Sunday, October 12, 2014

News of the Week: 13 - 17 October 2014


We nearly finished reading our latest novel, The Trumpet of the Swan by E. B. White--just three chapters to go. This week students also analyzed a song that is quite important in the novel: Beautiful Dreamer (1864) by Stephen Foster. This is the song that Louis the mute swan, the main character, plays to win the heart of Serena, the swan of his dreams. Because this song was so critical to the plot, I wanted to make sure students spent some time analyzing the lyrics and the music.

First I gave the students some basics in analyzing a song, looking at instrumentation, vocals/lyrics, and the performers themselves. Once they had this background information I played three versions of the song, a 1940 version by Bing Crosby, a 2011 a cappella version by Sheryl Crow, and a new version by Rachel Fannan (which is used in a Canon Camera TV commercial). Since our reading comprehension skill is to compare and contrast, this was a great chance for them to put their skills to the test.

It was extremely interesting to watch the students react to the Bing Crosby version ("This is putting me to sleep" and "This is for old people" were common remarks), then the Sheryl Crow version (It actually sort of mesmerized them, and then they said things like, "Wow, her voice is like an instrument") to the Rachel Fannan version ("This is so modern! Kids would love this one! Can you play it again?").

They really seemed to understand the beauty of the song's message, how it was very appropriate for the novel, and how different interpretations of the song appealed to different groups. They found many details in the music and lyrics that helped them understand why E.B. White chose this as the featured song. Here are links to the three versions:

Beautiful Dreamer by Bing Crosby, 1940:
Beautiful Dreamer by Sheryl Crow:
Beautiful Dreamer by Rachel Fannan:

This week we also watched a short animated clip of a fairy called called The Six Swans. Students compared and contrasted the themes, characters, and plots of this fairy tale with the novel and again came up with many details to point out similarities and differences. Research shows that comparing and contrasting is one of the most important skills that allows students to fully comprehend what they read.

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

irresistible (very desirable)
acquire (to get something)

You can check the reading notebook to see how your child recorded 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). 

Teams show a vocabulary word by performing a tableau:

This coming week students will complete the novel, take a story test, and watch the full length Swan Lake Ballet (they keep reminding me that I promised to show this when we finished!). They will also participate in a technology activity I learned at the recent conference in Ethiopia, something called Google Tour Builder. 

Using this web-based storytelling tool, partners will recreate the journey that Louis the swan took throughout the book. They plot each location that Louis visited on Google Earth (down to Street View) and write a short blurb about the main event that happened in each place. At the end they will have an animated presentation that allows the viewer to travel from place to place, reading Louis' adventures along the way.

  • Ask your child to discuss the difference between the three versions of the song "Beautiful Dreamer" that we heard in class (e.g. which had the slowest tempo, which one focused more on vocals, which one did they prefer, etc.) Why did Louis choose this song to play for Serena? (e.g. It has a very warm, loving message; it has beautiful lyrics and music that would touch someone's emotions, etc).
  • Ask your child to discuss the difference and similarities between the swans in the fairy tale "The Six Swans" and the swans in our novel "The Trumpet of the Swan" (e.g. they both helped people; they both were heroes; the swans in the fairy tale were cursed by a witch, etc.
  • Ask your child to pronounce and define this past week's vocabulary words. Can he/she use any of the words in a sentence? Can they recall how the words were used in the novel?
    • 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 began a study of factors and multiples, did some real-world problem solving using the concepts learned in the last five lessons, and took the chapter test. On Friday they began a new chapter and in Lesson 1 looked at multiples of 10, 100, and 1000.

    In the coming week they round numbers so they can estimate quotients in division problems, use place value to help them multiply, use base ten blocks to help them multiply, take a short quiz to check their understanding to date, multiply by 2-digit numbers, and finally practice regrouping.

    Last week Grade 5 students estimated quotients, did a hands-on activity to demonstrate division of larger numbers, explored the distributive property, and began to divide three and four digit numbers.

    In the coming week they take a short quiz to check their division comprehension, work with quotients that have zeros, use base 10 blocks to model remainders in division problems, interpret remainders, and finally do some real-world problems that ask them to apply the division concepts they have learned so far.

    • Grade 4: Factor Float:

    • Grade 5: Soccer Game: Division with Remainders:

      For those students who have not memorized their basic math facts:
      • Check your child’s math homework each night, which is found in the My Math book.


      Last week students received the final scores on their personal narrative, along with comments from me. I asked them to make final revisions to their story (located in Google Docs) based on my feedback. The plan is that students will put their writing in a digital book using the app iBooks Author, so we want their final products to be complete.

      I wanted to share Charity's story, one that I read aloud in class that really wowed the students. Her writing has improved with each story she's written over the past one and a half years in my class. I know you will be impressed with this story as well. Here is the link:

      In grammar last week, we focused on capitalization. I'm surprised that many of the Grade 4/5 students didn't understand the basic rules of capitalizing letters in names! Hopefully we have turned that corner and can move on to more complex grammar issues!

      For our figurative language study we continued our study of alliteration, which is using a repeated sound in a sentence (for example: Wicked waves washed away my worries.). Students saw many examples of alliteration used by famous writers, then created an alliteration poem about themselves. Once they had their poem completed, they created a watercolor portrait of themselves and wrote their poem on the portrait. They have nearly completed this project--right now the watercolors are drying as they hang from my desk--and we will then hang them in the classroom. Here are a few of the works in progress:

      Here's a post from Isaac about writing:
      Writing is super fun with Mr. Fessler. Everyone has already written their personal narrative stories. We went over our story with partners. Our partners graded us and we graded them. I revised my story to see how I could change it and make it better. When I was done it was a complete story. A lot of us had to revise.

      • Ask your child if he/she was pleased with the scores on the personal narrative. You can ask him/her to log into Google so you can the finished product. 
      • Ask your child which letters are always capitalized (names of people, places, months, days of the week, etc.). 
      • Ask about the alliteration poem your child wrote. What words did they use to describe themselves?


      This past week we continued our science unit, "Shake, Rattle, and Roll." This unit is about earth building and breaking--specifically earthquakes and volcanoes, but also includes topics such as the rock cycle, convection currents, and disaster preparedness. For this unit students are Disaster Consultants, responsible for creating a manual full of facts about earthquakes and volcanoes--from how they occur to how to prepare for these horrific events.

      Students made their first entries in their manuals, this time on earthquake and volcano myths. We read "Magic School Bus Inside the Earth" for an introduction into the layers of the earth. In the coming week students create a clay model of the earth's layers that will be photographed and glued in their manuals. They will also explore the rock cycle and plate tectonics this week, using experiments, demonstrations, and songs. They take notes along the way, and decide which to include in their fancy manual.

      Our new team names come from famous volcanoes:

      Here is our in-progress science bulletin board. Students will be adding their earthquake and volcano questions to this bulletin board on Monday:

      Here's a short post from Isaac about science:
      In science we have started writing our first notes about myths in our books. We learned about old myths of why earthquakes were made. For example in Japan they thought that a giant catfish made earthquakes. They thought that every time the giant catfish moved its fins, the ground would shake. In Siberia they thought that a god named Tuli held the world with a sled. But the sled dogs had fleas, so every time the dogs turned to scratch themselves it would shake the earth and cause an earthquake.

      • Ask your child to describe the Myths pages they added to their manual.Which did they include? Why did these ancient people create myths about earthquakes and volcanoes?


      Last week in my after school activity, students learned to create "memes" to put into their blogs. Memes are the pictures with quotes that you often see on Facebook, Twitter, etc. I have to say I was impressed at how quickly they learned the steps to creating these!


      You have probably noticed that I've included paragraphs written by students in this blog for the past few weeks. I challenged students to write about what they have learned over the week for inclusion in this blog. This week only Isaac came through, and he wrote not only one, but two posts! Good work, Isaac! 


      Last week all students received their MAP test results, delivered in the manila report card envelope. Please take a look, sign the front of the envelope (use the same line you signed for the Progress Report for Quarter 1), and have your child return the empty envelope to me on Monday.

      The results of a single test taken on one day for one hour can't possibly give us all of the information we need to support your child. There are so many factors that could affect a child's results on a single test (e.g. their emotional state, their health, amount of sleep the night before, their ability to sit at a computer for an hour, etc.). That's why the MAP tests are just ONE of the many ways I identify student strengths and challenges so that I can design instruction that supports all students. I also use data from:

      • the Developmental Reading Assessment
      • class tests
      • class observations
      • daily classwork
      • the writing prompts
      • homework
      • projects
      • student blogs
      • your child's other teachers

      It is a mistake to view the MAP scores in isolation, or to use the results to label your child as working below, on, or above grade level. This can only be determined by analyzing multiple measures (as described in the list above). When I provide feedback on the progress reports or report cards, it is based on all of these factors.

      This Fall 2014 MAP test is not reflective of the current school year since students only had about a month of instruction before they took this test. The test also occurs right after summer break when many students experience the "summer slide," a slight decrease in skills due to being out of school. The Spring 2015 test will be a better indicator as it will show, hopefully, academic growth over the school year. Those Spring 2015 results, along with the other multiple measures, will give us a pretty good picture of the progress your student has made this year.


      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

      Wed 5 Nov: Q1 Report cards go home
      Thu 6 Nov: Elementary Assembly featuring Grades 1/2, 7:35 - 7:55 AM
      Fri 7 Nov: No school, Parent-Teacher-Student conferences
      Sat 15 Nov: AISB Halloween Fest
      Thu 20 Nov: Elementary Assembly featuring Intermediate French students, 7:35 - 7:55 AM
      Thu 20 Nov: AISB Board meeting (all are invited) 6:30 - 9:00 PM
      Fri 21 Nov: Progress reports go home (for selected students only)

      Wed 17 Dec: AISB Winter Show, 1:30 - 2:45PM (parents are invited!)
      Thu 18 Dec - Mon 5 Jun: Winter Holiday

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