Monday, September 22, 2014

News of the Week: 24 - 26 September 2014


I'm just home from the "Africa Learning 2.014" conference in Addis Ababa, and from the sessions I attended my head is full of new ideas to use in the classroom! It was also inspiring to meet so many teachers from international schools across Africa, sharing ideas and observations about teaching and learning. 

I also had the opportunity to present a session on the Mali Health service learning project--malaria and rotavirus graphic novels--that my class has done for the past two years (and will do again this year). I can't tell you how gratifying it is to hear your peers rave about something you and your students worked on! Several attendees of my session told me they were inspired to do something similar in their own schools.

A big thank you to Ben Amegatsey and Tama Walley for keeping things running smoothly in my absence!

My presentation on our graphic novels for Mali Health

I look forward to sharing with you how I implement all of these amazing ideas in our Grade 4 and 5 classroom. Stay tuned!


Over the next two weeks AISB students will take three computerized MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) tests--in reading, math, and language use. This is just one of the tools we use to understand the academic progress of each student, to inform our curriculum decisions, and to make sure we are meeting they needs of every single student. MAP tests are given at the beginning of the school year and again in April to allow us to compare data. As soon as all of the tests are completed and we have compiled the data, we will provide you with your child's scores.

The MAP 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
  • observations from your child's other teachers (French, ESOL, art/music/PE, etc.)

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 am constantly aware if a child is improving or slipping in any area so I can 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. 

This week Grade 4 & 5 will take the MAP reading test on  Thursday 25 September. The MAP math test is Tuesday 30 September, and the language usage test is Thursday 2 October.

Last week AISB implemented a new, more flexible lunch system. Now your child can choose day-to-day when he/she wants to have the school lunch.

Don't forgot to have your child purchase a pack of lunch tickets: 10 small meal tickets for 15,000CFA; 5 large meal tickets for 10,000CFA. Fanta sells these tickets in the lobby before school each day.

Also, 20 snack tickets can be purchased for 5,000 FCFA. Snacks are sold at the first recess, 8:50 - 9:10AM.


Last week I sent a clarification email regarding the online form your child must fill out in order to use the computers and Internet at AISB. The link to that form is below. To access the form, your child needs to enter his/her school Google ID and password. This is the same ID they use to get to their school email and blog; they have a paper showing it if they forget.

Please review the information on this form with your child to make sure they understand the content, then make sure it is filled out and submitted. Here is the link:


AISB is closed Monday 22 September for the Mali Independence holiday, and on Tuesday 23 September for a teacher in-service day. School resumes on Wednesday 24 September.

For the following week, there will be no school on Friday, 3 October due to the Tabaski holiday.


Last week students read Chapters 1 - 9 in our new novel The Trumpet of the Swan by E. B. White. Before reading, students explored the novel's themes each day through various mediums:

Analyzing quotes on perseverance:

Analyzing a poem with swan similes and metaphors:

Analyzing the plot of the ballet Swan Lake:

Students learned the following new vocabulary words from the novel over the past week:

defective (not working)
awkward (clumsy)
odious (hateful)
captivity (confinement)
sanctuary (safe shelter)
extraordinary (unusually strange)

First they try determine the word using context clues in the surrounding sentences, and by looking at how the word is used in the novel. 

Next they add to a vocabulary chart in their reading notebook where they record each new word, the definition, synonyms (words with the same meaning), antonyms (words with the opposite meaning), a quick sketch to help them remember the definition, and a "7-Up Sentence" using the word (must include 7 or more words and be highly descriptive). 

Over the week they review the words by creating individual or team tableaus for each word.

This coming week we continue reading the novel. Before reading students will: 
  • explore the life of Thomas Edison, a true model for perseverance (when working on the light bulb, Edison tried over 6,000 different designs before he found the best solution!); students will compare and contrast Edison with the main character in our novel.
  • analyze the Salvador Dali painting Swans Reflecting Elephants (1937) to see how its theme relates to the novel
  • view the first part of a documentary on trumpeter swans so students can compare/contrast the habits of the real animals with those of the swans in the novel.

Salvador Dali, (1904 - 1989), Spanish
Swans Reflecting Elephants, 1937, oil on canvas, 51 x 77 cm

  • Ask your child to discuss the perseverance quotes. Which one applied to his/her life the most, and why?   
  • Ask your child to pronounce and define each of the vocabulary words. Can he/she use any of the words in a sentence? Can they recall how the words were used in the novel?
    • Look at the poem (above) The Swan by Mary Oliver. Identify any of the things that the poet compares a swan too (similes and metaphors), and let your child determine if you found all of them.
    • Ask your child to describe the various endings to the Swan Lake ballet. Which ending does he/she prefer, and why?
    • Check to see that your child is doing the “Read to Succeed” homework each school night: reading 20 minutes or more from a book of their choosing, then writing a 3 to 5 sentence summary about what they read. Read what he/she wrote and make sure it actually summarizes the pages read rather than giving a detailed retelling of the story, or just telling one thing that happened rather than the sum total of what happened.
    • Have your child read aloud to you to practice his/her fluency (reading accurately, smoothly, quickly, and with expression). 


    Last week Grade 4 students engaged in problem solving questions where they applied the skills they've learned over last couple of weeks, solved multiple step word problems, spent a lesson on math fluency practice (memorizing basic math facts), took a chapter test on all of these concepts, and began a chapter on division.

    This week they relate division and subtraction, look at multiplication as comparison, and use comparison to solve problems.

    Last week Grade 5 students looked at the distributive property, estimated the product of number sentences, and multiplied by one and two-digit numbers.

    This week they complete the Chapter 2 test to determine if they comprehended all the concepts over the course of the last 10 lessons, relate division to multiplication, and explore division models.

    • Grade 5: Distributive Property Game: 
    • Check your child’s math homework each night, which is found in the My Math book.


    Last week students focused on another element of figurative language: onomatopoeia. This is also known as "sound effect words," such as POW! Zoom! Ding! Meow....and so on.

    First students explored why writers use onomatopoeia, then looked at an example from Edgar Allan Poe's The Bells:

    Students then created a four-panel comic that included four examples of onomatopoeia. The work is posted on our figurative language bulletin board and looks fantastic! The hope is that students include these figurative language devices we study, such as onomatopoeia and similes, in their own stories and essays.

    • Ask your child why writers use onomatopoeia (e.g. it helps the reader experience the text, it makes the writing more interesting and exciting, etc.).
    • Ask your child to describe his/her onomatopoeia comic. Which sound words are included? Could these be used in a story?


    In the coming week we will get close to wrapping up our Ancient Egypt unit. Students explore hieroglyphics and the Rosetta Stone, read from their case files about scribes and writing in ancient Egypt,  continue suspect questioning, and if time allows, write a persuasive paragraph explaining who they believe robbed King Sebekemsaf's tomb.

    • Ask your child to explain why the character he/she plays could be responsible for the tomb robbery.


    Mon 22 Sep: No school, Mali Independence Day holiday
    Tue 23 Sep: No school, teacher in-service
    Wed 24 Sep: Scholastic book orders due to Mr. Souleyman in the library

    Thu 2 Oct: Elementary Assembly featuring Grade 3 students, 7:35 - 7:55 AM
    Fri 3 Oct: No school, Tabaski holiday
    Sat 4 Sept: Tabaski holiday
    Thu 9 Oct: AISB Board meeting (all are invited) 6:30 - 9:00 PM
    Thu 16 Oct: Elementary Assembly featuring students currently taking music, 7:35 - 7:55 AM
    Fri 24 Oct: End of Quarter 1
    Mon 27 Oct - Fri 31 Oct: No school, Fall Break

    Thu 6 Nov: Elementary Assembly featuring Grades 1/2, 7:35 - 7:55 AM
    Fri 7 Nov: No school, Parent-Teacher-Student conferences
    Thu 20 Nov: Elementary Assembly featuring Intermediate French students, 7:35 - 7:55 AM

    Thu 18 Dec - Mon 5 Jun: Winter Holiday

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