Open House Follow Up
In my opinion, one half hour is not nearly long enough for open house. While I do feel like we had the chance to discuss the basics, there are so many other topics I wish I could have included.
For example, I would have loved to have shared more about mathematics instruction in our room. There were some examples of student work in the room where students had represented numbers with arrays. In the end, the challenge was to show all of the factors for a given number. For example. you can build six arrays for the number 12. (1x 12, 2x6, 3x4, 4x3, 6x2, 12x1) Interestingly, 24, which is a multiple of 12, has all of the same factors in addition to a few others. All of this work helped students to prove the following conjecture: Factors of a given number will always be factors of multiples of that same number. Boy, do I wish I had this kind of deep understanding when tackling division and divisibility and later, algebra.
There were also some beautiful examples of descriptive writing hanging in the hallway. The students read a chapter in Charlotte's Web that described the Zuckerman's barn. Their challenge was to take in those rich details and incorporate them in their own description of the barn without plagiarizing. Their illustrations were based on their own descriptive paragraphs.
I would have shared more about our reading instruction. We talked about Clough's Portrait of a Learner a bit. The Socratic Circles we often use in our reading class are a perfect example of how we're preparing your students for their futures. Students are asked to consider a question, then, to sit in a circle and discuss the question as a class. I do not direct traffic. Students do not raise their hands to speak. Instead, they work hard at listening to their peers and responding thoughtfully. They learn how to get their voices into the conversation and how to disagree in a way that gets their point across without being inconsiderate or offensive. I use REAL literature in class because I believe that real literature inspires readers to read MORE. Real literature exposes our students to diversity, real problems, and helps them to grow into more empathetic humans. I do believe that this type of instruction will help our students to be better communicators and more collaborative. These are definitely strengths that will serve them no matter their career path. While it is not the same as sitting in on the full conversation, I'm happy to share a short video clip so that you can get a sense for what a Socratic Circle looks like and sounds like in the fourth grade.
Had there been more time, I also would have answered the questions that you asked me in your responses to the email that I sent out before the start of school. I'll take some time to answer those questions now:
Could you tell me about the approach to homework this year? On one hand I totally get that there might be a need. On the other hand the schedule is crazy sometimes and I think they get a little bit burned out from the day. Curious what to expect in that regard.
I think I mostly covered this one. There won't be written homework this year. Research does not support it at the elementary level and I believe that there are better ways to instill responsibility and work ethic in elementary students. HOWEVER, please work with your child to make POSITIVE choices about how to use free time. Reading should be a part of every child's day. Any time your child spends building fact fluency, either through game play or flash cards, will pay huge dividends especially when it comes to your kiddo's confidence. Play board games as a family as often as you can. Please assign your child chores around the house that are appropriate for his/her age. There is no reason why fourth-grade students can't set a table, clear a table, empty a dishwasher, put away laundry, dust, help gather household recycling and trash to prepare for pick-up etc. Giving your child at least one chore a day will help to build responsibility and work ethic AND it will lighten your load too. Please contact me if your child is NOT thriving due to the absence of homework and we can work together to put a plan in place that will work for your child and your family.
Link to NOT YOUR MOM"s FLASHCARDS (These are the ones I modeled at Open House.)
I would love ideas and ways to get my child reading more.
I was a college English major. I have to be careful with how I approach my own recreational reading. I allow myself a novel over long weekends and vacations. I devour books during the summer months. If I read during the week when school is in session, I have a hard time putting the book down at night and end up sleep deprived. Everyone suffers! However, when I was in fourth grade, I wasn't REALLY a reader. For me, that didn't happen till seventh grade. It is really important that your child is reading and strengthening his or her skills but please don't worry too much if you're the one pushing reading time at this point. Just keep pushing. I firmly believe that your student, like me, will eventually find an author or genre that light's him or her up and you will no longer have to push. But please don't stop pushing. If you do, your child will suffer because he or she may not chose to read without the push. When thinking about ways to get your kiddo reading more, stop and think about what gets you reading more. I read a book when there is HYPE around it. Follow popular author's together and create HYPE when a new book is being released. An Unlikely Story, a wonderful bookstore in Wrentham, frequently has author visits. Subscribe to their newsletter and take your kiddo to a visit. At the end, you get to meet the author and get your book signed. Treat these authors like CELEBRITIEs (because they are...I was a total fangirl when I met Kate DiCamillo there!) and your child will too and it will add to their reading excitement. Reading is social. I love participating in a book club or even just reading a book a friend is reading and having the opportunity to discuss it informally with her. Look to create these opportunities for your child. Read what your child is reading. The wonderful thing about many books for this age group is that they are simply amazing books for any age. Read the books your child is reading and discuss them in the same way you would discuss a TV show that you watched together or a movie that you went to together. These books don't have to be read side by side but that is also a great way to encourage reading. Your nine or ten-year-old still CRAVES your attention. As the mom of teenagers, I'll tell you that this may not last forever. Take advantage while you can. This isn't the extent of my ideas on this topic, so if you need more, please reach out to me.
The only question I had was about class size this year. Could you tell us how many students you have? I'm hoping they were able to keep it reasonable both for you and the kids!
I have 25 students in class this year. This isn't too bad. I had 22 last year and the smaller size really does make a difference even though we're just talking 3 students. That being said, I wouldn't part with a single one of your children! Plus, I have LOTS of help. I co-teach with Mrs. Chapman who is a special educator. She'll be with me or her paraprofessional, Lauren Gardener, will be with me all day, every day. In addition, my classroom is supported by two fantastic academic tutors who know the curriculum and your students really well. They are Karen Parent and Marcy Verrone. So, really, I feel like the children, given the class size, will get the attention they deserve.
The only question I have for you is what strategies you might use if you do notice a child is frequently and easily distracted to help with focus?
We have MANY students with an ADHD diagnosis in class this year. However, you don't need a diagnosis to struggle with attention and to benefit from strategies that help with focus. My own son was diagnosed with ADHD at an early age. He made it through elementary school without requiring meds thanks to some truly excellent teachers who employed best practices to help him thrive. However, when he entered middle-school, he started to take a med to help him manage his attention. I absolutely was the mother who said I'd never medicate my child but we came to the point where his self-worth was suffering. He is a smart kid who wasn't able to work to his full potential. I wouldn't deny a child with vision deficits eye glasses. I began to look at Owen's attention deficit in the same way. That being said, medication is NOT a cure. He still depends on strategies for focusing. AND, he is 16 and we haven't got him figured out. My daughter is 15 and more typical with no real learning challenges and we haven't got her figured out either. I'm walking this walk with you and I'll be by your side cheering you on and offering you support as you try to figure out your own child and what works best. I will ALWAYS support your decisions. You know your child best and I know that you always have your child's best interests at heart. Over the years of teaching and parenting, I have found a few practices to help:
1) What can I do as a parent to help support you and your curriculum at school and 2) will you teach cursive and emphasize skills outside of the ipad/electronics?
There are many things you can do to support learning and our curriculum at home. First, read your child's highlight reel on a regular basis. Ask your student to elaborate on what is written there. Dig for specific details and encourage your student to use specific details when writing about the day. Take every opportunity to encourage the AUTHENTIC practicing of skills. Provide opportunities for your child to read to access information they desire. Kid's have lots of questions. Empower your kiddo to seek out answers on his or her own with your support and supervision. Promote the writing of thank you notes and insist that your child use specific details in their notes. Encourage LOTS of reading for pleasure. Read for pleasure yourself. Modeling that reading is enjoyable will go a long way in helping your child to adopt this mindset. Find ways for your child to use math to solve the real problems that come up day to day. For example, "your soccer game is thirty five minutes away. You need to be there for 9:30. What time do we need to leave the house?" "You've saved 17 dollars in your 'spending cup'. The sneakers you want are $55. How much more do you need to save before you can afford them?" "What if I agree to pay half of the cost of the sneakers? How much will you need to still save for them?" You get the idea.
Also, take advantage of opportunities to enrich your child's education by taking advantage of opportunities to integrate cultural arts. Take your students to see live music. I'm not necessarily talking about the expensive Taylor Swift concert. Instead, take them to free or inexpensive concerts. Both Miscoe and Nipmuc put out amazing concerts throughout the year. Watch the district website and Twitter for event listings so you can take in one of these. Seek out other inexpensive alternatives to get music into your child's life. Make theatre a priority. Broadway shows are amazing and expensive but there are alternatives. Again, Miscoe and Nipmuc have fantastic theatre programs and their plays and musicals are excellent and affordable. Why not support our district while also taking in great theatre? Local venues like Worcester's Hanover Theatre, Woonsocket's Stadium Theatre and Providence's theatres offer less expensive alternatives. Finally, there are great opportunities right here in Mendon and Upton. Mendon has a fantastic animal sanctuary that offers tours. The Maple Farm Sanctuary is located right on North Avenue! Did you know that Upton has a HUGE art gallery right on Main Street? It is called Spaightwood Galleries and it is open to the public for free on weekends. Any quality time you spend with your child, away from a screen, is going to enrich their lives and benefit them educationally.
2) I truly wish I had more time for cursive instruction. Some children really benefit from using cursive handwriting and all children need to be able to read it. Otherwise, cursive will become some secret code that only we adults can communicate with. However, the demands that our state/nation place on fourth-graders makes it virtually impossible to spend the same time on cursive handwriting instruction that I did years ago. I will make sure that your students can read cursive and sign their names in cursive but we won't do much beyond that. A handful of students have communicated that they'd like to get better at cursive handwriting. I have many resources and strategies for teaching and practicing cursive. If you would like me to share any of these, please do contact me. I'd love to share what I have/know.
How long have you been teaching? Do you like it?
I have been teaching for 26 years. This marks my 27th year in the classroom. I have completed 25 years in the MURSD. Prior to teaching here, I taught one year of second grade in a parochial school in Somerville. I have taught grades two, three, four and five. My longest stint was nine years teaching fifth-grade at Miscoe. Fourth and fifth grades are definitely my favorites. I spent one year working as a district math specialist/coach which I loved but the district could not afford to maintain the position and it was cut from the budget. I have been teaching at Clough since 2005.
Do I like it? NO! I LOVE it. Teaching, at least for me, has never been a job. I don't ever say that I'm going to "work". I've always said, "school". Teaching feels like a vocation or calling to me and it is more than a Monday through Friday gig. It is my favorite hobby as well. I truly enjoy the professional development I participate in to stay current. I love the lesson design aspect and planning. Having the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues makes the work bearable and fun. Mostly I love that every day and every year is different. The kids are a blast to work with. They give me gray hair but also keep my young! How are both possible? Honestly, though, I really love the time I get to spend among schoolchildren. My career has brought me great joy and fulfillment. I don't want to sugar coat it. Teaching is hard work. There are days I go home bone tired and frustrated but I love the work and I can't imagine ever doing something else.
I hope this blog helped to further answer your questions and helped you to visualize what your child's year might look like. I'm not sure if you realize this but every single child in my class had family at Open House. This is not always the case. I feel blessed to work with such supportive and engaged families this year. I want to be your partner. Don't hesitate to let me know if your child needs additional help or support. I want every kid to feel good about the time spent in our room and I want the year to be a success. My lofty goal is that every child goes off to fifth grade prepared, feeling confident, and having a positive attitude toward school and his or her learning. Any feedback you can give me along the way, both positive and critical, will be helpful.
Thanks for taking the time to read this. I know it was lengthy. I kissed the Blarney Stone in 1987 and I've been long-winded since but hopefully, it was helpful!
Follow me on Twitter. My handle is @MarieMcMB.
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Marie Brigham is a fourth-grade teacher and 25-year veteran of the MURSD.