Saturday, May 23, 2015


Dear Grade 4-5 Families,

With just two weeks left in the school year, this will be the last Grade 4-5 blog post. 

This is a sad post for me to write as it also marks my last two weeks at AISB and in Bamako. I'm heading to Shanghai, China to teach Grade 4 at Shanghai International School. It's a BIG school with 3000 students on two campuses, and the city and country could not be more different than Bamako and Mali. But as they say, a rolling stone gathers no moss, so I'm going to keep rolling for now!

My three years here have been the adventure of a lifetime. Never in my wildest dreams did I picture myself teaching in an international school on the banks of the Niger, learning African dances on the patio, watching Habib Koite give a graduation speech, teaching the child of a sitting prime minister, meeting a chief in a village out in the bush, and on and on and on. Whenever I look back on these days I'll thank my lucky stars that I got to be teacher at AISB in Bamako, Mali. A big thank you Caroline Jacoby for making this all possible!

I've enjoyed getting to know all of you over the past year (or more). I just can't find the words to express how much I've enjoyed teaching your kids. I'm one of the lucky guys who looks forward to going to work every single day! Your children inspired me, made me laugh, challenged me, sometimes tried my patience, surprised me, amazed me, and helped make every day an adventure. I am confident our future is in good hands if these kids are indicative of the next generation.

All the best,

AISB is closed on Monday for the Africa Day holiday. School resumes on Tuesday.

Since this is the last post on this blog for the school year I want to share a bit of information about the "summer slide," a phenomenon named for what happens to children's academic abilities over the summer break. Studies dating back 100 years show that students over the summer typically fall behind an average of 1 to 2 months in reading and lose about 2.6 months of math computational skills! Research shows that teachers spend an average of one month simply reteaching skills that students forgot over the summer--which means one less month available to teach new skills.

The good news is that there are simple ways to keep this from happening to your child. Below are a few links to articles with great tips at beating the summer slide. You'll notice that key among the tips is READING daily, something I've encouraged the kids to do all year and hope they continue to do. You'll also read about some creative approaches like virtual field trips. 

A free resource for math: 

Summer reading list for 5th-graders-to-be:

Summer reading list for 6th-graders-to-be:

You can also explore various online programs (fees vary) such as:

IXL, a site that allows students to practice math and language arts for $9.95/month:

Time for Writing, which has 8-week, one-on-one writing courses for $99:

Last week we completed our after school activity on stop motion film. Four teams of Grade 4, 5, and 6 students each created a Public Service Announcement using the stop action film technique. This technique involves taking hundreds of still photos from atop a ladder, using the floor as the "set," and moving objects on the floor a few centimeters at a time for each photo. When viewed in sequence, it appears the objects are moving.

You can view their finished projects here:

Last week Mrs. Fabre's beginning French students presented at the Thursday morning elementary assembly. The Grade 3-5 students performed a humorous skit about weather forecasting. Great job El-Shadai and Max!

There will be a special assembly this Thursday 28 October at 7:30 that you are cordially invited to attend. Please ask your child for the details!

We continued our new reading unit based on the science fiction novel The Forgotten Door, by Alexander Key. Since our reading skill focus is analyzing how two or more texts address similar themes or topics, we explored similar science fiction themes in songs, TV shows, and movies. 

Last week we looked at two episodes from science fiction childrens' TV programs, My Parents are Aliens and The Journey of Allen Strange. We also analyzed a clip from the movie Starman, Students were able to identify the science fiction subgenres and plot lines and compare them with the themes in our novel.

We also used a theatre technique called story dramatization in which students take part of the text and bring it to life in a performance. Students performed three different scenes from the book, developing their dialogue, blocking, and props. To prepare they had to reread the section of the story and make a careful analysis of what the author was trying to express in each scene. Afterwards we had feedback sessions to critique the actor' choices.

Here are a few photos from their performances this week, as well as some shots of the students analyzing the scenes they are about to perform:

In the coming two weeks we continue reading the story and performing story dramatization scenes. 

  • Ask your child to compare and contrast the aliens that have appeared in our story as well as in the TV clips, movie clips, poems, and songs.
    • Ask your child to describe the story dramatizations performed this past week." What role did he/she have? How did he/she use imagination, face/body, and voice to play the role? Whish scene was the best? Who was the best actor and why?
    • Ask your child to describe what we've read so far in "The Forgotten Door." 
    • Ask your child what book they are reading for their Read to Succeed homework. If he/she is reading a fiction book, ask questions about the story...who is the main character? What does this main character want? What's standing in the way of that character getting what he/she wants? What are your favorite parts so far? If they are reading a non-fiction book, ask what facts they have learned. Did any of the facts surprise them?
    • 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). I'm currently administering the Developmental Reading Assessment that requires reading aloud to me, and I then score the fluency I observed. Practicing with your child now could really prepare them for this assessment and will help make them a better reader overall.

    Over the weekend students should be completing the first draft of their literary essay, with one paragraph each written on five sheets of notebook paper. The first sheet will be the introduction, the next three sheets are the supporting paragraphs, and the last sheet is the conclusion.

    Students learned a number of ways to craft their three supporting paragraphs. They might incorporate mini-stories, lists, quotes, song lyrics, movie or TV scenarios, and/or examples of the author's craftsmanship.

    During this process I've stressed how the students should approach this essay as an artist, creating an almost poetic approach that touches our emotions. I'm so encouraged by the writing I've seen so far. Their teachers next year will be thrilled at their talent.

    In the coming week students will type their essay into Google Docs, get final feedback from their peers and from me as well, and create a final draft.

    Is your child a competent keyboarder? Here is a great online resource to learn and practice keyboarding:


    Take a look at your child's first draft:

    • Does his/her introduction pull you in and make you want to read the rest of the essay? 
    • Does the thesis sentence represent your child's understanding of the short story he/she is writing about?
    • Do the three supporting paragraphs help explain the thesis statement with mini-stories, lists, quotes, song lyrics, movie or TV scenarios, and/or examples of the author's craftsmanship?
    • Does the conclusion remind us of the thesis and wrap up the essay in a beautiful way?

      We are working on or Human Growth and Development unit, the final science unit of the year. This important unit focuses on the physical, emotional, and cognitive changes that occur in children as they grow.

      Last week we looked at why having strong family and friend relationships is an important part of adolescent growth and development. In the last two weeks we learn about human reproduction and maturation/puberty.

      • Ask your child to explain how our family helps us develop our values.
      • Ask about the qualities of a good friend, and how we can maintain solid friendships.


      Mon 25 May: No school: Africa Day
      Thu 28 May: Very special whole school assembly, 7:30 (details to follow!)

      Thu 4 June: High School graduation ceremony, MPR, 6:00 PM
      Fri 5 June: Last day of school 
      Fri 5 June: final assembly 10:45 AM; students dismissed 11:45 AM

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