hard, although it hums.
They know a lot and will not forget it soon.
When did we forget? But we were never
Children, never found where they were hiding
And hid with them, never followed
The wasp down into its nest
With a fingertip that still tingles.
We lie in bed at night, thinking about
The future, always the future, always forgetting
That it will be the past, hard and hollow,
Veiled and humming, soon enough.

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Here is a great free PD opportunity for you, courtesy of Stenhouse Publishers: Starting Monday, June 25, they will be hosting their annual Stenhouse Summer Blogstitute. The Blogstitute will feature posts on writing, classroom talk, and math by several great authors, including Jeff Anderson, Mark Overmeyer, and Peter Johnston.

During the last week of the blogstitute you will have the chance to preview my Math Work Stations video that is still in production. So stayed tuned during the Blogstitute for the exact date when the sneak preview will air!

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Here is a fun poem to use with your students! Happy Poetry Friday!


Tom Tigercat

By J. Patrick Lewis

Tom Tigercat is noted
for his manners and his wit.
He wouldn’t think of lion,
No, he doesn’t cheetah bit.
Tom never pretended
to be something that he’s not.
I guess that’s why we like him
and why he likes ocelot.

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Recently I visited a kindergarten teacher while her children were having rest time. We looked at her classroom and how to maximize her space.

As I was leaving, rest time was over. “Watch this,” she said. She reached into her desk and pulled out a button that she pushed. It played the Jeopardy theme song which was the signal for her students to put away their mats and move to the carpet for instruction. It worked like magic! She told me she’d gotten it at Hallmark a few years ago.

She then showed me her other buttons. She had one that plays James Brown’s “I Feel Good”. For small group, she has the famed “Easy” button from Staples. In fact, I have that one, too! Do you have any buttons you use in your classroom?




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Are you thinking about the end of the school year? At this point it seems so close, yet far away, right? Here is an inspiring poem to get you the rest of the way to the end — you are not traveling alone!

By Christina Rossetti
Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
Yes, to the very end.
Will the day’s journey take the whole long day?
From morn to night, my friend.

But is there for the night a resting-place?
A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.
May not the darkness hide it from my face?
You cannot miss that inn.

Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?
Those who have gone before.
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?
They will not keep you standing at that door.

Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?
Of labour you shall find the sum.
Will there be beds for me and all who seek?
Yea, beds for all who come.

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Do you remember the touching story of 11-year-old Dalton Sherman who gave a convocation speech at the Dallas Independent School District (DISD). What an amazing child! Watch his speech on YouTube and you will be inspired!

I believe that we should develop our children’s oral language. That language is the foundation of all reading and writing they will do in their years at school and beyond. Language is a powerful tool.

I like to begin by allowing children to talk at school! When I was a child, a quiet classroom was a good classroom. We were expected to sit and listen for most of the day. Today’s students need opportunities to talk with each other and with us. I believe in teaching children to do “buddy talk,” turning and talking to a partner about what they are thinking at selected times in a lesson I’m teaching. Then I have several of them share with the class what they discussed.

They also use this technique while working at literacy and math work stations. During small group instruction, I sometimes teach oral language lessons. To view a lesson like this, see the clip called “Pre-Emergent Readers” from my new video series, Think Small! Engaging Our Youngest Readers in Small Groups.

We use a familiar book from read aloud and have children in the small group take turns retelling the story. My goal is to have them use more sophisticated vocabulary and longer, more complex sentences each time they retell it. It can also be used in a work station for practice once I’ve taught with it.

What are you doing in your classroom this week to build your students’ oral language?

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I was browsing my poetry books and wanted to share this one with you. It’s from an anthology called Small Talk: A Book of Short Poems selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins (another of my favorite poets).

What Are Heavy?
by Christina Rossetti

What are heavy? Sea-sand and sorrow.
What are brief? Today and tomorrow.
What are frail? Spring blossoms and youth.
What are deep? The ocean and truth.

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