Saturday, December 06, 2014

What an Amazing Week!

Yes, I'm up at 5AM on a Saturday.  Why?  Well, because Butter has his last wrestling tournament today, and he has to be at the high school by 7AM.  That means, I have to leave here at 6AM.  Thankfully, this is the last wrestling thing for the year, so I can at least go forth today knowing that my next couple of weekends I can actually sleep in a little later.  

I don't even mind that I'm up so early.  It's been such a great week, this week, that I'm kinda running on adrenaline.  Pure magic has taken place in my classroom this week, and it's put me on Cloud Nine. The mixture of Christmas spirit, and seventeen kiddos that have completely blown me away has put me in a very happy place, and I'm praying that this momentum can carry us through for the last two school weeks of 2014.

A couple of days ago, I bragged about how well my class has been doing in terms of their effort and motivation.  I told you all that I've been really honing in on student feedback, and it's been paying off big time with how the students are interacting with each other and with me.  I could go out on a limb and say that there's not a minute of the day that's gone by where my kids aren't engaged and buzzing with collaboration and putting in their best effort.  The only time it's really quiet is during a test.  Even when I'm up at the front of the room, teaching, the kids are talking and sharing with me and a part of the discussion that's taking place over the lesson.  

This week, though, like I said before, some magic has been taking place that has really pumped and pushed the kids in to a whole new level of awesomeness.  

For the first time this school year, my kids have worked on a writing project and not one time has anyone complained or whined about having to write.  That was a big battle I had to overcome with some of my students.  Writing is my "thing".  It's my favorite subject to teach, but it's a little disheartening when I have a majority of the class that tells me they hate writing.  I've been working with them, slowly but surely, to get them to write more than a couple of sentences and really think about content, details, and reading their own writing to make sure it makes sense.  They all wrote their first five paragraph essay for Thanksgiving, and I was very proud of them.  Although, it was a challenge.  I really had to prod and poke, guide and model to get them to understand the writing process.  So, I was a little nervous when I introduced my Dear Santa writing prompt that I always do right before Christmas.

The Dear Santa project is basically the kids writing a letter to Santa, with one exception: They are not allowed to ask for anything for themselves.  Instead, they have to pick three people that they believe deserve a visit from Santa.  I didn't get one complaint, and the kids went about writing up their plan and formatting their letters.  Within two days, almost the entire class had finished and published their letters, and they are good!  The kids thought about others, and gave great reasons why Santa should make the visits.  I have always loved this writing prompt because it gives me a window in to some of the lives my kids are living with.  Some kids ask for stuff for their parents because they work such long hours and don't get much time to enjoy with the kids.  Some kids ask for pictures of themselves be sent to their parents because their parents are incarcerated, in another country, or just absent.  A lot of the kiddos think about homeless people, orphans, and kids that don't get to go to school. It's just a very heartfelt situation, and I love reading the letters.  It's not uncommon for me to tear up as I read some of the stuff the kids write about.

Another fun "writing" project we're working on is creating a book that has no words.  In small groups, I introduced the kids to the book The Snowman, which is a book written entirely with pictures.  After the kids "read" the book, we watched the movie.  Now, they are working on "writing" their own Christmas stories without any words.  We've discussed character traits, problem and solution, and sequencing with this project.  They've also had to think about the details they need to add to their pictures, just like writers add details to written stories.  Now, this is a tough project.  At first the kids think it's going to be easy, but when they realize how much work goes in to drawing pictures that tell a story, it gets tough.  But, my kids have really enjoyed taking on the challenge, and I'm seeing some great stories unfold.  One student is "writing" about a boy whose parents are killed in a car wreck, and he honors his parents by becoming a person that helps other kids who don't have parents and makes Christmas good for those children.  Another student is writing about Santa getting stuck in a chimney and a boy that helps save Christmas while Santa is stuck.  Another student is writing about a child that sneaks in to Santa's sack while Santa is at his house, and then gets to take the trip around the world to deliver presents with Santa.  Great stuff, I tell ya!

Another AMAZING thing that happened this week was our end of semester Star Math test.  Now, usually you won't hear me using the words "awesome" and "Star test" in the same sentence.  I'll admit that I'm not always the biggest fans of the Star tests.  But, this week, I totally am.  My kiddos take this test at the beginning of the year, during the middle of the semester, and again at the end of the semester.  What I usually dislike about the end of semester test is the fact that it's right after Thanksgiving break and right before Christmas.  The kids are usually super hyper and not very focused on taking a test.  During the past couple of years, the "norm" has always been that I've seen some awesome growth on the middle test, but the end of semester test a lot of my kids go down because they're just not as focused as I'd like them to be.  Well, this week I can forget all about that!  As a class, my kids made a whole year's worth of growth since their first test of the year!!  That is OUTSTANDING!  It's quite common to see 6-7 months worth of growth, but a whole year is just kinda unheard of.. but my kids did it.  I have some kids that have gone up over two grade levels since the beginning of the year, and I'm just floored at the progress they've made.  I treated all the kids yesterday with some donuts, cupcakes, and fruit punch to celebrate their achievement and I could tell that it meant a lot to them that I rewarded them for their hard work.  One thing I don't believe in is bribery, but I'm all about giving credit where it's due.  My kids were never given any incentive for improving on the test except for the fact that I believed in them and I wanted them to show how much they've grown, but when I saw the results I just had to do something for them to show how proud I was of them.  

And finally, another amazing victory we had this week was winning the Shop with a Cop Penny War that took place this week.  My kids managed to raise over $75 in a week for kids to shop with a cop.  That is freakin' unbelievable.  Now, I will say that the game of dodgeball with the swat team that was offered as the prize had a little to do with it, and the free donuts and extra recess that also came with the win had a lot to do with it... but I am so proud of my kids working together and doing this act of generosity for others.  Especially when a big majority of my class might qualify for that program themselves.  

All in all it has been one of the best weeks of my entire teaching career, and I couldn't be more happy about my job, my kiddos, and the feelings I have about them both.  THIS is what I signed up for the moment I decided to step in to my first college class to become a teacher.  THIS is the kind of impact I have dreamed on having with my kiddos.  And I'm finally seeing the efforts I put in mean something and come out with some great rewards.

Now I must go get ready for a day of wrestling.

Have a fantastic Saturday!!


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