Sunday, September 15, 2013

What's Up This Week: 16 - 19 September 2013

No School on Friday 20 September

This Friday is a professional development day for AISB teachers, and students have the day off.  Teachers will be writing new lessons using the research-based approach called "Understanding by Design," a method that ensures every lesson is meaningful and targeted to important skills and concepts.

Back to School Barbecue

It was a picture perfect day for the annual AISB barbecue last Saturday, and it was great seeing so many of you there! Special thanks to the PTO and those parents that helped plan this event and who worked so hard on the day of the event. We couldn't do this without your support. 


We continued reading and analyzing our novel The Kid in the Red Jacket about a family who moves a long distance away from their home, and how the 10-year-old main character struggles to adapt to his new surroundings. To explore this theme students also analyzed the song "You've Got a Friend in Me" by Randy Newman, from the movie Toy Story. They discovered that the song's message would be comforting for anyone moving a long distance as it assures us that our old friends will always be there for us--even if they aren't close by.

Students also analyzed a Norman Rockwell painting called "New Kids in the Neighborhood" in order to further explore the theme of moving and adjusting. By looking at the date of the painting they were able to determine that this was a very different time, when just having a different skin color made moving to a new neighborhood difficult. Students noted that they saw clues (baseball gloves, pets) that the kids would soon all be friends, but commented that it might take longer for the adults in the neighborhood to welcome this new family. For me it's always gratifying to hear the students express shock that people would judge each other based on skin color. I'm confident that this next generation will be colorblind! 

Students continued to use the theatre technique of tableau (a frozen picture) to understand our vocabulary words,  first using context clues to determine the meaning, then adding to their notebook the definition and a small sketch, and finally preparing with their team a tableau that visually defines the word. The other students rate each tableau based on five factors: remaining frozen, remaining silent, using different levels, using their face/body/hands, and keeping 100% concentration.

As they did previously, they also used tableau to improve their comprehension of the novel. Teams created a tableau to visually represent and interpret important scenes from the chapters we read each day. Again they were ready with a line of dialogue if I tapped them on their shoulder during the freeze.

TI use tableau as a form of arts integration, which is an effective tool to use in reading class. In this case tableau teaches academic skills (inferencing, summarizing, identifying plot elements), social skills (collaboration, concentration), and arts-specific skills (using body/voice/mind to create a character, how to be a respectful audience member). And tableau is quick--teams plan and practice in 5 to 10 minutes, and perform in 30 seconds. I can immediately determine if students comprehended the text that day.

In the week ahead, as we nearly finish the novel, we will also explore similar themes in a a clip from the movie "Karate Kid." We will also continue to practice both our inferencing skills and our our ability to identify the plot elements of a story.

How You Can Help with Reading at Home

Ask your child:
  • Describe one of the tableaus your team created from the story The Kid in the Red Jacket. Which character did you portray? How did you use your body, hands, and face to become that character?
  • How do you think Howard Jeeter really feels about the doll Molly loaned him?
  • Why does Molly in want to help Howard feel better?
  • What was the artist Norman Rockwell trying to tell us when he created the painting "New Kids in the Neighborhood?"
  • Do you agree with the message in the song "You've Got a Friend in Me?" Why or why not?
  • Explain the plot of The Kid in the Red Jacket so far.


Not all of the Grade 4/4 students have MEMORIZED the addition, subtraction, and multiplication facts to 12. It will be nearly impossible for them to progress in math if these math facts are not ingrained in their brains. While we have the students practice their math facts daily using an activity called "Mad Minute," we also encourage you to work with your child at home to ensure complete memorization. There are many ways to practice these facts, including flash cards, reciting/singing/chanting the facts, and many computer-based, interactive games (some listed below at the end of this math section).
Grade 4In math this past week, Grade 4 students: 
  • explored the properties of addition
  • worked with addition patterns
  • added whole numbers and money (U.S. currency)
  • used mental math to add
  • estimated sums
In the coming week Grade 4 students will explore estimating vs. being exact, take a "Check Your Progress Quiz, look at subtraction patterns, and explore subtracting whole numbers and money.
Grade 5: In math this past week, Grade 5 students:
  • completed a Check Your Progress quiz
  • took the Chapter 1 test
  • explored multiplying whole numbers and decimals
  • used the distributive property to solve multiplication equations
In the coming week Grade 5 students will multiply more whole numbers, look at the properties of multiplication, estimate the products of whole numbers and decimals, participate in a problem solving activity to determine if they should estimate or provide an exact answer, and take a Check Your Progress quiz. 

How You Can Help with Math at Home
Grade 4: Encourage your child to use the following resources to practice the math skills learned last week:
  • Bowling Pin Math (to practice math facts):
  • Defeat the Mayan Math Monster (choose 'medium" or 'hard")
Grade 5: Encourage your child to use the following resources to practice the math skills learned last week:
  • Bowling Pin Math (to practice math facts):
  • Around the World (multiplication facts)

Social Studies

Students continued researching on their assigned regions for our social studies unit on Africa. Their focus is on its diverse cultures, geography, and history, and they'll use this information to design a theme park that accurately represents one region of Africa. 

Mount Kilimanjaro as interpreted in Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park

Country research is due on Monday 16 September when we will begin the next stage, concept site planning. For this stage students will create a conceptual site plan that makes space for all of the elements their theme park will include: country-specific rides, restaurants, markets, theatres, and landscapes.

How You Can Support Social Studies at Home This Week:
Ask your child:
  • What have you discovered in your research on the African countries you chose?
  • What ideas do you have for your team's theme park?
  • How does xMind help you with this social studies project?


Last week students completed their brainstorming of personal narrative ideas, either true memories of a special person, place, or thing. On Friday they chose one of their "seed" ideas to develop into a finished piece. In the coming week they will learn how to write engaging beginnings (leads) and endings, and learn how a timeline can help them with this assignment.
We also explored another form of figurative language: similes. These are comparisons that use the word "like" or "as." We discussed how some similes are cliches, used so much that they are not exciting when used in a story. Students then created their own fresh similes, recorded them artfully on a slip of paper, and pasted them to a poster on our wall. This poster joins our idiom poster, and the beginning of some great resources students can reference throughout the year.

 How You Can Support Writing at Home This Week:
Ask your child:
  • What seed idea did you finally choose as your main story? Why?
  • What sort of feedback did you give your teammates about their story idea? Did they agree with you?
  • Which simile did you write on the class poster?
  • How can an idiom or simile help your story?


Grade 4 and 5 students are using many forms of technology to assist them in their learning. First, students are in the beginning stages of creating their own digital portfolios in the form of a blog. Each week they have been uploading scans of their work (essays, math tests, their superhero creation, etc.) and writing a reflection to accompany the uploaded image. Before Quarter 1 ends students will make their private blog accessible to you so you can follow their progress throughout the year. 

This digital approach is much more convenient to use than the overstuffed folders of student work I've used in the past! A big thank you to IT Coordinator Mr. Kelsey for setting this up for our class, and continuing to support the students as they become bloggers.

Mr. Kelsey also introduced students to software that creates digital mapping. Using xMind, students are organizing their social studies research on African countries in a visually appealing and useful display. We hope to continue to use this digital tool on other projects this year.

Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA)

Last week I emailed each family with their child's/children's score on the Developmental Reading Assessments (DRA), a reading test that I gave individually to each student (Note: ESOL students will not be tested with the DRA until later in the year). I will administer this test again in May. 

As I noted in the email, the DRA scores should not be looked at in isolation but rather in combination with other measures. According to research, using multiple measures---commercial tests, teacher-made tests, projects, in-class assignments, informal classroom observations, etc.--is the only way to accurately assess the reading progress of each child. Please email me if you have questions about the DRA results.

I am also in the process of meeting with students individually to review their DRA results so they can set reading goals for the year.

Writing Test

Last Monday all grade 4 and 5 students took a writing test in which they had 45 minutes to plan and write a draft that addressed this prompt: Some say that violent TV shows and video games cause children to be violent. Do you agree with this? Write an essay stating your opinion, and support it with facts and details.

Most students finished within 20 minutes, choosing not to use all of the time provided. Unfortunately this decision was evident as I read their essays! There were plenty of missed opportunities to include details, to narrow in on the topic, and to create a more organized essay. However, I did see writing potential in these first drafts and am confident that our Writing Workshop approach this year will lead to continuous improvement in essay and story writing. Please note: ESOL students wrote in their native language so we could accurately access their writing ability vs. their English language skills.

I scored these essays--along with another teacher--using the "Six Traits" rubric as a guide. This well-researched, detailed system guides us to award up to 6 points in each of six areas:

Ideas (Are the ideas creative, thorough, and connected to the topic?)
Organization (Does the order of the essay make sense?)
Word Choice (Did students use descriptive vocabulary?)
Voice (Does the essay have the personal and unique sound of the writer?)
Sentence Fluency (Does the essay flow so the reader moves through it easily?)
Conventions (Is the spelling, grammar, capitalization, and punctuation correct?)

So if a student did a fantastic job developing ideas for this essay but stumbled when it came to word choice, she might receive a 5 out of 6 in Ideas, and a 2 out of 6 in Word Choice. Having two teachers score these essays results in a more objective assessment of the writing, and using the Six Traits system provides detailed feedback so students knows how to improve their writing.

I'll use these results to determine the writing strengths and weaknesses of each child, which in turn helps me determine the type of instruction and support I provide this year. They will take another writing test in May so that we can determine the progress each child has made over the year. This week I will email each family with their child's/children's writing scores, and will also review the results individually with each student in a short conference where they will set goals for their writing progress.

Measures of Academic Progress (MAP)

Beginning Monday 16 September AISB opens a two-week testing window for MAP testing for grade K - 10 students. The MAP is a computer-based assessment of reading, math, and language use. The grade 4/5 tests take about 45 - 60 minutes each, although there is no set time limit. Students will take each test on a different day. The tests are adaptive, which means they adjust to each student's level as students answer each question. The results are delivered immediately and provide me with more data to inform my instruction. Students take these tests again in May.
Sample of a question on the reading MAP test.


On these hot days when students are playing outside for long stretches of time, it's a good time to reiterate the importance of personal hygiene. A daily shower/bath and the use of deodorant can make our classroom a much more pleasant place to learn! Your assistance in this matter will be greatly appreciated.

Please make sure that your child has a hat to keep at school, with their name written in permanent marker somewhere on the inside. We are trying to promote healthy and safe ways to play outside, and your support is appreciated.

Thank you for continuing to make sure that your child has lunch tickets if he/she intends to eat school lunch. A five-pack of tickets for a small lunch is 7500 cfa and 10,000 cfa for a large lunch.

Snack tickets are also available for those students who want to buy a snack from Fanta during our morning recess. Those snacks include fruit, peanuts, popcorn, cookies, muffins, and cold lemonade. A ten-pack of snack tickets is 2500.

Each week please check to see that your child has 4 or 5 pencils ready to use at school. 

Coming Soon

Monday 16 September, 1:15 - 2:15 PM: Grade 4 and 5 students take the reading portion of the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP). Please make sure your child has a good night's sleep on Sunday and eats a healthy breakfast Monday morning.
Tuesday 17 September, 7:30 - 7:50 AM: Elementary School Assembly featuring Mrs. Jabouin's K and 1st grade class.
Thursday 19 September, 12:45 - 1:45 PMGrade 4 and 5 students take the math portion of the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP). Please make sure your child has a good night's sleep on Wednesday and eats a healthy breakfast Thursday morning.
Friday 20 September: No school for students (teacher professional development day)
Wednesday 25 September: First quarter Progress Reports sent home.
Tuesday 15 October: No school (Tabaski holiday)
Friday 18 October: End of 1st Quarter
Monday 21 October - Friday 25 October: Fall Break

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