Monday, September 23, 2013

What's Up This Week: 24 -27 September 2013


This week we finish our novel The Kid in the Red Jacket about a 10-year-old boy struggling to adapt to a cross-country move. To explore this theme students analyzed the first ten minutes of the 2010 movie The Karate Kid which also involves a boy coping with a long move, this time from the U.S. to China. Before watching the clip students learned some tips about analyzing a movie:
  • Costumes and Props: Do they tell us anything about the character? Do they fit the mood?
  • Sets: Why is the scene taking place in this setting? Does the set fit the scene?
  • Acting: What does each character want? Are they believable?
  • Camera Techniques: What shots are used and why--close-ups, long shots, zooms, etc. Is the camera ever acting as the eyes of the character, and if so why?
  • Mise-en-Scene (Visual storytelling): What does the director want us to see and why? How is the scene lit? What are the dominant colors? How are the actors placed in the scene?
  • Music & Sounds: Do they help move the scene along? Do they fit the scene? Are there layers of sound?
  • Flow: Does the scene move along well? Is it in sequence or not? Does the story make sense?
  • Writing: Does the plot keep you interested? Does the dialogue help the story?
Students then watched the clip and afterwards used the tips to dissect the scene. They were extremely perceptive, noting many ways the director wanted us to feel the boy's sadness: by making the first scene happen on a dark, rainy day, by zooming in on some writing that showed his father had died, by having us look out the window of the car through raindrops, by having him in a plane surrounded by darkness, etc. Even though this involved analyzing a movie, it builds critical thinking skills--the kind of strategic thinking they need to be successful readers and writers.

As in previous weeks, students 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.  They were ready with a line of dialogue if I tapped them on their shoulder during the freeze.

As I mentioned before, I 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 we will complete the novel, but not before analyzing one more "new kid at school" poem and analyzing a children's book with a similar theme: Alexander Who's Not (Do You Hear Me?) Going to Move. We will also begin our culminating project involving the creation of a short film about coping with a move.

How You Can Help with Reading at Home

Ask your child:
  • How did the audience score your team's last tableau scene? Why did they score it this way? Do you agree? What would change about your tableau scene if you could do it again?
  • Why is Howard Jeeter embarrassed to be seen with Molly?
  • What are the reasons that Dray, the main character of The Karate Kid movie, was upset about moving to China? How did the director show us Dray's emotions?
  • Explain the plot of The Kid in the Red Jacket so far.


Help your child practice math facts at home 

Grade 4In math this past week, Grade 4 students: 
  • explored estimating vs. being exact
  • took a "Check Your Progress" quiz
  • looked at subtraction patterns
  • explored subtracting whole numbers and money
In the coming week Grade 4 students will explore problem solving by writing a number sentence, subtract using mental math, estimate the answers to subtraction problems, engage in a problem solving exercise that requires them to make logical decisions, and take a "Check Your Progress" quiz.
Grade 5: In math this past week, Grade 5 students:
  • multiplied more whole numbers
  • looked at the properties of multiplication
  • estimated the products of whole numbers and decimals
  • participated in a problem solving activity to determine if they should estimate or provide an exact answer
  • took a Check Your Progress quiz
In the coming week Grade 5 students will multiply whole numbers by decimals, explore multiplying decimals by decimals, and will engage in a problem solving exercise that requires them to guess and check.

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

This week teams of 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. Once they have successfully planned for all of the required elements in their theme park, they will begin the final design.
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 learned how to write engaging beginnings (leads) and endings, and revised their drafts by writing stronger leads and endings. Based on their drafts that I read, we did some exercises on comma use--ways to use commas to make their writing flow better and to make it easier to understand.

Our simile poster.

This week they continue writing their personal narrative draft. They will discover that these narratives really are about reliving a moment in time, and that they need to make that moment real for the reader. This requires using imagery and sensory language--descriptions related to the five senses that make us visualize the scene. We will read a few passages from books that use sensory details, and the students will practice writing sentences rich with imagery. They will see "rich" and "poor" examples like this:
poor: The insect flew away.
rich: The butterfly was as vividly scarlet as a sunset. She fluttered into the horizon, looking more like like the petals of a rose drifting on a soft wind.
How You Can Support Writing at Home This Week:
Ask your child:
  • How does your story grab the reader's attention right at the beginning?
  • How did you change your ending to be stronger?

Character Trait Portraits

Since we closely analyze the traits of each character in the novels we read, I turned the tables a bit last week by asking students to list their own character traits--at least 40 if they could think of that many. Then  one-by-one I projected a photo of their face onto the wall where they lightly traced it onto tag board. Finally they wrote their character traits over the light lines they had drawn, creating a portrait of meaningful words about themselves. I think the results are fantastic!

Measures of Academic Progress (MAP)

Students completed the reading and math MAP tests last week. On Tuesday 24 September they take their third and final MAP test--language usage--until May. I was pleased to see that most students seemed to take their time and think through the questions during the test. 

The results of these three tests will be shared with students and parents. Last week a number of parents expressed concern over their child's scores on the DRA and the writing test. So before the MAP tests scores are released I just want to reiterate that these tests only give us a snapshot of how your child is performing on a given day. A single test cannot accurately determine if your child is below, on, or above grade level. Researchers agree that multiple measures should be used to assess a child's academic levels, and as such I use various data to inform my instruction, including:
  • MAP scores
  • DRA scores
  • essay scores
  • results from activities done in class
  • scores on teacher-created tests in each subject area
  • scores on projects for each subject area
  • participation in class discussions
  • performance on homework activities
  • student reflections written in their personal blog
  • information from one-on-one conferences
  • review of their reading, writing, math, and social studies/science notebooks
Only by looking at all of these pieces of information can I begin to get a picture of your child's strengths and challenges. This monitoring process is ongoing since student performance varies from day to day, so I have to constantly be aware if a child is improving or slipping in any area in  order to meet his/her needs.

So in a nutshell, don't be overly concerned about the results of a single test your child took--particularly a test given near the beginning of the school year, after a long relaxing summer without school. 


Personal Hygiene
I'm reposting this tip as the weather gets hotter: 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.

There are still several students without hats during recess and PE. 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.

Lunch & Snack Tickets
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.

At the beginning of each week please check to see that your child has 4 or 5 pencils ready to use at school. 

Coming Soon

Monday 23 September: No school  (Malian Independence Day)
Tuesday 24 September, 12:30 - 1:30 PM: Grade 4 and 5 students take the language usage portion of the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP). Please make sure your child has a good night's sleep on Monday and eats a healthy breakfast Tuesday morning.
Wednesday 25 September, 7:30 - 7:50 AM: Elementary School Assembly featuring Mr. Berry's Advanced French students. (usually held on Tuesdays, but moved due to the Monday holiday)
Wednesday 25 September: First quarter Progress Reports sent home.
Thursday 26 September, 6:30 - 7:30: AISB Board meeting
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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