Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Yesterday, the kids cooked Thanksgiving dinner. While shopping for ingredients, one child who is on a strict diet actually hugged the box of macaroni and cheese before she would scan it. Not wanting to break her heart, I got permission from her mom to let her eat the meal, which included a lot of delicious starchy foods. Her mother said she could eat it, but that starchy foods sometimes give her mood swings.

A while after the student was watching her favorite video. Suddenly she went charging across the room, flung herself into the classroom assistant's arms, and started sobbing. It took us a while to figure out what it was that was breaking her heart. Turns out she was upset that on "The Little Engine that Could," the little engine couldn't yet. She kept signing "train up" and sobbing, heartbroken that that poor little engine couldn't make it to the top of the mountain.

We had to fast-forward to the end to reassure her that "The Little Engine that Could," in fact, does.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

"Ralph the Traveling Mouse"

Or: An Update on my Students' Writing

So, we have a major mouse problem in my classroom this year. They have caught nine mice in my classroom in the last four days, including the one the custodian picked up with his bare hand as it was running across the classroom. The mice have been stealing packets of oatmeal from one of my students and eating them, packet and all, in their favorite hiding place under the microwave. And remember a few weeks ago something had crawled into the ceiling and died? Yeah, this mouse problem is major.

It's also been good for several hundred collective words! The day we saw the mouse (and my two classroom assistants screamed and ran across the room, which the kids loved), the kids went back to their writing afterward eager to add the mouse to their stories. We all did it. The mouse has become a major character in my story. Here's what he became to my students' stories:


ONE: The evil dentist blows up the good dentist's office to get rid of the mouse, but the mouse is the only thing that survives the blast. Now the good dentist and the mouse are on a quest to steal all the evil dentist's candy.

TWO: The weather forecaster is jumping around on a desk, screaming, because there's a mouse under her desk, and people think she's trying to tell them about a scary storm moving in.

THREE: Jennifer Heather Porter put the mouse in Frankie Muniz's prison cell (don't ask) and he got mad that she played a prank on him, so he signed her up to be in the dunking booth at the carnival

FOUR: The mouse ran through the school of which Mr. Rooster is the principal. Now Violet Fern Charlotte has to get a cat to chase the mouse. But the cat is much more interested in becoming a librarian than in concerning himself with mice. (I mean, this is brilliant!)

FIVE: The mouse scared the horse. The horse ran fast. (This guy's worse than me, I'm telling you. If I wrote down what he said verbatim, every other word would be "horse." I have to keep stopping him and explaining that, yes, we're still talking about horses, but sometimes it's okay to use other words.)

SIX: The mouse is on ice skates. No more mouse. (That one rang kind of ominous, but I was a little scared to ask what she meant. Did she mean he skated away into the sunset? Did she mean he had a skating accident? Or -- *gasp* -- could she have mixed up her prepositions again and meant "under" instead of "on"?)

SEVEN: The eight-legged rat is in the kitchen. (It grew in retelling.) The teachers run screaming to their cars. The students sit and laugh.

EIGHT: The mouse scares the football player, so the cheerleader bravely picks it up and tosses it outside.

NINE: I eat french fries. The mouse hides. (I guess it's lying in wait?)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Prewriting with nine kids

My students and I are participating in NaNoWriMo together this year. Here is where we are after another day of novel-planning:

1. Violet Fern Charlotte from Chicken City, North Carolina, must convince her mean old teacher to let her feed the rooster who is also her school principal.

2. Dr. Timothy Quack is a dentist who is struggling to stay in business because of the fact that he only has one tooth -- but at least he wears braces on it!

From an author who is obsessed with siblings and loves my sisters' names:
3. Jennifer Heather has just moved to a neighborhood known as Trouble, NYC. Hijinks ensue.

4. Honey Sugar is a weather caster from Asheville, NC, but she deals with storms on AND off camera.

5. There is an eight-legged rat in the school kitchen. What will Ms. Elliott do? Will she run screaming to her car or will she face her fears and get the broom?

6. The boy tells the horse to walk and the horse walks slow. Then it goes fast. Its name is Pumpkin. The boy brushes it.

7. Something about cheerleaders?

8. The monster's toes hurt because he took off his shoes in the snow. He throws a snowball at me and I throw one back and it hits him in the face. We play in the snow.

9. No write. No thanks.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Why I Love My Job

I have a volunteer in my classroom. Let's call her Sandy. Sandy was going to walk one of my students to the office today to be signed out early.

I said to my student, "Get your backpack. Sandy's going to walk you to the office now."

She blinked and said, "Wh -- what?"

"I'm helping someone else," I explained, "so Sandy's going to walk you down. Is that okay?"

She said, with equal parts concern and hope in her voice, "Did you -- did you say Santa?"

From her voice, I have to surmise that she was excited at the possibility of having Santa walk her to the office, but a little concerned that she hadn't properly prepared for the whole "who's been naughty and who's been nice" side of things this early in the season!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

One of my students ...

... ... who is largely nonverbal, but once in a blue moon comes out with a word or two (usually profanity), said my name yesterday. I wasn't even sure if he knew my name. I know he knows who I am, but I didn't know if he thought in terms of names.

Yesterday he said, and I quote, "Dooley! Shut up!"

You know what? I'll take it. He used his words to express his wants and needs. We can work on manners later!