Colleen’s Classroom: December Hiccups

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December has a history of being a month full of frantic activity, especially in the classroom. The usual December holiday stress is compounded by the writing up of report cards and trying to keep students’ attention while competing with the visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads. (On second thought, today’s kids probably don’t know much about sugar plums. It’s more likely their visions are those of new video games.) Anyway, December in the classroom is not the fa-la-la time it is made out to be. The mood of the December classroom is one of excess energy and anticipation for the approaching winter break.

Today was the perfect example of what December offers. I was trying to wrap up reading and writing data for fifty report cards, one last literature post-test needed to be completed, and I could tell by the noise level of the students as they walked through the door, it was going to be a long day. As the students entered the classroom, I put on my best smile and silently recited my December self-talk. “I think I can – I think I can – I think I can. I know I can – I know I can.”

Once students were settled in, we began our morning pages. Suddenly the classroom was eerily silent. Blank faces stared back at me in response to my questions. Question after question remained unanswered. At best, I received a shrug of shoulders. It was as if an epidemic of amnesia had besieged my cherubs.

“Ok…how about an antonym?

I received more blank stares. I sighed, and then I noticed a child raising her hand.

“Finally,” I thought.

“Yes?” I asked in hopeful anticipation.

“When is snack time?”

“I think I can- I think I can- I think I can…”

The morning crawled on and it was finally time for the post-assessment. I had barely finished giving directions when a student placed his paper in the finished work basket. With no hesitation, he walked over to the reading nook and plopped into the recliner. Within a couple of minutes, two more students dropped their papers into the basket. I took a deep breath and prepared myself for what I would find on their assessments. I scanned their papers and groaned. The December crazies had begun. The three early birds had dared turn their papers in with bold X’s across the questions. One student had even had the gall to write me a note explaining he just couldn’t remember anything. Amnesia had struck again!

I summoned the culprits up to my desk, handed the assessments back to them, and reminded them about working with a positive mind set. (I’m not so sure I wasn’t the one who needed the reminder.)

One by one, students turned in their assessments and went off to work on other tasks. As I looked over student work, I saw more examples of memory loss. I once again recited my December mantra. I assured myself their memories would come back…eventually.  And then, as I looked up from sorting papers, I saw something that gave me hope: a December miracle you might say.

There in the back of the room were three students, who even with interventions in place, continued to hand in work barely legible due to so many spelling and convention errors. But there they were… the three of them huddled in front of the sign language poster I had put up during our study of Helen Keller. There they sat diligently practicing their spelling words. I hadn’t suggested using sign language to practice spelling words, nor had any other student in the class attempted the task. On their own, they had taken their spelling words and moved to the back of the room to practice. Unknowingly, they had found a very brain friendly approach for practicing spelling. It was an intervention that provided learning with the use of more senses and movement than anything I had provided.

The three students didn’t know it, but in the middle of a stressful day they had provided me with a priceless gift. They had given me a reminder about the joy of learning. Watching students make connections and applying their learning in their own way is one of the most rewarding things about teaching. While I watched the students giggle and tutor each other, I was also reminded of something else. I was reminded that report card data and post-assessments aren’t as important as I allow them to be, but what those three students were doing was very important. They were taking ownership of their learning. That is a gift they gave themselves; one that will last a lifetime. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, even in a classroom during the crazy month of December.

Happy Holidays!

– Colleen

Happy Thanksgiving from Rourke

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Thanksgiving Blog Photo


We want to wish you and your family a wonderful Thanksgiving. Many people have special family traditions. What are yours? Maybe you can try out one of these and start a new tradition:

– Each guest writes what they are thankful for that year. Clip them together, write the year, and save the memories.

– Create a thankful box, vase, tree, or turkey. Each guest writes on a piece of paper, tag, or paper turkey feather what they are thankful for and adds it to the box, vase, tree, or turkey.

– Design a holiday table cloth. Using a white table cloth have each guest write their name and what they are thankful for that year. Later go over the names and comments with embroidery cloth. You can create a new one each year or add to the existing one.

– Play a game that is close to home! Create a family trivia game for everyone to play. The questions can be about things that year or related to your family history or culture.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Don’t forget you can read all about Thanksgiving with our book available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook formats.

ISBN: 9781615904792


Science Through Literacy

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NGSS bins picHow is your district addressing the changing science standards? The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) has adopted the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) as their national standards. The move for professionals comes with the support for the investigating. modeling, and experimenting portions of the standards.

On the NSTA Blog, Cynthia Passmore explains how framing your classroom is just as important as what you do in it. Teaching the kids to ask the right questions and working together are vital. Read more about it here in her blog post.

At Rourke we can help even the non-science enthusiast address the skills and concepts found within NGSS. Our Next Generation Science bins address science through literacy. Connecting science concepts with literacy skills by incorporating the 7 E’s of science inquiry, experiments and hands on activities, home school connection, and, of course, literacy through informational text. Our bins are available for kindergarten through 5th grade in English and Spanish. Contact Rourke to learn more!

Celebrate Veteran’s Day

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What are your plans with your students this Veteran’s Day? Nowadays, many students know someone or have a family member who has served in the armed forces. You can have them honor the soldier by writing a poem.  Invite a veteran into your classroom to speak to the students. There are many activities found here and here that can be used to discuss what Veteran’s Day is and what symbols have a significant meaning to many veterans.

Don’t forget about Rourke’s Freedom Forces series. These titles discuss each branch of the military with stunning photographs, content sidebars, and additional resources. Available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook. These are sure to be a hit on Veteran’s Day and any other day!


Colleen’s Classroom: Addressing Exceptional Writers

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I recently completed a week of conferencing with the parents of my fifty students. With that many conferences, you would think I would have encountered some bumps along the way but they actually went smoothly. There was one conference however, that has given me pause for much reflection. It wasn’t a conference about a struggling student or a child with behavior issues that kept my mind churning. The conference that kept creeping into my thoughts was about a child who is achieving excellence.

I am convinced that this particular student came from the womb clenching a pencil in one hand and paper in the other. She uses dialogue tags, demonstrates appropriate usage of figurative language, is spot on with conventions, understands the importance of revision, and has a grasp of craft beyond her nine years. How can a gifted writer be a problem?

My writing toolkit is full of great tools when it comes to providing strategies for students who struggle with writing. I have plenty of ways to differentiate and scaffold learning for those who need extra support. Unfortunately, my toolkit for the exceptional writer is not nearly as full; probably because I haven’t encountered many students who are truly gifted writers.

While talking to this student’s parents, I discovered that her entire family loves to read. They shared that watching TV isn’t the norm in their home, but reading is. Her parents also stated that not only does their child read for hours on her own; she also listens to them read to her… classical favorites no less!

As a result of her immersion into literature, my student has picked up on the many ways an author can use words to engage an audience. With authors acting as her mentors, she has developed her own rhythm, voice, and desire to create meaning through words.

In the upcoming weeks, I will provide this student with strategies that will continue to help her develop her skills. By intentionally using her love of reading, my writing conferences with her will allow this young writer to stretch and take risks by moving her beyond benchmarks and grade level targets

  • Author studies – Matching specific writing skills will specific authors for student at home and in school reading
  • Advanced vocabulary building, including the origins of words
  • Examining the use of audience, purpose, and context
  • Looking at revision in new ways
  • Providing books about writing such as, How to Write a Life Story and Live Writing by Ralph Fletcher
  • Providing opportunities for publishing – contests, coffee shop displays, and online publishing
  • Examining and studying genres beyond those used in the classroom

These strategies can be used in different degrees with all writers of course, but as they stand, they will definitely be added to my toolbox for exceptional writers.

– Colleen

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