Tag Archives: students

Sweet Little Ones- SOL #12


I love this part of my job- I got to meet a bunch of sweet little 2-year-olds today! Our newest class at school, Early Years D, opens on Monday, and we had an orientation for the families today. Ms. CJ and Ms. May, the EYD teachers, have been busily getting their room ready in anticipation of their arrival, and their room looks great! When you walk in, you see splashes of bright colors, a cozy reading nook, a kitchen corner complete with tiny dishes, tables with puzzles and coloring, just waiting to be played with, and a dress up corner full of hats, scarves, and clothing.

As the families arrived, with smiles and excitement on their faces, Ms. CJ and Ms. May welcomed them to the room and began getting to know the students and parents. They were both naturals! With their warm disposition and friendly demeanor, the families felt right at home. The students began exploring the classroom, some more timid than others at first, and the teachers began circulating the room, having one-on-one conversations with the parents.

As the principal, my part of the orientation was to welcome them, explain relevant handbook details, and take them on a school tour. On the tour, the kids loved exploring the playroom, where they quickly let got of their parents’ hands and began climbing on the equipment, scooting around in the cars, and sliding down the slide. Moving on, we traveled up the stairs to the library, where they immediately gravitated to the shelves, choosing a book and sitting down to read. I was amazed at their level of independence and confidence, especially since this was their first school experience.

As we left the library, I felt a little hand in mine. George had run up to grab my hand as we headed down the stairs. It was just so sweet! Already feeling like they owned the school, some of the more independent ones even ran ahead of me, like they knew where we were headed next! Once we were back in the classroom, they gathered their things to leave. Ka Ne, a very inquisitive boy with an obvious independent streak, turned to his grandma and said, “This is not your school! This is my school!” Guess he’s ready for Monday morning! 😉


Writing Can Change the World- SOL #9

It doesn’t matter how many times I watch this video, I fall in love with it every time.

Lucy Calkins, one of the most inspirational and influential writers and writing teachers of our time, shares some nuggets of wisdom with writers the world over. She reminds us to read our writing like it’s gold. What a difference that makes. Honoring our words by reading them like they’re gold really does make the difference. Finding the parts that work and keeping them, and reworking the parts that need a little tweaking is how we improve our writing. And writing can change the world. Words carry so much meaning and depth and they have the power to move mountains. It makes me wonder how I will choose my words carefully, how I will change the world with my words.

As I participate in the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Challenge, I am reminded again that writing can change the world, and that when we write, we share a little piece of who we are. So, no matter how rushed we might be when we write, no matter how much we think we could have done better, we must read our writing like it’s gold. All of us deserve to honor our own writing and the writing of others.

This writing community has been just what I’ve needed this month, during what has proven to be the most difficult time of my life thus far. Thank you all for your comments. They may not have changed the world, but they have changed me, and I truly appreciate it!

The Power of Context- SOL #23

SOLS button 2013

I’m currently reading The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, a book about how little things can make a big difference when causing an epidemic or movement to start. Today I read about the “Power of Context,” which is the understanding that context matters and “specific and relatively small elements in the environment can serve as Tipping Points” (p. 167). The example given about the New York City subway system was about how elements in an environment that convey disorder or a feeling of chaos or apathy can actually be the tipping point for violence or vandalism. This got me thinking about the “power of context” in relation to classroom design and set up.

Imagine a class that values collaboration and teamwork. How would that classroom be designed? Perhaps the desks would be arranged in table groups. There might be areas set up in the room for collaboration such as a reading table, a carpet space to gather as a class, or small work tables scattered around. Now imagine a class that values collaboration, yet all the desks are all in rows facing the front of the room. What message does that send if all the desks are in rows? How are the students supposed to work together when they are all facing one direction? The way in which you set up your classroom should reflect your values and be set up in a way that the context of the room supports those beliefs. Having the desks in rows can send the message that all eyes should be on the teacher, the giver of knowledge. A subtle change in classroom desk arrangement and design can make a big difference and be the tipping point for getting collaboration going in your classroom.

I recently volunteered at a local Chinese school, and upon entering the classroom, was taken aback by the design of the classroom. The small room was filled to the brim with 40+ children, all in rows, facing the front of the class. There was hardly any room to maneuver around the room, and it was evident to me that there couldn’t possibly be much collaboration happening in this room. The walls were bare, except for a few permanent fixtures on the wall– Chinese posters displaying rules and procedures, a TV in the corner of the room, and a blackboard at either end of the classroom– and a display of student stickers which seemed to be some sort of incentive program. The front of the room contained a teacher’s desk/podium from which to teach. The context of this classroom tells me that its values are that the teacher is the one in charge, the one who gives information, and the children are receivers of knowledge. While there may be other factors at play, I don’t speak enough Chinese to ascertain if there is anything else happening to suggest otherwise. The walls, free of anchor charts and student work, also conveyed a message that work was done in their notebooks, but not shared. While the children didn’t seem unhappy at all, my Western-style teaching beliefs and methods were definitely challenged and I felt myself feeling sad for these children who have to learn in this way.


IMG_0503Like I said, they don’t seem unhappy, but this room is definitely cramped.

In addition to classroom design, the decor of your classroom also conveys a message, and the students pick up on that message, even if its on a subconscious level. Do your displays reflect the learning going on in your classroom today or do you have the same posters up year-round? Is student work valued and displayed on the walls in and outside of your classroom? Are there anchor charts of lessons hung on the walls so that children can refer to them if they have a question or need help? What you choose to put on your walls should reflect your beliefs and values about education and set up a context for learning.

How do you use the “power of context” in your classroom design and set up?

Thank You- SOL #7

SOLS button 2013

Today was such a wonderful day! First thing this morning, Elle, a first grade student I work with in a small group, surprised me with the biggest bouquet of flowers! Elle and her mom wanted to thank me for working with Elle on her reading. How sweet is that?!?

And then…later tonight, I received an email from a student I had two years ago when I taught third grade. Out of the blue he sends me this:

“Dear Ms. Jennifer
Hi Ms. Jennifer I’m Tommy from 3rd grade.
Now I go to SCIS and I miss RBIS.
I really thank you for what you did to me when I couldn’t speak English that well. I still remember when I first came to RBIS. I didn’t know what to say, I didn’t know the rules, I didn’t even know a little bit about it and you were the best helper and teacher that I’ve ever met.
Thank you,
From your 3rd grade student Tommy”

Seriously? Two thank yous in one day! I am one special lady! Being an educator is oftentimes a thankless job, but today I was reminded that what I do matters. The gratitude of others is such a gift, and I relish it today. Thank you Elle and Tommy for being so very sweet! 🙂

An Unexpectedly Perfect Afternoon- SOL #5

SOLS button 2013

As I was tidying up after my PD workshop this afternoon, I heard voices in the hallway. Knowing everyone had gone home for the evening, I wondered who it could be. Listening closely, I thought I heard Cai’s voice, an adorable second grader who is in the classroom next to my office. Wandering into the hallway, I found Cai reading poems aloud to his mom and little sister.

Cai’s class is in the middle of a writing unit of inquiry focused on poetry, and he was sharing the many poems his classmates had written that were displayed outside of the classroom. I joined Cai and his family, and he read his “I am…” poem to me.

“Cai, would you like to see a poem I recently wrote in my writer’s notebook?” I asked.

“Yes!” he said enthusiastically as he followed me to my room.

I shared my percentage poem with him, and he loved it. He immediately began asking me questions about my writer’s notebook, thumbing through the pages, noticing that I, too, had a heart map, a neighborhood map, and lists. Immediately, he reached into his backpack and proudly showed me his writer’s notebook. We spent the next half hour poring over the entries in his writer’s notebook. He read almost every entry to me, explaining, in great detail, the intricacies of his lists and pictures and sharing the inspiration for his writing. I especially loved his entry about snowflakes. He copied down a poem about snowflakes (well, a song, really) that his little sister’s class performed for the winter concert in December. Then, he wrote real and true information he’d read about snowflakes underneath. To top it off, he decorated it with snowflake stickers.


After reading through his lists, I realized that Cai and I actually have quite a lot in common. Like Cai, I, too, hate tofu, cold water, hitting, and some of the smells on the streets of Shanghai. 😉 We both share a love of sushi, writing, the color yellow, and family.

Cai’s “Things I Don’t Like” and “Things I Like” lists

I can’t tell you how happy I was this afternoon. I was right where I needed to be. Cai and I shared a magical moment and bonded over our shared love of writing. Cai is a writer, through and through. He is confident, writes for a purpose, and uses his writer’s notebook as a tool to catch his thinking. And to think, all this from a kid who moved to our school a mere seven months ago speaking no English. Wow…just wow!

Here’s Cai proudly showing off his writer’s notebook. How cute is this kid?!?

Toddlers are Tiring!- SOL

Today when I came to school, I was asked to sub in the Toddler’s class because a few assistants were out. Oh my gosh are those little guys tiring! I didn’t sleep much last night and felt like a walking zombie, so I was looking forward to an “easy” day. Working with toddlers is not my definition of an easy day. Wow…I have so much respect for those teachers who are in the toddler trenches every day. I would have to go to sleep by eight every night just to have enough energy to function at school! Luckily, I only had to work half the day in there, but now I need a nap. I’ll have to wait until tonight. 

Student Bloggers- SOL

This week began fourth grade’s Blogging and Digital Citizenship Unit. I am fortunate enough to be a co-teacher during this unit, along with Melissa, our technology specialist, and Bill, the head teacher. Our purpose during this unit is for the students to contribute positively to an online community whilst documenting and sharing their learning and reflections with others.

Their Unit of Inquiry is “Where We Are in Place and Time” and their Central Idea is “Ancient civilizations have paved the way for present societies.” Throughout this Unit of Inquiry, their focus will be on the “Silk Road.” I am so excited to read all of the students’ posts and comments about their Unit of Inquiry! Many of them are are sharing their reflections and asking good questions. Some of them are still developing their understandings about the unit and about how to express their ideas on the blog, but I’m confident that they’ll get there soon enough.

Our discussion today centered around commenting, and how comments are essential to driving the conversation forward and deepening our understanding of the Unit of Inquiry. We had the students read and comment on their classmates’ initial posts. We then reviewed those comments and used them to share our expectations for commenting. Rich conversations about the effectiveness of the comments ensued. Some comments were superficial– I liked your post! Good job!. Some were critical– Good ideas, but you made some spelling mistakes. And some were spot on– I agree with what you’re saying about trade and commerce, but have you thought about how and why trade has changed over time? I can’t wait to check the blog and see what types of comments they made last night. I hope they’re less superficial and critical and more thought-provoking!

I’m excited to go on this journey with the fourth graders, and I’m looking forward to sharing my insights about blogging on the SOLC with them. 

Cooking with PK & K- SOL

After last week’s trial-by-fire in my Pre-K & Kinder Cooking class, I felt a little defeated. As I walked around school this week, I was uplifted by the smiling faces and waves I received all week from my new little buddies. Several teachers even commented on how much the students loved cooking class! One little girl said, “I wish everyday was Tuesday so I could go to cooking class!” I was mentally ready and willing to give it another go, however, I needed to rethink my strategy. Instead of “cooking” which means I’m doing a lot of the work (they are too little to cook with heat- not safe!), we needed more of “assembly” type recipes. With this new game plan, I was prepared and the results were happy, engaged students and a non-stressed teacher. I’d say today was a most pleasant day!

Today’s menu included spiders, mini fruit kebabs, and trail mix. They loved it!!! I couldn’t believe how attentive and careful they were. They were super cute when they were “cooking” and they loved the tasty treats they made. Here are two of our recipes:


Ingredients: crackers, cream cheese, pretzels, and raisins

Directions: Spread cream cheese on one side of 2 crackers. Place 8 pretzel “legs” into the cream cheese on one cracker. Place the other cracker (cream cheese side down) on top of the first cracker. Put a small bit of cream cheese on the top cracker. Place 2 raisin “eyes” on the cream cheese. Enjoy!

Trail Mix

Ingredients: Cheerios, Trix cereal, pretzels, chocolate chips, raisins, and sunflower seeds

Directions: Add desired amount of each ingredient to a bowl or plastic bag. Mix with a spoon. Enjoy!

Reading…Is There Anything Better?- SOL

Reading has and always will be an important part of my life. Reading makes my heart happy. If I’m unusually crabby, it’s usually because I haven’t read lately. Reading is comfortable, thought-provoking, and intriguing. Reading opens your heart and mind to other ideas, places, perspectives. This post is dedicated to one of my favorite pastimes.

I read YA fiction, realistic fiction, historical fiction (my new fave!), fantasies, blogs, feature articles, Facebook statuses, biographies, professional books (primarily focused on reading, writing, & teaching through inquiry), emails, picture books, series, books from authors I love, letters and notes from friends, old favorites, book reviews, Pinterest captions, Slices of Life, children’s writing (I love when they share their writing with me!), school documents, poetry, memoir, interviews, and magazine articles. I read in print and digitally on the Internet and on my iPad. While I love the feel and smell of a “real” book, I enjoy the conveniences of e-readers. I write about my reading in my reader’s notebook. I love to recommend books to others, and I have a knack for finding *just* the right book for those reluctant readers.

Books I’ve read in the past are defining moments in my life. I can distinctly remember reading From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg in fourth grade, which is a book about adventure and mystery and “running away to find yourself.” I have reread that book over ten times since then, many times as a read aloud or in a book club with students, and I enjoy it every time I read it. Being able to share my love of literature with children allows me to connect with them in a whole new way. When you share books you love, those books that stay with you and resonate with who you are, you are sharing a piece of your soul.

I decided to slice about reading today because this evening I was tutoring Jennifer, a seventh grader who, when I met her a month ago told me that she “hates reading.” When I walked in today, she began excitedly talking about Jeff from There’s a Boy in the Girl’s Bathroom like he was a real person, showed me her new Scholastic books that she bought from school, talked about her reading plans for when she finishes There’s a Boy in the Girl’s Bathroom, and told me she couldn’t wait to read more of The Hunger Games with me tonight. I just smiled, took it all in, and thought to myself, “Yep, she’s caught the reading bug.” I couldn’t be happier! 😉 

Cooking with Little Ones- SOL

Yesterday was week one of a ten week cooking course where I teach 4 and 5 year olds how to cook. Normally this would freak me out since my experience is mainly with upper elementary, but this is my third semester to teach cooking class after school. I’ve had many freak out moments in the past couple of semesters…here’s hoping those moments are all in the past!

I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of knowledge these little ones possessed about kitchen safety and cooking utensils. I introduced many kitchen tools yesterday to see if they were familiar with their names and functions. When I got to the can opener, no one knew what it was or what it did, but their guesses were pretty cute! Just a few of the responses…nut cracker, onion slicer, thing used to take stuff out of the oven. Next, a little kindergartener raised her hand and said, “I don’t know what it does, but I see that it has simple machines on it. I see gears and a lever.” I was so excited for her to make that connection because the kindergarten classes just wrapped up a Unit of Inquiry focusing on simple machines. It’s so neat when you see students making real world connections to their learning!

A little later, we were shaking up a Ziploc baggie with breadcrumbs, an egg mixture, and broccoli to make our “Slam Dunk Veggie Dippers.” If you’ve ever cooked with kids, you know that shaking stuff up is one of the most interesting and fun activities you can do! When it came time for Eudora, a shy 4 year old, to shake the bag, she just stared at it. I prompted her to shake the bag…nothing. Kimberly, the 5 year old sitting next to her, said, “Look, do it like this” while demonstrating. Again, nothing. Iris, another 5 year old, cheered her on, saying, “You can do it! Just give it a try!” As you may have guessed, no response again. And then, the sweetest thing happened. Instead of saying something about her not shaking the bag, Kimberly and Iris said with a smile, “It’s OK, you can try it next time!” I just love their helpful, caring attitude toward others! I can tell it’s going to be a great semester!

I’d like to close with my favorite Pre-K quote of the week. As they were helping one another, I overheard one student say, “We’re using our teamwork!” I smiled to myself, pleased that they were working together so positively. Immediately after that, I hear a very headstrong little lady reply, “I do my teamwork by myself!” Giggling, I reply, “It’s not teamwork if you do it by yourself.” Thinking it over, she turned and said, “I still do it by myself.” Gotta love the independence of 4 year olds! We’ll keep working on her understanding of teamwork. 🙂