30 September 2010

Three very important minutes

This afternoon, God blessed me through three very important minutes with one of my students. Praise Him for all He is teaching me each and every day, as I journey through this year of change and discovery.
So what happened? I have had a lot of difficulty convincing one of my students that he needs to do his homework. Yesterday, after a month of other strategies, he had a chat with the principal and I told him that if he continued to not do the homework without good reason I would need to contact his parents. Today, his homework was done.
Then this afternoon, as I was handing back some other work, I discovered his copy of the worksheet was missing. He said he didn't know where it was, and so we went and had a look in his bag together. What I found there prompted me to ask a question about his parents, and his response to that question prompted a longer conversation. In talking with him, I discovered that both his parents are presently in other countries, one just for a short time and the other for a longer time.
That made me think! I wish I had taken more time earlier to find out what was happening in this boy's life outside of school, and to let him know that he matters, and that I really care about him, not just his homework/schoolwork. When I moved to this school, the importance of relationships was emphasised. Today, reminded me of this. My personality type has a tendency to focus on getting the lessons taught, and the academics of education. Praise God that He is teaching me, ever so gently, to get more in touch with the Feeling and Intuitive sides of my personality, and to be more thoughtful about the who of teaching rather than the how & what. If you pray for me, then pray that I will continue to be sensitive to both God and my students as I learn to focus more on relationships and a little less on academics.

25 September 2010

A productive long weekend with some fun thrown in!

One thing I love about this time of year in Cambodia is all the Public Holidays. Friday was Constitution Day, next week is a full week, but the week after Thursday and Friday as well as the following Monday are Pchum Ben. The following week is another full week, then we get another Friday and Monday off for King's Coronation Day & King's Father's Birthday. All those holidays are great for making sure I spend some time relaxing, and still keep on top of things for school, but they do make covering curriculum a challenge!

So what have I done this weekend? Well the first project for the weekend was the Classroom Library. I wanted to assign reading levels to all the books that I could, make an inventory of the titles and put labels on them so I have a chance of getting them all back. Here they are all packed up and ready to go, along with a few samples. That is now complete and I'm looking forward to taking the books to school on Monday morning.
Another job on the agenda was planning for the coming week. For me, that also involves making sure I have all the materials that I need ready for the coming week. I've done most of that, with just some laminating projects to finish off. Since the laminator takes a while to warm up, I try to do this in batches, so it will probably be tomorrow evening's job to finish those things off.
One of the pages I follow Facebook is Scholastic, and today I discovered they were having a one week sale on Teaching Resource Books for just $1, at Scholastic Teacher Express. http://teacherexpress.scholastic.com/dollardeals?&product_type=269&view=all. There were 278 teacher resource books available as e-books for just $1. I got over $100 worth of books for just $15. No delivery - just download them and save them in a safe place and print them (either single pages as you want to use them or whole books). That was time consuming, but also fun!
Over the last two days I've also managed to read 5 or so of the books, enjoying rereading some of the classics, as well as some I've never read before. This is NOT work. It's fun.
I've also managed a trip to a local store for some essential/non-essential supplies for the coming week, and but will have to do a little more shopping tomorrow when I will go a little further afield for bread and refrigerated items.
This evening I plan to visit a friend, for pizza and a movie.
I've still got a lot of other jobs on my "To do" list, but they will just have to wait. Tonight I'm going to relax, enjoy good food, and good company and hopefully a good movie too!

24 September 2010

"The Boy Who Changed The World" by Andy Andrews

The Boy Who Changed the World is a delightful children’s book, telling the stories of four boys who grew up to change the world. The key message of the story is that all children can make a difference, and that “every little thing we do matters”. The Curriculum Guide (available on line) is for Pre-K through 2nd Grade children, but this story could definitely be read and enjoyed by any elementary aged child, and even with middle and high schoolers.

The beautiful illustrations impressed me, as did the way the author connected each boy’s story to the next. The font is clear and easy to read, and I liked how some key points are emphasised in different fonts. The message comes through very clearly, and the story itself is easy to read. While the message is clearly a Christian one, and God’s plan for us to make a difference is clear, it was also presented in such a way that I felt comfortable reading the story in my secular classroom.

To see how children would respond to the story, I read this book to my 3rd grade class the day after I received it, and they enjoyed it. Many of the children recognised and appreciated the fact that they can change the world. Considering that English is the second or third language for almost all of my students, I was thrilled at how much they connected with the story. The repetition of key phrases was very helpful for children who are still learning English. In each of the four stories within the stories, there were aspects that the children were able to connect with, such as Norman playing a game with his sisters, and Moses giving up something precious (his horse) for something even more precious (George).

Here’s what some of my students said about the story:
  • I like the story because Moses traded his favourite horse for George.
  • I like this story because it is very good and it tells everybody about how to change the world.
  • I like the story because the boy saved one billion people.
  • I like the story because the four boys grew super plants for people that are hungry.
  • I like the story because it tells us how to change the world.
  • I liked the story because I love the two girls. I like their hair colour.
  • I like the story because the story tells us how to learn to change the world, and I liked it because the story tells us how to learn to do something right.
As a teacher, I also appreciated the Curriculum Guide on Andy’s website, and I’d really encourage other teachers to take time to share this beautiful story with their students, and to use the Curriculum Guide to make the most of the story.

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

23 September 2010

Old books and new books

Those who know me well will know that I love to read, and so it will come as no surprise that I greatly desire to engender a love of reading in my students. To do that, they need to have books available! We have a developing library at East-West, with some great books, but at the moment the children cannot borrow books (forms need to be signed by parents stating they will cover the cost of replacing any lost books - and I understand and support the reasons for that). At the same time, it does make it difficult for some of my students to read at home, and so I sought donations to help me build a personal classroom library that I can lend to the children. I have had one donation so far which has enabled me to make a start on this project, and so yesterday I went to a great second hand book shop where I purchase 90 books for $80. That equates to about 4 books per child at the moment. I'm still hoping for more donations, so I can also give each child their very own, brand new Scholastic book at Christmas time, as well as offer a wider selection of books, including more non-fiction (harder to get hold of, and more expensive). This weekend's project is to identify the reading level of the books and also label them so they return to the classroom! I suspect I'll probably read a few along the way as well. I still enjoy reading kids books. Watch this space for the children's reactions to their new "classroom library".

On Tuesday evening I received a very special parcel. I'm very grateful to the guys at Logos who made a special, unscheduled trip to the post office to pick it up for me. It was a brand new hardcover copy of a book called "The Boy Who Changed The World". It is so exciting to receive brand new books, and this one will be greatly treasured. I shared it with the children on Wednesday morning, and they really enjoyed it. Watch this space for a BookSneeze review, coming very soon.

19 September 2010

Some memories are precious, ...

I wrote this entry about a month ago, and for some reason it never got published. I found it today as I was cleaning up my "desktop" so here it is. I hope it might be a blessing to those who read it.

Some memories are precious, so we can tell our souls to recall them with pleasure. But other memories bring pain, and telling your soul to remember those is difficult. Yet both can be profitable to your soul as you assign meaning to them. Profitable memories are those that add to your soul wellness rather than subtract from it. They prompt maturity and growth rather than drag you down or keep you stuck in your own immaturity. Profitable memories contribute to your personal depth and understanding. They challenge you to think broadly rather than narrow your perspective. That’s why profitable recollections can be either pleasant or painful. Even hard times in our lives can contribute great wisdom to our thought closets. (Rothschild, J. 2007. Self Talk, Soul Talk.)

As I read this paragraph, and the paragraphs that followed, it prompted me to think about the memories I have stored away in my mind over the past six months. There were definitely some painful ones, but I can truly say that those painful memories are profitable. Remembering being told I wasn’t being offered a contract for the 2010-11 school year is definitely a painful memory. Not knowing what was next in God’s plan for my life for almost 3 months is also a painful memory. Being offered a contract for the 2010-11 school year is definitely a good memory. The fun I had doing the Jungle Flight during Refresh. Now that is definitely a good memory, even though it was a bit scary at the time! So what great wisdom has gone into my thought closet as a result of this time? More than anything else, I can say that I have seen, and felt, God’s faithfulness. Faithfulness in provision for my physical needs, but mostly faithfulness in that He has always been beside me through the journey. Faithfulness in teaching me the lessons I need to learn. Faithful to the passion He has placed in my heart for teaching middle-upper primary school students. Faithful in the provision of His peace.

God is faithful. What about you? Do you have painful memories that God uses to bring His wisdom to your life? Why don’t you share it with someone. Make a comment on this blog. Write a note to a friend. Write an e-mail. Write your own blog entry. Share one of your profitable memories so that others can learn from them too!

18 September 2010

Another exciting week in 3rd grade

This week has been full of fun and learning. It has been exciting to watch the children become more settled in the classroom, and especially to know that I do actually know all of my students' names. Well, maybe that's not quite true. I know the names of all the students in my "homeroom", but I'm still trying to learn the names of some of the students in the other grade teach, who are my students for mathematics, and I'll also probably have some of them for swimming.

As I learn the children's names, I am also trying to get to know their personalities a little better, and to learn the best ways to teach each child. This is challenging me, but is also very important to me. The better I understand my students, the better I am able to meet their needs.

Swimming was an interesting experience. We had girls' swimming on Thursday morning, and boys on Friday afternoon. As this was our first lesson with them in the pool, it was our first chance to really find out their abilities. The pool is a reasonable size, with a deep end and a shallow end. It has steps for entry and exit as well as ladders, and has some rails attached to one side at the shallow end for kicking practice (as well as giving less confident swimmers something to hang on to. Our first battle, with the girls, was to actually get them into the water! It was cold! At least until they started moving around. Since I was still trying to throw off the cold I'd caught a couple of weeks ago I didn't get in the pool this week, but usually I will. It was interesting to see the different ability levels, and also different confidence levels. We have them ranging from non-swimmers and scared to confident with little technique to some quite competent swimmers. It will be interesting trying to meet all of their needs, and especially making sure the non-swimmers get the chance to learn basic water safety skills and then to learn to swim. The boys were much more eager to get in the water, and most were very eager to show off their ability. They were also much louder than the girls! Still, despite the water being cold, I think that most had a good time in the pool, and are eager for next week's lesson.

This week was the first week with formal homework assigned and followed up, and children got a sticker for each item of homework that was completed (up to 3 stickers a day). At the end of the week, the level of homework completion determined who got to participate in "Fun Friday". Sadly only about half the class were able to enjoy this week's activity involving creating pictures using fishy foam shapes! Looking forward to having more children enjoy next week's activity.

This week I was also able to ability group some of the children for Mathematics, and that was really helpful. There are still some challenges associated with the Math program, and I'm going to have to work out some ways of extending some of the children, but it will happen.

Next week I hope to start assessing some of the children's reading levels, so I can tailor their instruction more individually, as well as ensuring that they have appropriate reading material for free reading & home reading. This afternoon I went to one of our local second hand book stores and selected about 80 titles, which I'll pick up early next week. Most were $1 each, with a few hardbacks for $2. I'm looking forward to levelling them, and getting them into the hands of the children. It's great to be able to get books for kids at such good prices. They're pre-loved, but all the ones I chose have plenty of life left in them! I did manage to find a copy of "Ralph S. Mouse" which I'm thinking of reading aloud to my kids. We'll do a novel study on "The Mouse and the Motorcycle" a little later in the year. That will be fun I think, especially in a country where so many of us travel by motorcycle most of the time.

That's all for now. It's time for bed, listening to the sound of gently falling rain! Hope we can make it to church tomorrow without a boat!

10 September 2010

Where did this week go?

It's hard to believe that we have already finished two weeks of school. At the same time, I'm praising God for His strength to get through this week. On Sunday afternoon I experienced those tell tale signs that I was nourishing some nasty germs, with lots of sneezing and a drippy nose. I took some garlic tablets, headed home early and had an early night, but all to no avail. The bug had got hold of me, and it's stuck with me all week. I wish it would go away! So I armed  myself with a box of tissues and bravely headed off to school on Monday morning, where I quickly discovered that I was not alone and that several of my colleagues were also in various stages of battling similar ailments. I guess it comes with the territory. Various forms of infection do seem to be an occupational hazard when you teach 7-9 year olds in a "large" group. Life's like that!

So was it a good week. Well, apart from the germs, I think that I learned a thing or too, and so did my children. I am starting to feel like I'm getting to know the children a little better, and have probably got three quarters of the names of my own class sorted out in my mind. There are a couple of boys who are similar in looks and behaviour, and if I can't see their faces then they may well get called by the wrong name. There are also two girls who are similar build, and both very sweet, whom I have been mixing up a bit. I get frustrated when I do this, since names are important, and I really do love each of these kids in their own individual way, and I want them to know they are important enough for me to call them by the right name, so I think they'll be wearing name tags in class for one more week. Hopefully by then I'll have them sorted out.

One thing I learned this week is how much some of the children struggle with reading and following simple instructions. We did a mathematics test today, which consisted of a single page of questions in almost exactly the same format as we had worked in class over the last two weeks, and I was flabbergasted by the number of children who were unable to simply read the instructions and answer the questions. No, I'm not talking about the students that I know have very limited English here. I'm talking about students who have quite good English. Definitely something we will need to work on. The other big concern in mathematics this week was the number of children who were still doing basic addition facts by counting on their fingers. By 3rd grade I expect most children to know these facts without having to count, but obviously there's still need for work on this. I can see some flashcard making coming up!

A good thing this week, was getting the children grouped more effectively for their Language classes, and knowing which group was which. While I'm doing roughly the same content with each group, there is definitely room for differentiation here, both by ability and by learning style. I'm still struggling with reaching the children in the class who have very little English, but am seeing some progress with them, even in just understanding simple instructions and classroom procedures. Building vocabulary is going to be an essential part of both Mathematics and English classes. I must go back and review some of the ESL strategies I learned at a workshop in the past and see how I can better help all the children learn. This weekend I hope to get some Mathematics grouping done, so I can better differentiate instruction in that subject as well. This is more challenging as I have two classes, but in consultation with the other teacher, we decided if might work to mix the two classes up based on ability levels. We'll try it and see how it goes. Hopefully it won't make the Science/Social Studies classes too unbalanced in terms of ability.

Something else that I have done this week which I'm really happy about is to accept a certain level of talking and discussion of work between the children when they are completing written tasks. In the past I have expected this to be done in silence with no conversation allowed, but I'm learning that there are some children who simply must talk about things to process them, and so long as their chat is on topic then it's OK (unless it's a test that I need individual work for).

Next week's excitement will be the opening of the swimming pool for classes. Fortunately for me, 3rd grade swim lessons are on Thursday and Friday, so I've got almost another week to get healthy again before I have to get in the water. It should be fun actually.

05 September 2010

Quote of the week - lessons from 3rd grade

Question:      What drink is not good for you?
Answer:        Cola
Question:      Why not?
Answer:        Because it is made of gas, when it is not cold and when we put it in the refridgerator it become sweet.

Published as written, complete with 3rd grade ESL English & spelling!

03 September 2010

Five days down, 175 days to go!

No, I'm not really feeling like I want to count down the days. Actually it has been a good week. I could fairly confidently say that I know about half of my students' names, and I'm beginning to know a little of their personality and abilities.
I've just finished reflecting on this week using some very simple questions, so instead of reinventing the wheel I'm going to copy and paste my reflections for all to see.

Date: Friday 3rd September 2010

What new information did I learn this week?

I learned so much new information this week that my head is spinning. One important thing I learned is how the A-Z reading program can be used to inform teaching, and to differentiate instruction through the use of reading groups. I also learned that I need to speak more slowly. I think I already knew this, but I was reminded of it.

What have I done well this week? What made me so successful?

I have done well at teaching some lessons, especially the ones that I planned well for. I do not think the children have been bored at all this week. I think I have done well at interacting with the children and learning their names, including correct pronunciation and putting the right name with the right student. I think the name tags definitely helped me to do well at this. I will continue this for another week so that I can really get to know all students’ names well. I think I handled the conflict situations between children well, because I listened to all the different views of the situations then helped them to see that forgiving is important, and that they need to let go of their anger so they can be happy again.

What didn’t I do so well this week? What can I do to improve?

I think the thing that I didn’t do so well at this week was always speaking to the children in a quiet, gentle voice. I don’t think I shouted at them, but I wasn’t always quiet and gentle either. I would really like to improve this. I think that I need to consciously pray about this each day, and to think about how I am going to speak before I speak.

I don’t think I differentiated very well this week either, but I am still getting to know the children and their abilities. I think that, as I get to know the children better I will do this. An important thing that I really need to work on is effectively handling the extroverted children in my classroom who need to verbalise information in order to process it. This is something I will review and think about. I need to plan for more student talking time next week.

How do I feel about my teaching this week? Why do I feel this way?

I feel partly good and partly frustrated about my teaching this week. I feel good, in that I did my best, and I think the children had some fun, and that some of them learned some things. I feel good because some of the children, who initially would say nothing at all, have started to speak to me, even if it is only in a whisper. I pray that they will feel safe enough to take some risks and speak to me and know that they will be accepted for who they are. I feel frustrated because it is so difficult to tell how much some of the children actually understand, and I’m not sure if I am reaching them. I’m also frustrated because while I didn’t shout, I did raise me voice at times, and I really do not want to do that. I pray that God will help me to remember to use other strategies to get the children’s attention, and to be patient when they are talking when I need them to listen.

What other things have I been thinking about? Is there a reason for these thoughts?

I’ve been thinking about my friend K, and how I want things to be a little easier for her, because I know she is having a tough time in India. I’ve also been thinking about L as she continues to wait for God to give her a job in the US, and I’ve been thinking of and missing some of my colleagues from Logos. I’m enjoying my colleagues at EWIS, but it’s really hard being new!

What new possibilities could make my teaching better? What are the possibilities for next week?

I think that the way the A-Z readers are set up could really help make my teaching better, with its potential for differentiation. I think that the most important possibility for next week is that as I learn the students’ names and personalities I can do a better job of differentiating my teaching. I that once I get the Language Arts groups finalised then it will be easier to differentiate; especially now I know which is my more capable group. The other possibility for next week is to start some differentiation within the Mathematics program. One other possibility is to get some really good word work happening. The best thing though is to continue to rely on God for His strength for each and every day.

I thank God for the opportunity I have to teach 3rd grade, and know that God is using this time to teach me many things, as I continue to serve Him here in Cambodia.